Stop bashing, copy a model that works

Published: November 14, 2011

Why doesn't Pakistan copy the governance model of the developed world as well?

From observing conversations on Facebook and Twitter, I am sure that all my Pakistan-watching friends genuinely want ‘change’. There are many ideas – everyone is passionate and wants to throw in their two cents, and that’s how it should be.

However, when I comment on these threads my friends often remind me that I should not have an opinion. This is because either:

1) I live in the West

2) I do not propose an alternative

Both streams of criticism are fair.

I do live in the fairly developed state of New York – in a city (NYC) that I love and in a neighbourhood (East Village) that I call home. I haven’t had power outages or water shortages; my street gets cleaned every day (except Wednesday), my kids can play in the park without fear. They go to public schools and mostly get a decent education. Yes, there are issues at the local, state and federal levels that frustrate me. I raise my voice at every occasion, resist any bullying and seek help from friends to amplify my plea when needed.

I strongly believe that if a certain model works, we should follow it without worrying too much about where it came from or what religion or color thought it up. And, I am amazed that all my Amreeka hating, West-bashing, anti-Hindu and anti-Israel friends use the tools that are conceived, designed and delivered from the West. Yes, most Hindus write the codes and yes most of the telecom stuff is done in Israel. This doesn’t stop them from using Facebook, Twitter or Gmail.

And it shouldn’t.

So why doesn’t Pakistan too copy the governance model of the developed world as well?

How about the next time you want to demand change, ask for an open, transparent and participatory government?

See, this same internet you are using to read my post can help you manage your elected representatives better. Why don’t you demand transparency because information sharing leads to increased communication and access to information? A government that shares information also engages it’s citizens. Once technology is adequately deployed and used, the rhetoric of ‘public-private’ partnership will also move beyond slogans and you will start to see innovation.

Of course, I understand, transparency is not an end state, but an operating model. Technology is a vehicle for open, transparent government, but also presents challenges especially around security and privacy of data. Many in the semi-democratic countries argue that transparency compromises privacy and therefore is not acceptable. That’s not true at all. Look around and you will find many examples.

I would highly recommend my friends with a stake in Pakistan to start pushing for simple things – interactive website for every agency; profit and loss statements (P&L) for every department. Moreover, I urge them to ask for the ability to rate their representatives, both elected and government employees. Simple change will transform Pakistan.

I agree on the point that my suggestions are rather simple, but I feel that they are a step in right direction and will put us on a path forward. Here is why I say this; if we could look at the budget of every institution online many amongst us would have tangible evidence of fraud. If we could do many of required tasks online, we would reduce interaction with sarkari (government) offices and cut the middle man at domicile office. If we could rate every SHO, DM, KESC engineer, and Rangers guy, we could highlight their incompetence and corruption.

I think information and awareness is the right strategy to dis-intermediate the corrupt middle layer. My recommendations may not be addressing the root cause but it will take care of symptoms that bother many of us.

Whether it is a small business offering its products globally, or families keeping in touch with relatives in other countries through services like Skype and Facebook, new technology is already making a difference in Pakistan. In the future this will be vital for underwriting innovation, productivity and citizenship for all Pakistanis. No one can stop that.

My recommendation here is that we ask Pakistani rulers to open their books, so to speak, and engage with citizens. I am not suggesting that technology is deus ex machina – the primary means of resolving all contradictions. We are undergoing a fundamental change in how we live, work and play and we need new ways of understanding, new models and new theories. We especially need to stop looking at the world from the perspective of ‘class’ or ’empire’. I am suggesting we reach for the low hanging fruit – ask for simple changes – digitizing of government. I may be wrong (I am often wrong), but I think this will be a step in the right direction.

You may argue that rulers will resist – and yes, of course they will. But just like they can’t stop my sister from using Skype to talk to her sons in Pakistan and just like they can’t stop my friend from selling used books that he buys at Urdu Bazar on Amazon, they can’t stop this tide either.

Yes, I am telling you this because:

1) I live in New York

2) and I have an alternative

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

A Pakistani-American writer, technologist, and social entrepreneur. Malick graduated from New School for Social Research with a masters degree in anthropology. He holds several technology and management certifications.

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

  • Faraz Talat

    Hear, hear..

