A hyperactive cocktail - Mosharraf Zaidi - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

The devastating floods across the country, the lethal violence in Karachi and the agony associated with President Asif Ali Zardari's trip to Europe, all seem to have been rolled up into a hyperactive cocktail--a lethal intoxicant that dulls the senses while it kills us. We're all drinking this strange "Rooh Afza." Since the holy month of Ramazan is upon us, let's put the glass down. Just for a few minutes.

Sure, the floods are a natural catastrophe that no government could have prepared for. Governments should, however, respond in a timely manner. Sure the military is heavily involved in the relief operations. When is there ever a natural disaster in the world that doesn't require the military? Still, why is the military leadership (that means Gen Kayani) acting like politicians?

Sure the violence in Karachi may be terrorism, or it may be ethnic warfare, or it may be engineered chaos, or it may be all of those things at once. But where is the police? And where are the leaders of the MQM and the ANP? And where are the leaders of mosques, the imams and the ulema? Why aren't they taking bold decisions to diffuse this time-bomb that keeps going off, with warning, without warning--it hardly seems to make a difference.

And sure President Zardari seems totally detached from reality. The president's inner circle, to a man and woman, was against this visit. Still he went. The mood in the UK and here was against making any mention of the word storm. Still he fell over himself to reinforce how close the UK and Pakistan are, by saying, it will endure, while "storms will come, and storms will go." But what idiot would mistake the president for his wife, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto? Those expecting Churchillian timing, Obama-esque rhetoric or Manmohan-istic wisdom from President Zardari should pause. Really? Seriously?

The floods are killing us. The government is either doing everything it can, or nothing at all. The military is perfect, or it is evil incarnate. Mohajir blood-lust is epic. Pakhtun blood-lust is epic. Shias are victims. Sunnis are victims. And the TTP and Al-Qaeda are behind every goblin in Pakistan. President Zardari should have stayed, or he should have gone. And all of this is on repeat mode. Over and over and over again. The same mind-numbingly ineffectual conversation. So, perhaps, it really is time to take a moment to pause and ponder, what's really happening here? As crass as it may be to try to reduce complex social, political and economic phenomena to small digestible bits of information, it's important to single out the key drivers of the problems Pakistan is currently enduring.

The impact of the floods can be captured by the word confidence. Or, rather, lack thereof. Within government, the NDMA doesn't enjoy the confidence of Interior, which doesn't enjoy the confidence of the GHQ, which doesn't enjoy the confidence of the KP provincial government. The people don't have any confidence in government--no matter what turf issues they might have. International donors don't have any confidence in the federal government, and little confidence in the provinces. The provinces don't have the confidence to deal independently with the international donors, or the INGOs. They also don't have the confidence to cede a reasonable degree of their executive authority to the NDMA.

Disasters are the worst possible place to begin to get into jurisdictional turf wars. This flooding disaster has hit just as Pakistan has entered the most intense turf war--exacerbated and energised by the 18th Amendment--ever to have hit centre-province relations. Civil society, including, but far from limited to, elements that pose a clear and present danger to Pakistan's standing in the world, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba spin-offs, confidently deliver aid to flood-affected people. Meanwhile, the government's and the military's lack of confidence makes them seem even more incompetent and cold than they really are. And their overconfident assertions to journalists and in front of cameras seals the deal.

The solution to the confidence problem is not swagger. It is, in fact, competence. In Pakistan, the government's competence requires urgent reform of the standard operating procedures that have gone untouched for decades. In a post-18th-Amendment administrative context, clear guidelines establishing the domain of federal authority and delimiting that same authority is an urgent requirement. Failing such reform, Pakistan will continue to seem like a very large platter for the Taliban's taking. No matter that such depictions are the fantasy of imperial analyses. The truth is that those depictions are rooted in kernels of very scary truths. Transforming both the perception and reality of tomorrow's Pakistan requires an urgent reconfiguration of the coordination interface between federal and non-federal authority.

The situation in Karachi can similarly be captured in one word: subsidiarity. And this word is inextricably linked to the reform of federal-provincial interactions. While some functions, like the coordination of disaster-relief and reconstruction, need to be centrally managed, most local issues require local solutions.

The principle of subsidiarity is simply that the smallest, most agile and most representative level of a managing structure should be assigned all the functions it is capable of fulfilling, leaving only the big, macro issues to be dealt with by higher levels of management. In plain English, Karachi may well be getting torn into pieces by street-level thugs and gangsters--driven by emotions, by profits and by pride. But those sentiments are rooted in legitimate issues of ethnicity, or economic opportunity and of grievances not unfounded--Pakhtun or Mohajir--Karachiites aren't crazy.

Genuine subsidiarity in Pakistan would mean directly elected mayors in Pakistan's cities, and directly elected council members at the gali-mohalla levels. Urban anger needs a seat at the table, and local government is the only way to provide that seat. Pakistan may be lucky to have a decidedly non-extremist MQM ruling Karachi--but in urban Punjab, over the next decade, the absence of that seat will almost certainly be addressed by a right-of-centre political force. How far to the right is anybody's guess.

Finally, there is the inescapable anger about President Zardari. This is old hat. The real engine that drives the rage of Pakistanis around President Zardari is a little Urdu word called izzat. Pakistan's urban middle class--disengaged from politics, partly because of the stark absence of local issues in the political discourse--wants their country to be strong and proud, like they are. This moral class in Pakistan will employ both fact and fiction to validate how it sees the world. This is the Pakistan where Jinnah, Nehru, Churchill and Obama are all viewed through one lens: collective national pride. For many, the blind nationalism and religious commitment of the moral class is a problem. It may or may not be, but we know this much. Future economic growth and the future of Pakistani politics are vested deep within this moral class.

One certain way to diffuse the sense of outrage at the nation's izzat being at stake is to enable the moral class to engage in issues that actually matter. Their streetlights and parks. Their schools. Their hospitals. Their cops. To do that, Pakistan needs local government that genuinely adheres to democratic, administrative and fiscal subsidiarity. An insecure Islamabad (and Pindi) doesn't have the confidence to cede provinces their rights and responsibilities, therefore the provinces don't have the confidence to do the same for districts and beyond. And so goes this cycle of tragedy, incompetence and breaches of izzat.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. www.mosharrafzaidi.com

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