November 8, 2017 |

One of the reasons for Pakistan’s current tardy and obstructive governance stems from a reckless propensity to deny, suspend, or shut-down things that are viewed as detrimental to the so-called ‘national interests.’

Shutting down YouTube for years, for instance, was just one of the many symptoms of this malaise that often ends up tainting Pakistan’s image as a reactionary, retrogressive country that is still governed by an obscurantist bureaucracy. The management regime generally revolves around shut-down, clamp-down, suspension or closure altogether. Such administrative measures totally disregard implications at the grassroots level. Three recent issues illustrate this obstructive mindsets major issues. Back in 2016, the civil-military security establishment all of a sudden decided to block “unverified, suspect” national ID cards and the bank accounts associated with them as part of its counter-terrorism strategy. The decision turned out to be devastating for tens of thousands of Pakistani citizens, many of whom found themselves without identity and with no access to their bank accounts. It threw all the “suspects” at the mercy of various arms of the security apparatus. This happened only because little thought went into this decision.

Secondly, all the international (INGOs) and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been subject to a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) for their operations.

Sadly, this requirement has armed the lower strata of the security establishment with a carte blanche for wilful corruption. Several officials in Islamabad and provincial capitals such as Lahore and Peshawar have been dragging their feet in allowing NGOs, even those that are running skills and development training programs for girls. Low-ranking officials have often blackmailed INGOs and national NGOs into greasing their palms. In fact the NOC requirement has become a lethal tool of extortion. Those who did offer gratification got at least provisional NOCs, others have been made to run from pillar to post to get permission for implementing projects.

These refusals to issue NOC have also directly impacted western donors’ view of Pakistan, many of whom are now urging their respective governments to make official development aid contingent upon NOCs for their local partners here.

Ironically, the government issues NOC to INGOs such USAID, or the GIZ, the German INGs — most probably out of compulsion, but they deny the same to national partners of INGOs, who are made to beg — mostly in vain –to obtain the NOC. Some got it after greasing the palm of unscrupulous officials.

Sadly, the current governance model — complicated by a self-serving, uninformed political elite — is turning the country into a figurative obese body rather than a smart and energetic sprinter needed for the road to political and economic development

The NOC requirement has not only become hugely debilitating for the development sector — most of whom are viewed as suspects , but also a source of blackmail by officials in key positions of security 

Ahsan Iqbal, the interior minister, and others in the military security apparatus urgently need to understand that while checks and surveillance are fundamental part of security governance, it is equally important to realize that state institutions cannot and must not view every individual person or organization with suspicion.

Another issue that begs urgent attention of the security establishment is the Pakistan Origin Card (POC) for spouses of Pakistani nationals. All POCs had been cancelled early this year, leaving their holders practically without identity. Officials had promised replacement of the old POCs with new ones. But the issue is still festering despite a personal promise by the minister.

On October 23, the Minister of Interior tweeted: ‘I have approved restoration of Pakistan Origin Card (POC) for spouses of Pakistani nationals.’

Despite this public pronouncement, scores of spouses of Pakistani nationals seem to be still stuck because of the bureaucratic inertia, incompetence or complicated processes for getting these things right. As of now, the NADRA system does not allow these “stranded” foreigners to go online and register themselves.

Unfortunately, most tiers of governance lack strategic thinking, sufficient pro-active thinking, and immaculate planning. That is why nearly every decision is followed by countless complications, complaints and difficulties for the population at large.

Pakistan, one must admit, in general is still deficient in well-thought-out smart solutions. The world has moved on to make use of artificial intelligence accompanied by elaborate planning for governance and security. Pakistan’s bureaucracy, it seems, has degenerated into a conformist, compliant and unimaginative machinery, which is out of step with political and technological developments at home and abroad. We are dealing with a bureaucracy that is reactive and less pro-active in nature. Officials seem to care more about compliance of what their ministers and superiors say or desire. Instead of challenging the whims of superiors in a rationally critical way, most officials simply bow into compliance. The occasional abrupt closures of key roads in Islamabad, without prior warnings, offers one example of thoughtless road management, incompetence and lack of detailed thinking behind critical administrative decisions. It should be alarming for all those who dream of turning Pakistan into a modern tiger. Sadly, the current governance model — complicated by a self-serving, uninformed political elite — is turning the country into a figurative obese body but not a smart, energetic sprinter that is needed for the road to political and economic development.

Dire straits indeed.

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