So you want change in Pakistan?
Times are tough, I know. Dismay is in the air. When you speak to people, all you hear is negativity, gloom and cynicism about the direction we are headed. You will find very few who show confidence in the general state of affairs.
When terrorists are striking symbolic targets in cities with impunity; when the economy is spiraling downward; when prices of essential commodities are rocketing sky high; when all you hear are stories of corruption in government ranks, with notorious figures handling the most important ministries-that is a time when the word ‘change’ becomes fascinating.
Why wouldn’t anyone yearn for change? It’s such an appealing word when nothing seems to go right. And when the biggest disaster in the country’s history strikes and exposes the ineptitude of the government, the yearning for change increases. People start to put aside rational arguments and become willing to ignore legitimate ways to bring about change for the “greater good”. Flawed notions such as “national interest versus democracy” are put out there. Dead dogmas like the doctrine of necessity are brought to life.
Even those who are sensible enough in these darkest of times to stick with legitimate means for change consider the present lot of ruling politicians rotten eggs who need to be replaced as soon as possible. They believe in the trickle-down theory of governance, which presumes that replacing a single corrupt person with a “good” and “pious” ruler at the top will set change in motion, which will lead to good governance. How utopian! We see opinions regarding how Pakistan needs a messiah to turn everything around. This is a time when delusional megalomaniacs can form new, one-man-show political parties, as they are led to believe in their messianic abilities. Former military dictator Musharraf admitted recently in a rare moment of frankness that he believes the atmosphere in Pakistan is conducive to “change” and he feels he is the one to bring it.
I am afraid that the country does not need a change in faces, for we have had nothing but that for the last six decades. The country needs to change the way the state is organized. It needs a comprehensive reform agenda and the political will to sustain it and to see it through. Such real change needs to be institutionalized for good.
For instance, no one is talking about the lack of local government structure at the lowest tier, through which the state is supposed to provide essential services to its citizens. While the media focuses all its energy on Swiss cases which are only remotely connected to common people, they forget to note the absence of local governance in the past ten months. This absence has been noted with respect to flood relief efforts. There is a strong need to put in place a viable local government system and its capacity must be strengthened. The sooner the provinces move towards it, the sooner they can be seen responding to citizens’ issues.
If you want to advocate for a change, then calling for a change in the governance priorities could be a place to start. It is high time we gave importance to our lagging social and economic indicators. Only 45 per cent of Pakistanis have access to improved sanitation. The child mortality rate of fifty three children per thousand is more than twice the average mortality rate for South-East Asia and much higher than that of India (37), Bangladesh (33), Nepal (31) and Indonesia (19). According to the Economic Survey 2009-10, we are a country that spends 2.1% of its GDP on education, with a literacy rate of 57%, if the figures are to be believed. Let’s rally for a change in how we lackadaisically make policies to meet Millennium Development Goals and how unrealistic policies fail to get implemented due to a lack of resources and low capacity.
Pakistan is a security state, where after a disaster like recent floods, the defence budget mysteriously increases by Rs 110 billion while the development budget is slashed by Rs 73 billion. A developing country with poor socio-economic indicators, in which the defence budget is Rs 552 billion, while the development funds stand at Rs 590 billion, will not progress, no matter which messiah is holding the reins.
I am all up for a change, if it produces results what the country actually needs. Changing faces at the top to rule over a poorly structured state will not produce any desired results. Fantasizing about an upheaval like the French Revolution is an easy way to show disappointment with the present state of affairs. Advocating for policy restructuring in a security state like ours is a difficult task. But who said that real change was easy to create?
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.