So you want change in Pakistan?

Published: October 24, 2010

Pakistan's development indices are low and implementing structural change is the only thing that can alter them.

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?

Husham Ahmed

Husham Ahmed

A public policy consultant and a writer who tweets @hushamahmed and blogs at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Bravo! My sentiments exactly! Recommend

  • Ozan

    What is the point of this piece…. lacks reason and coherence. Who will reform the structure of state??? You have to change the top brass of political leadership before you can change functioning of state. Current leadership does not have any incentives to disrupt the status quo…Recommend

  • muhammad tanvir

    we can start by seperating religion & the state.That would lead to a positive impact on our society in a number of ways.We would hate less,kill less,judge others less if religion wasn’t stuffed down everyone’s throat by the state from birth.

    Our society was a better place before a religously driven dictator gave state sanction to religous bigotry,intolerance & through different organs of the state started to change our society from which we’ve unfortunately still not recovered after so many decades as too many of his laws & policies are still in enforcement.Recommend

  • R. Querieshi

    I agree with the author. Their are many armchair intellectuals who are spreading gloom and despair. If the things cannot be changed, then these people should commit suicide. All those living (and who want to live) should strive to bring change doesn’t matter how bad things are!Recommend

  • parvez

    Thoughtfull write up on a difficult topic.
    If one thinks of this dispassionately there is no incentive for those who can bring change to actually bring change. Why would he or they bring change when he or they are fat and content and in the driving seat ?
    The word change is being used loosely it should more specifically mean – improvement.
    Various pressure groups( judiciary, media, civil society, ngo’s) must push for major improvement and re-engineering of systems in order to show a change in the status quo.
    Today those in the driving seat will resits but then that is the challenge.Recommend

  • Humanity

    In the Presidential inauguration speech on 10 May 1994, Mandela said,

    “….We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity — a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world……..Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.” (Excerpt)

    Lessons for nation and character building !Recommend

  • khan

    While the idea appeals to many, simply getting rid of Zardari will not result in improved governance. Getting a new general to run the country dictatorially will only worsen the situation and may even lead to a possible second break-up of the country.

    After 63 painful years of disastrous interruptions we have to rebuild our institutions – an independent judiciary, an efficient and non-politicised bureaucracy and an army which restricts itself to defending our borders. We also have to remove the canker of corruption from our body politic. Contrary to many armchair intellectuals,its not just politicians but just about everyone is involved in making quick and unmerited money – whether it is businessmen defaulting on loans, bureaucrats and military officers making a commission on contracts, or the lower judiciary deciding cases on cash received.Recommend

  • Shahnawaz,India

    INDIA’S defence budget is much less compared to its development budget.These is what is needed for a developing nation.A developing country is required to give more importance to economic,health and education development and that is the reason why its developing in a higher rate.Moreover it is also invests in the development of home made defence technologies including fighter jets,war ships ets to become less dependent on foreign technologies and is already successful in many projects.I am advising Pakistan to stop spending more in buying foreign aircraft and tanks to compete with India.It is better for both Pakistan and India to resolve all problems and remain as 2 sisters in a very good relationship and give more importance to the development of health,education,economic and living standard of their fellow citizens.If both the countries develop a full honest co-operation for development then Insha Allah India will become a developed country and so Pakistan. Recommend

  • shazia

    excellent article every 1 wants “INQILAAB & CHANGE” but no knws what needs to be changed!Recommend