Governing in a complex environment

Will the status quo break and who will do it is a million-dollar question?


Talat Masood May 19, 2021
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Pakistan’s leadership faces an extraordinary challenge trying to modulate national and foreign policy goals in a fractured neighbourhood and a complex world. More so, when its initiatives and freedom for manoeuvre are hampered by its internal weaknesses and heavy dependence on strategic ally China and to an extent on the United States and multilateral agencies. As though these by itself are not enough then the growing burden of facing the spread of corona and problems associated with it.

Ideally, these matters would have a required series of discussions in parliament and its committees and serious consultations with defense and security institutions and health experts for the nation’s united response.

Obviously, this is ideal talk and day dreaming. In reality, mostly it is the opposite that takes place and will continue to take place with the nation struggling to stand on its feet but not succeeding and leaders blaming each other and the people cursing their fate and maybe their leaders but to no avail.

Will the status quo break and who will do it is a million-dollar question? Nations only change when their leaders are capable of dreaming and believing in the realisation of their dreams. Nations transform when their leaders truly share the pains and joys of the common people. They awake their slumbering nation by portraying their vision and capture their imagination by their sincerity and past record. Our people as of other societies have the wisdom and sharp acumen of judging their leaders. Let no leader be led away with the mistaken belief that they can fool them all the time. With difficult options and a half empty stomach they may swallow their pride and compromise their instincts but know this is not the road that is leading to their salvation. They also know that in Pakistan the “Messiah” is not in sight and perhaps not born as yet.

The question then is: will they keep waiting and for how long will they bear the level of hardships they are presently enduring? It is not only the working class but also the middle class that finds Pakistan in the present state a land of limited opportunities heavily tilted in favour of the elite. These conditions demanded that the political parties and its leadership in particular should have been genuinely responsive to the needs of the working class and the downtrodden and work earnestly toward that end. Mere statements expressing goodwill and support for future programmes is shallow talk and more oriented toward increasing their vote bank and much less to improve the quality of people’s lives. What perhaps is not being realised is that this static frame of mind is an enemy of progress and is preventing Pakistan from finding its place in the comity of nations.

Change in attitude will not occur until the bourgeoisie landowners, industrialists and bureaucracy do not develop the feel and pain of our working class and common citizens. Presently, the prospects of any transformation in this direction are not in sight. Besides, it is rare that our entrepreneurs strategically realign policies to changing circumstances or to current situations. A classic case of neglect is glaringly evident in the lack of sensitivity toward coal miners, fishermen, brick kiln labour or those employed to break rocks for industrial purposes or work in industries or at farms on minimum wages toiling for a wretched existence.

Provincial and federal governments have at best paid lip service but have generally looked the other way when it comes down to delivery. Even if laws have been promulgated to protect the interest of workers these have not been faithfully implemented. What is generally overlooked is that the productivity and efficiency of the working class is considerably reduced when they work under difficult conditions, denied basic amenities and a fair share for their labour. Not realising the policy of denying workers their rights and privileges is counterproductive and self-defeating. There are, however, bright spots or islands of efficiency in Pakistan where the management is farsighted and appreciates the value of looking after the interest of the working class and realises its overall benefits. The government could use these examples for urging others to emulate.

There are two or three distinct models to assess how the modern world is dealing with the labour and working class. One is that is followed by the Western countries — Britain, Germany, France, and the other by China. The frequent protests by different French trade unions apart, by and large the Western countries have developed a stable and fairly conducive relationship with labour unions. The Chinese too have realised how critical it is to have a well-trained, technological savvy and disciplined labour. As opposed to that many of the developing countries generally mishandle labour problems. In a few cases they have even promoted divisions among them and consider this a convenient method of weakening their resolve. But this is a shortsighted approach and creates more problems than it solves.

The extreme mismanagement by successive political and military governments of the public sector enterprises — whether it be the Steel Mills or PIA or the private sector companies like K-Electric and others — has created a debt burden that will take years to clear. Pursuing policies for petty short-term political gains has cost the nation an unbearable burden. A stage has now arrived that these are being privatised as the government has lost confidence that it is capable of managing the entities. Clearly, there are advantages of privatisation but there is no guarantee that it would be a better alternative. It all depends on who the buyers are and what their commercial objectives and expertise is to turn these companies around.

Pakistan’s ability to steer its way to economic progress and political stability will largely depend on a clear understanding of what it wants and needs in the present and future.

Our leaders have been used to giving messages to the people that are haphazard and frequently contradictory. There has to be consistency and resolve in what we want to achieve.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2021.

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