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Sharif’s Five “E-Challenges”


By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, June 07, 2013


Balochistan represents a microcosm of Pakistan’s politics of expedience. For decades, expedience ruled the roost and thus ruined the socio-political fabric of that unfortunate province, practically hostage to Nawabs, Mirs and Sardars, who have alternated government positions among themselves, mostly with the connivance of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. 

After a long time, a middle-class, liberal and daring Baloch is making history as the chief minister, in an unparalleled alliance with another liberal and outspoken Pashtoon leader Mahmood Achakzai. This also underscores new political dynamics, probably unleashed by the slogan of change that Imran Khan raised and Sharifs adopted in their brief election campaign. 

And for letting this happen in Balochistan, the Sharif brothers deserve kudos for standing behind Dr. Malik Baloch as Balochistan’s new chief minister. The decision marks, at least reflects, the resolve to make a new start. By doing so, the Sharifs annoyed Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, whom ex-general Qadir Baloch supported to the hilt. Surprising as to why the General went overboard in support of a controversial person? Why would the general also watch Zehri embrace MPs with tainted past, people who accumulated enormous wealth under Musharraf and Zardari between 2002 and early 2013? Does the general want to protect the stakes that he had acquired in Gwadar as corps commander?

As a matter of principle, the investigation of accumulation of ill-gotten wealth by many who have now joined the N-League in Balochistan, and preventing further plunder of national assets and institutions (including allotment of hundreds of acres of land to the Pakistan Navy) now rests with the new provincial government.

Yet, this also makes a case for deep introspection for Sharifs and their close cohorts such as Nisar Ali Khan and Ishaq Dar. They are conscious of the mountain of challenges – both political as well as institutional. They would do good to leaf through a great book ‘Why Nations Fail’ by Daron Acemoglu and James A.Robinson, which vividly illustrates the challenges that Pakistan faces today.

“Nations fail today because their extractive economic institutions do not create the incentives needed for people to save, invest and innovate. Extractive political institutions support these economic institutions by cementing the power of those who benefit from the extraction,” argue the authors.

Both author use this analogy to underscore the spiraling crisis of institutional corruption (exploiting state entities for personal and extended circle benefits) and politically-motivated governance as it obtains today in most African and Asian countries – Angola, Cameron, Chad, Haiti, Liberia, Nepal and Sudan. Though they don’t mention Pakistan, their description of circumstances in countries being run by plutocrats, or governed in plutocratic elitist style of governance, equally applies to Pakistan, where a certain class of political and economic kleptocrats embodies state power and uses it for self-preservation and the benefit of its extended community.

Benazir Income Support Programme, Laptop Scheme, Cheap Bread, Danish Schools serve as a few examples.

Acemoglu and Robinson’s definition of “Extractive Institutions” also befits the roughly four dozen state institutions and corporations such as PIA, Pakistan Steel, Railways, Pakistan TV, PBC, PICIC, NIT, Police, Power Generation and Distribution companies; they are all symptomatic of inefficiency, patronage and financial attrition i.e. successive ruling parties have stuffed them with their cronies and activists largely to the total disregard of merit and performance.

The consequence is mindboggling; over 500 billion rupees worth of attrition annually (or at least 5 billion dollars). This staggering amount that poorly-run state organizations gobble up every year is in addition to the institutionally inherent corruption that too runs in tens of billions.

Reforming and rationalizing these bleeding public sector institutions, purging them of cronies, and subjecting them to merit instead of political represents the real challenge to a government that is publicly vowing merit, rule of law and good governance in a time of multiple crisis.

One could list down fives areas that the new government needs to concentrate on; Sharif and his team would need to focus on:

a) Energizing the country to provide some relief to the teeming millions struck by endless power outages.

b) Economic revival to increase productivity and improve the massive unemployment.

c) Education as a top priority and deal with it on a war-footing

d) Empowering the common man by reviving the local government system.

Nothing would prove the N-League and other parties’ deference to peoples’ power until they revived the local government (as also instructed by the Supreme Court), and

e) Eliminating nepotism that flows from within the party structures by MPs and Ministers who treat power as a privilege rather than a trust by people who vote them into these positions.

Given the enormity of the challenges, the ruling parties at the Centre and in provinces must turn these five “Es” into a priority and align them into their “better governance and rule of law matrix.” If they don’t, they will find it extremely difficult to impress the already frustrated masses with the slogans of change. They must embrace the

Five Es to walk the talk and turn the mandate into a real opportunity for the people of Pakistan. They certainly deserve a lot better they got between 2008-2013.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk