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Rationalising the affairs of state By Talat Masood

Pakistan inherited weak political institutions from its inception and since then there have been meagre attempts at strengthening it. Besides, it had more of its share of military rule; four major interventions and its debilitating effects from which it continues to suffer.

The current problem is that the vacuum created by the inefficiencies of civilian government provides an opportunity or an excuse for the army to expand its area of influence. This dilemma is not peculiar to Pakistan as several developing democracies suffer or have suffered from this malaise. But if a country is to exploit the full potential of its people and find a respectable place in the international community of nations it has to make every effort at pursuing correct democratic values and practices. In this pursuit every institution has a role and responsibility. History bears witness that nations progress when there is shared accountability and not the concern of merely one or two institutions. Healthy competition where each organisation is trying to excel in its own area of responsibility should be a desired goal. This is different from applying one’s experience and expertise in the field, domain and responsibility of the other.

Presently the chief justice’s intervention in affairs where public interest is involved has proved to be largely effective. The very fact that he could take notice of the lapses and corrupt practices has somewhat shaken the management and bureaucracy. How long its impact will last will depend on the management of these organisations. If political leaders also start giving a high priority to governance and provinces compete on the basis of performance, Pakistan’s landscape could change dramatically. Political leadership should not have to wait for judicial activism to act as a catalyst for undertaking major reforms and bringing qualitative improvement in governance.
On the other hand, there is also a possibility that as judiciary extends its reach it could serve as an excuse for the civilian government to withdraw from areas of their direct responsibility. The more frequent use of suo motu has to be thought through. If abnormal measures were frequently adopted for correcting the weaknesses of the government or society then that becomes the norm.

Moreover, what is generally overlooked is that allocation of resources and their proper utilisation is a critical factor in strengthening institutions. Due to the external threat and internal instability in which the army has to play a pivotal role, its share of budget has been proportionately growing in comparison to other institutions. Health and education sectors that are now provincial subjects are receiving relatively less allocation. Furthermore, inefficient resource mobilisation of these sectors by civilian leadership has further widened the disparity.

It is not surprising that the army leadership would be deeply concerned if the economy were in distress. Because it will not only have an adverse impact on its operational readiness but would make the country more dependent on the dictates of donors whose policies may be at variance with those of us. Similarly a weak and unstable democratic country, and also financially dependent is a perfect target for manipulation. This internal and external power play is important for our institutional leadership to keep in mind if the country’s interests are sacrosanct.

Formulation of internal and external policies also has a bearing on the relative strength of state institutions. The question is in which direction Pakistan’s current internal and external policies are driving the country. If Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan remain hostile and threat of terrorism prevails, allocation of resources to security forces will continue to increase with relatively less to spend on education, health and infrastructure. The United States has suspended its assistance and the IMF and the World Bank are likely to be influenced by its decision. Drop in allocation of resources in civil sectors would affect the lives of our people and impact on quality of democracy in the long term. Serious effort will have to be made to steer the country away from this vicious circle.

Better utilisation of resources and adjusting foreign policy to meet the long-term national objectives of economic prosperity and peaceful neighbourhood is crucial. The few attempts by political leadership to gain control over security policy have failed in the past. The PPP made rather a crude attempt at placing the ISI under the interior ministry but had to make an embarrassing retreat. Nawaz Sharif’s attempt of influencing relations with India was met with a strong rebuff from the security establishment and until now remains a major subject of discord. The imbalance makes foreign powers to engage directly with the military leadership thus further strengthening their hold on the country.

Opposition parties for short-term gains and to further weaken the party in power have generally thrown their weight behind manipulative politics. The present political scenario reflects these weaknesses. The recent scheming politics of Balochistan and devious elections of the Senate were a testimony of how our politics is shaping.

The role of our media in promoting democratic values is also questionable. Most of the media houses are more interested in promoting their vested interest rather than abiding by a certain code of conduct. Fortunately, there are media houses that are an exception, struggling to maintain professional and moral high ground in difficult circumstances.

We are also witnessing institutional confusion that has occurred primarily due to lack of coordination and oversight. Although this is not an unusual phenomenon for us but now the consequences are far more detrimental. For example, the ISPR and the National Counter Terrorism Authority may be doing a fine job in promoting the country’s interest from their perspective but their narratives are different, adding to the confusion as to what the situation is and what are the aims and objectives of the state. For example, terrorism is a specialist subject and should be handled professionally taking both the human and state interest into account. Pakistan has indeed suffered more than any other country apart from Afghanistan from the conflict. However, merely overselling the victimhood scenario would not suffice as experience has shown.

Source : https://tribune.com.pk/story/1682279/6-rationalising-affairs-state/

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