    Our xenophobia never stops us from buying and using allegedly “Western” technologies and appliances, but when advised to make use of Western methodologies of governance, we quickly develop deathly allergies to “foreign” elements and ideas. I elaborated this point in one my earlier articles (Musings of a Westernized Pakistani).

    Why are we so reluctant to establish tried and tested systems that have helped many a nation prosper, and in lieu of them, focus on idealistic systems that are either unachievable, or utterly inefficient in the 21st century paradigm?Recommend

  • The Reader

    Very well put sir. While you’ve suggested some real solutions and polite explanations, I’d have my say just as you would expect! I for one believe that slowly majority of us, who were hitherto oblivious of technological savvy and information, are learning its correct use and power. Our adrenaline surged youth however will take a little while to mature. With so many learned and wonderful people around, we all are surely heading towards the way you’ve suggested.Recommend

  • Anoop

    A very smart idea.

    Just look at across the border. You have India and China. Both are the fastest and second fastest growing economies respectively. And, Pakistan was part of the current fastest growing economy in the World. So, what changed in Pakistan and what got fixed in India?

    I dont think Pakistan should adopt the non-democratic model of China but the Indian model suits it. But, the questions will be asked, if Pakistan is to be a replica of India, why bother with Partition in the first place?Recommend

  • Malik Rashid

    Long ago I saw a movie ‘Dracula’. The blood sucker perished as soon as it was hit by the first ray of sunlight. Thieves are like Dracula and transparency is the light they must avoid to survive and prey. When US allocated a $1.5 billion a year aid package for Pakistan but demanded transparency for the utilization of that money, leaders of the most powerful institution declared that demand for transparency was an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan. In 2010, there was a massive flood in Pakistan. Though state’s duplicity in the war against terrorism was quite clear by then, but the world still contributed generously in the rescue efforts. Again this year 8 million Pakistanis were stranded homeless under open sky, but the meager $350 million did not come through because spectacular thievery of the money donated for flood aid last year discouraged donors.
    Pakistan’s government insisted on trade not aid. Pakistanis still lay homeless and large swathes of lands are still inundated.
    When I was hired as Income Tax Inspector, my family and friends were very happy at the prospects of making rich by stealing from taxes. Thievery is a virtue and tyranny defines status in societies like Pakistan or India.
    The author has a seemingly simple plan. Just put a bell around cat’s neck and live happily thereafter.
    Thieves rule. To live peacefully under them, become a thief. Transparency, bell, sunlight? Huh!.Recommend

  • umair mahmood

    I really like your analysis. Infact I think it’s already a work in process, however not at the speed and form you would like.

    Using media for change is basically the point and the boom in news television channels, I think is already attempting to bring accountability into the governance system.

    However, if the same is done through the web it will have all those benefits that you suggested.

    Thanx. Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Here’s a couple of Pakistanis harnessing the power of the Web for bringing about better change.

    Umair Saif, who also created the SMS-all which was used by the lawyer’s protests, also provides Bitmate, which allows Pakistanis with poor access to use torrents.

    An earlier story on an online website tool, that’s currently live in Lahore and expected to expand, tries to track corruption.

  • Custard Pie Chucker

    Although I was born in the UK and still live here now, I have lived in Pakistan for 20 years. Most desi’s would consider me an outsider but I know the good, the bad and the ugly of Pakistan well enough especially having lived in Karachi, Islamabad and Abbotabad and having traveled all over the country extensively.

    I remember when in Islamabad I was setting up my business and wanted to register for Income tax. The office was in Blue Area where I was greeted by piles and piles of dust laden files that had probably not been opened in years and hardly a staff member in sight. When I finally managed to catch someones attention and inform him of my requirements he incredulously shouted to others in the Tax Office ‘Dekho, Dekho, yeh banda Income Tax ke liyeh register karnay chahta hai’. He then asked for my business card and informed me that he would make a personal visit to my offices to help me fill out the application.

    I’m sure you can imagine what he really wanted to come to my office for.

