No country for coups

Instead of creating more points of conflict, let us start the process, if not reverse the damage, at least arrest it.

Ayesha Tammy Haq June 17, 2011

We were barely a few months into the current government and the chatter started. People were not happy, the economy was shot, inflation was rising, power shortages were acute, industry was shutting down and jobs were scarce. The litany of complaints was endless. The suggested panacea, unlikely even then, was alternatively the return of the military and a national government. Today, when things are sliding even more rapidly and have never been so bad, we seem to be finally confronting the horrible reality that is extremism. Extremism, which seeks to destroy all state institutions, including the military, has Pakistan in free fall. We have spent years in denial and while we continue in a state of denial the realisation that neither the military nor a national government, nor a combination, are the panacea seems to be sinking in. The talk now is not about the possibility of the colonel’s coup. No one wants to take on something they have absolutely no idea what to do with. Today, it’s about the rapid slide, how will it be arrested and who will arrest it?

Resistance, not in the positive or constructive sense, seems to be something we are good at. We resist until we are eventually compelled to do what should have been done in the first place. This resistance, delaying of the inevitable, has cost us dearly. Can we afford to continue to resist? To procrastinate, putting off for tomorrow or until after the next election what should have been done at the outset but must be done today. And there is much that needs doing. The to-do list gets longer each day and, as it does, it looks more and more impossible.

So instead of creating more points of conflict, let us start the process to if not reverse the damage, at least arrest it. The economy is in shambles; some in government are calling for immediate reform. The situation is so dire that if the problem is not taken care of now we will cross the point of no return. Others argue that yes, the situation is dire, but there is no way our allies will allow us to fall below rock bottom. The bailouts will come because they cannot afford to let us go. They agree that reform is required, that it is inevitable, but in the time-honoured tradition of Pakistani politics they seek to delay the inevitable. At the very least, until after the next election. This logic resonates with the political side of government, which knows that unpopular measures, no matter how critical, do not win you elections. And it is all about staying in office. No one agrees that the need for reform is dire enough to merit losing an election.

Sometimes one wonders what it is that makes us think this way, why do we assume that we are indispensible and even more alarming is the notion that its perfectly alright to sell ourselves to whoever has the means to pay for us to stay afloat. Do we have no ambition to develop, to grow, to be a country that is viable and relevant, that looks after and provides for its citizens? Is it all about holding on to power? Do we not care that if we continue on our current path that we run the risk of a complete meltdown? It appears that we do not. Either that, or we are incredibly stupid.

Pakistan needs a reform agenda today. The plans and strategies for growth and development are in place. The economy has never been as discussed as it has in the past six months and, as a result, we are painfully aware of all that needs doing. We know what is needed to develop the rural economy, we know that we need to generate more power, we need to cut our fuel bills, we need to manufacture, produce and export more and import less. We need to build competitive capacity and to do that we need access to capital. We know what it is we need; the number crunchers tell us it is doable. Our issues aren’t commercial, they’re political; to survive we need to start making tough political choices. They are the only ones left.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2011.


Rao Amjad Ali | 10 years ago | Reply My response was meant for Dr. Ata ur Rehman's article, the error is greatly regretted.
Rao Amjad Ali | 10 years ago | Reply As a key member of Musharraf's Fiefdom who gave him a free hand to do as he pleased with the so called higher education of Pakistan, Dr. Rehman did not deviate as many who came before him and served the dictator with unflinching loyalty, not necessarily the cause of education. Surely, HEC’s cry for money does not merit consideration. Let's see why. Countries like Cuba, India, Japan, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia who took decades to successfully employ sequenced and rational educational development programs, HEC attempted to achieve in just a few years. With friends in high places, Dr. Rehman got plenty of government and donor money which was spent in haste as the speed of implementation took precedence over the need for rigorous analyses of the sub-national educational value chains. The result was not terribly unpredictable, doctoral candidates ran amok, many more went to Podunck than to Princeton and without exaggeration several of them now armed with PhD degrees cannot comprehend a journal article from their own specialty area. The Commission and its head apparently did not recognize a fact all too well known among international development experts that there is a remarkable distinction between OUTCOME and IMPACT. While the outcome was visibly impressive as scores of PhDs began to loiter the halls of fly-by-night colleges and universities that had begun to mushroom, the impact as Pervez Hoodhboy noted in an article a few years ago remains dismal and a downward trajectory that has since been set into motion is fraught with danger. The challenge is that Pakistan has half-baked doctors of philosophy producing sub-standard mostly poorly supervised work in colleges and universities that do not have a raison d’etre and the opportunity cost exacted by HEC on resource dry government coffers on flimsy educational projects has diverted monies that could have arguably ensured far better returns on investment in primary and secondary education. Does anyone know if the framers of HEC adequately addressed the key question: whether an archaic school system that grew out of the industrial revolution ought to have been logically expected to lead to quality higher education that is supposed to meet the demands of the information age? In my judgment, it is reasonable to assume that had a rigorous and an inclusive debate, discussion and analysis of this core question taken place, HEC would have probably had to significantly modify its mandate and plan of action, giving way perhaps to greater outlays on modern teacher education and transformation of religious schools and seminaries.
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