The governance failure — an existential risk

Pakistan exhibits all the prerequisites of a dysfunctional state


Shahid Najam December 01, 2022
The writer is associated with Burki Institute of Public Policy. He holds degrees from London School of Economics and Wye College London and has 39 years of experience in policy and strategy formulation, development planning and programming. He can be reached at [email protected]

The increasing economic fragility, political instability rapid denudation of natural resources — triggered by severity of the climate change and the huge credibility deficit between the state and citizens — have cumulatively exacerbated the governance challenges in Pakistan. The unpreparedness and ad hoc response of the government to the widespread devastations caused by recent floods testify to the incompetence of the state apparatus. The severity of the governance dysfunction could well be gauged by recurrent episodes of corruption, mismanagement and pilferage even of the relief items and the pathetically lackadaisical approach in the rehabilitation of the flood victims. Indeed, failure of public sector governance at all levels and across all institutions (political, judicial, executive, etc) continues to afflict the country and exacerbate the enormity of development challenges — peace and security, poverty and hunger, ignorance and disease and achievement of the national development goals.

Pakistan is at a critical juncture. It exhibits all the prerequisites of a dysfunctional state. Half of the legislators are outside the Parliament yet it is pretentiously functional and tirelessly engaged in enacting laws to absolve the corrupt and the delinquents of the massive economic crimes. Bulk of the ministers in the cabinet has tainted background and accused of mega corruption and other serious charges. The state institutions including bureaucracy, police and even the Election Commission are being used as tyrannical tools to “fix political problems”. If this was not enough, the appointment of Army Chief has been subjected to a vicious debate moderated and ridiculed by the instrumentalised journalists not to speak of the shameless extra-constitutional pre-announcement consultations by the minacious politicians. Little they realised the serious implications for the dignity of the office, the command and control structure and morale of the troops.

The Legatum Prosperity Index 2021 which measures a country’s accomplishments across the institutional, economic and social parameters with special focus on inclusive societies, open economies and empowered people, ranks Pakistan’s overall performance as low as 138 out of 167 countries and 124 out of 165 specifically on governance. In civil justice, the country is listed at 124 out of 139 countries while in criminal justice, it occupies 108th position. The Corruption Perception Index of the Transparency International rates Pakistan at 140 out of 180 countries. Similarly, on the World Bank Governance indicators, the country’s performance globally or even at the regional level is lamentably poor, falling much behind Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka on dimensions like voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence and government effectiveness. The UNDP’s Human Development Index report (2021) which assessed the level of development of 191 countries on education, health and longevity ranked Pakistan at 161, much behind even Nepal (143), India (132), Bangladesh (129), Bhutan (127) and Sri Lanka (73).

In a nutshell, the ignominious manner in which the power is being exercised by the political and other state and societal actors finds vivid expression in the battered, fragmented, inefficient and unresponsive governance landscape of the country to the neglect of the wellbeing of its citizens.

There is a plethora of evidence and experience around the world which unequivocally demonstrate that good governance is sine qua non for nurturing and establishing democracy, forging social integration and cohesion, and embarking on sustainable and equitable economic development. High-quality institutions stimulate increase in per capita incomes, accelerate growth and help achieve development dividend. They serve as catalysts to enforce rule of law and ensure peace and security, enable elected representatives to exercise political oversight of state institutions, promote inclusive and participatory development and institute responsive and efficient delivery of public goods and services. Good governance also leads to incomes rise about three-folds; reduce infant mortality by two-thirds; and effectively control corruption and related administrative pathologies.

Good governance, however, a priori, entails participation and inclusion of the citizens and their voices to inform and guide the decision processes and achieve consensus through constructive consultations. The supremacy of rule of law and its uniform application to all citizens and speedy justice including observation of human rights are at its core. Accountability based on clearly defined roles and responsibilities; transparency and openness; responsiveness to the felt needs of the citizens; efficient and effective delivery of public services; and, free access to information on the use of financial, human, technological and environmental resources are integral elements of good governance. On top, equity, ethics and morality provide the overall framework to enable both the government and citizens to manage and conduct public affairs for the societal peace, prosperity, development and distributive justice.

Pakistan runs the risk of inevitably plunging into chaos and disorder of existential proportion if the fundamental governance issues are not addressed with urgency and unflinching will. The way forward out of this malaise is for the major institutional players — politicians, military and judiciary — to engage in introspection and collectively identify the reasons for the governance failure and find a set of consensus solutions to ameliorate the state of affairs. The vitally significant issues to be dwelt upon include: the yawning credibility deficit between the state and the citizens; erosion of rule of law and the manipulation of superior judiciary; the decadence parliamentary supremacy and the need to establish a legitimate, effective and democratic state; the deepening economic crisis; the institutional dysfunction (especially bureaucracy and judiciary) and their lack of operating on a sustainable paradigm etc.

Army which has once again avowed not to meddle in political engineering has to pay the key role given the extreme positions and divide between the myopic, power-hungry politicians. It simply cannot abruptly shy away from its responsibility after historically and opprobriously debilitating the democratic tradition and creating the political pandemonium. Once the consensus is evolved and a ‘Charter of Pakistan’ is agreed by the major state institutions and actors, Army must steadily and perpetually withdraw from the political arena and confine its commendably executed role — safeguarding the territorial integrity of the country against internal and external threats.

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