Hope as strategy By Sakib Sherani - Friday 22nd April 2011

AS Pakistan lurches between hope and despair, between promise and peril, the angst regarding its future has gone ‘viral’. A growing pantheon of some of its most steadfast friends abroad have added influential voices to the growing despair.
Here is a sampling of the recent rich crop of ‘Pakistan-is-going-under’ and ‘the-end-is-nigh’ narrative: Stephen Cohen (The Future of Pakistan); Anatol Lieven (Pakistan: A Hard country); Emma Duncan (‘A great deal of ruin in a nation’, feature in The Economist); Christina Lamb (‘Pakistan
has been playing us all for suckers’, The Sunday Times); Pamela Constable (soon-to-be released book); and, M.J. Akbar (Tinderbox).
Some of our own eminent voices have added titles such as Between Dreams and Realities (Sartaj Aziz) and others along similar lines, signifying the despair of broken dreams and unfulfilled aspirations felt by a large number of Pakistanis.
Against this backdrop, two recent books by prominent Pakistanis aim to ‘balance’ the discourse by giving a fresh, and decidedly indigenous, perspective on the country’s predicament and its future. The first is a collection of essays by 18 of Pakistan’s brightest and best, in a book edited by (with three important contributions) someone with impeccable credentials in public service, media and academia, the erudite Dr Maleeha Lodhi.
Aptly titled Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State, its basic premise is hopeful, expressed in the strong belief in the demonstrated resilience of Pakistan and Pakistanis, and in the emergence of hopeful signs regarding a vibrant middle class and civil society.
The second book is more incidental in nature, in that it has not been written specifically to balance the recent discourse on Pakistan, but is a memoir by a renowned Pakistani economist, Dr Parvez Hasan (My Life, My Country). It too contrives a somewhat hopeful and optimistic note at the very end in discussing Pakistan’s promise.
The issue, however, is not of Pakistan’s immense promise or potential. The issue is how to find the Holy Grail, and why it has remained elusive for so long. While the answer to this question has affected almost every facet of the average Pakistani’s life, and continues to do so, it has manifested itself very strongly in Pakistan’s economic performance.
There is a common strand in two of the recent books on Pakistan. That of a “weak state and a strong society” as Dr Maleeha Lodhi puts it very aptly; and, in M.J. Akbar’s words (said in a different context it must be mentioned) to the effect that “the Pakistani is stronger than the idea of Pakistan, while the idea of India is stronger than the Indian”. The common strain is that the “ecosystem of weak and atrophying institutions” serves the interests of Pakistan’s elites very well.
Hence, it is unclear what incentive ‘insiders’ like venal politicians or a corrupt bureaucracy have to change the status quo when they benefit so directly and so profusely from it. While there are incipient signs of hope in the appearance of a developing ‘middle class consensus’, and the emergence of an assertive and activist superior judiciary, these successes can prove transient. The party that purports to represent the middle classes is already co-opted by the establishment, and hence, compromised, while the success of the Supreme Court does not appear to be institutionalised, and hence, can be easily snuffed out or reversed.
It is no coincidence that Pakistan’s ranking in global measures of the strength of the institutional framework is an abysmal, and telling, 20th percentile in rule of law, accountability, and control of corruption. This means, that on average, on each of these dimensions, Pakistan ranks better than only 20 per cent of the countries in the world! Is this an Indian or Israeli-conspiracy? No, it is a conspiracy that is entirely indigenous — a conspiracy of Pakistan’s elites against their state and their own people.
Larger, unsettled questions (as Emma Duncan put it years ago in Breaking the Curfew) have to be settled before Pakistan can achieve broader economic as well as political stability: how to organise the state, how to guarantee rights and enforce obligations pertaining to all groups, segments, regions and individuals. Examples of such ‘unsettled’ (or wrongly settled, in most cases) questions abound: should it be the ‘privilege’ of a prime minister or president not to appear before a court of law, or be answerable to a parliamentary committee? Should it be the ‘privilege’ of certain incomes, such as agriculture, to be exempt from taxation? Should it be the ‘privilege’ of a venal few to stash their ill-gotten wealth in offshore accounts, and not give a full account in their election filings — and not be debarred as a result?
Should it be the ‘privilege’ of an elite minority to get world class education in swank English-medium schools, while the rest of the population sends children to crumbling, dilapidated under-funded government schools with ‘ghost’ teachers? Is it the ‘privilege’ of army cantonments or civilian DHAs to get potable water while the rest of Pakistan drinks a toxic brew? Is it the ‘privilege’ of a few to get expensive health services, unaffordable to the masses?
Or perhaps the most egregious example of the privileges of the few trumping over the rights of the majority: is it the ‘privilege’ of a corrupt few to be granted pardon for loot and plunder of the public exchequer and bank loans of countless depositors under a self-serving ordinance (the infamous NRO) meant to prop an individual in power?
If Pakistan is to survive, then we have to graduate from establishing privileges for the elite, to enforcing their responsibilities — and securing the rights of the larger populace. Without resolving the most basic of all questions, Pakistan’s prospects remain uncertain, at best. At worst, its future remains deeply imperilled.
The writer heads an economic consultancy based in Islamabad.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/22/hope-as-strategy.html

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