Entangled priorities

There is much talk, everywhere, in Pakistan about the priorities of reforming Pakistan

Rasul Bakhsh Rais August 29, 2018
The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS, Lahore. His recent book is Imagining Pakistan: Modernism, State and the Politics of Islamic Revival (Lexington Books, 2017)

There is much talk, everywhere, in Pakistan about the priorities of reforming Pakistan. Making it ‘new’, a different country, and a better one that would make Pakistanis proud of themselves. There is a consensus on reforming Pakistan, and there is also a general agreement that things are not right and the problems Pakistan face are critical, fundamental and some may pose existential threat. Seeing the country sunk deep into a big mess, the big question is where to start. Even more resourceful and better-endowed countries have faced the challenge of setting the priorities right. Failure to prioritise takes away initiative, time, opportunity and trust in new regimes.

Pakistan’s challenges are too many, resources limited and time to establish national and international confidence in the sincerity and competence of the leadership is short. The very reasons that have contributed to the rise of the PTI — de-legitimisation of the two dynastic parties and the promise of doing politics and exercising power differently — may pose it the same challenges. Its credibility and success rest on delivering on its commitment of being different, a truly people-centered and patriotic in defending public and national interests.

It is natural that the rise of new regimes, parties and leaders raises skyrocketing expectations. This is exactly the challenge of expectations that the PTI government faces. It cannot afford to squander away the opportunity of First 100 Days during which it must set the priorities, clear the path, define tasks of each reforming department clearly with deadlines and place capable and incorruptible individuals in leadership positions. This will require the Kaptaan to stay in charge, oversee things; supervise and monitor closely the performance; respect autonomy but intervene when ministries and departments are taken back to the same rut of old politics.

Among the top priorities in reforming failed or failing countries or those lumbering behind or struggling like us is the courage to take bold decisions, no matter what. The old school of politics and defenders of the vested interests always advise caution, going slow, softness and compromises. It is what we call political expediency, the ultimate political fall of reformers. The Kaptaan has a visible streak of uncompromising attitude towards what he could realise being wrong, and he has been outspoken on issues that have caused decline of the country. His first speech to the nation testifies to this fact. He knows what needs to be done, and must be done at all costs. More than his long struggle and tortuous political journey and even persistent hammering on a vision of change, it was this speech that has earned much deeper and wider admiration among the people.

I am optimistic about Kaptaan leaving his name deeply etched in the slate of history and joining the ranks of successful Asian reformers. However, there is a point of caution and this is about the foolish friends — the flatterers — who may get his ears and may become his eyes and eventually influence his important decisions. Political leaders in traditional, feudal societies suffer from flattery, egotism, nepotistic tendencies and cronyism and cultivate an image of infallibility. This requires never lowering one’s guards against the foolish friends, staying vigilant and focused on agenda of reforms, and equally open to critical feedback from the opposition. Let me remind you, reformers have worked not for an ego — grabbing power and staying on the high pedestal — but for a cause, selflessly, untiringly and disregard of what may happen to them.

Finally, determining what comes first among so many challenges we face is the ultimate test of a visionary leadership. It is the governance in whatever sense one takes it, from school, hospital to government office, park, court, police and the management of economy. There is no luxury of time.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2018.

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JA | 5 years ago | Reply "Failure to prioritise takes away initiative, time, opportunity and trust in new regimes." Life lesson, not just for the new PM but also for everyone.
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