    I spent 2 stints of approximately 10 years each in Pakistan in the 70’s and the 90’s expecting things to change. and they did. Except that they changed for the worse. In a period of 30 years or so the leadership of Pakistan has been primarily passed between two families; The Bhuttos/Zardaris and the Sharifs with a couple of timeouts for martial law. The fact that these names are still in the game would be a joke if it wasn’t so tragic. The day Pakistan is led by leaders who do not consider Pakistan and it’s provinces to be family heirlooms is the day things might actually improve. Recommend

  • Ibrahim Sajid Malick

    We all agree- I believe that corruption undermines confidence in public institutions, weakens levels of interpersonal trust, reduces regime legitimacy, and saps civic involvement. Corruption, in short, breeds political alienation. Every incident of corruption that comes to light, and the seeming inability, indifference or collusion of the government (army and civil) disillusions people and serves to undermine governments’ credibility. My suggestion is simple indeed – but a start nevertheless. You can’t eradicate corruption by providing accounting online but you can reduce it a bit. I feel making a little progress is better than having a perfect plan that is hard to execute. We must learn to crawl before we can walk and run.

    Thanks for interacting.Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    I agree with just about everything you said but, quite honestly, the fact that you live in the West and not in Pakistan, in my eyes, takes away from your point of view. If an American had said the same thing, I would pay more attention than if, for example, you said, because you are a Pakistani who has left his country to live elsewhere, and I severely doubt the sincerity (or for that matter, the practicality) of Pakistanis who have left their country.
    Pardon me for using your example, I was speaking generally, but it was easiest to use your example personally.Recommend

  • Ather Sultan

    Democracy, independence of judiciary and responsible government – three oft-debated issues in media – are intrinsically linked with accountability and functioning of all organs of the State. So long holders of public office, politicians, high-ranking civil and military officials and judges do not make their declaration of assets, incomes and tax paid public, the dream of democratization of society will remain an illusion.Recommend

  • antanu

    So, why, the writer…who lives in America, does not come back to his country and help those who want to bring a change in governance and affairs of the country. It is easy to advise solutions but how many people are ready to sacrifice their comparatively comfortable life and actively help bringing the change? There could be many…too many people agree with the author’s sentiments but are unable to materialize their dream for want of expertise.Recommend

  • sahar syed

    Why cannot we stop blaming the overseas pakistanis for not coming back?
    we all seek opportunities to get abroad ..but whenever someone outside the country speaks for pakistan we get furious for him/her being there.
    We are doing nothing here for pakitsan so why force them to come here and be one of us?

    Nice article.Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani

    Wow, so now all islamophobes should stop using numbers, as the numbers are based on the Arabic numerals. And let me not name other inventions which founded the basis of modern inventions.

    This is hogwash. And Hackneyed. Please, we speak against the terrorist policies the devil’s triumvirate, we dont say we cant use their inventions!Recommend

  • sajid

    @ abdul rahman
    What has this guy said about Islam or arabs which makes you think he should stop using arabic numerals since he is an islamophobe?
    Our maulana hazrat on the other hand have go america go rallies on every friday whereas their children are enjoying a peaceful life style there. Check some of the youtube videos our maulanas have made about people of other religions and races. Heck leave other religions see some of the things they say about other sects. So if they hate the west and America so much than why use their inventions and tecnology?

    Though I must say because you probably did not bother to read the whole article apart from the first few lines you missed some of the good suggestions that he has made.
    FOR YOUR KIND INFORMATION this article was not about islam/ khilafat vs. kuffar/ democracy. It was about ways to ensure governmet accountibility through the use of internet.Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani


    Dear, I said we are against the policies of repression of the devil’s triumvirate, and every sane person will agree to it. We never said there inventions couldnt be used. They are 2 separate ideas.

    I talked about islamophobes, and didnt call the writer one. He already is enjoying the perks of the west.

    We dont need solutions dictated by foreigners, but one which we can find for ourselves.Recommend

  • malik

    The first step towards cure starts with the admission that something is wrong with you.

    Most Pakistanis believe there is nothing wrong with the country; everything is perfect, if only the US leaves Afghanistan and if only India vacates Kashmir and if only Israel ceases to exist, Pakistan can get back to their glorious days. You see, Pakistan is the only country in the world that has a geographical advantage and the world wants to destroy us. We thrive on such feel-good stories that feed our paranoia and so we keep churning out theories and treatises to prevent our people from seeing the reality.

    To a large extent, this has been a success. Now even the english-speaking guys exposed to ideas of the liberal, modern thinkers too have started thinking along the same lines. The theory that more religious purity will solve the country’s problems is growing rapidly among the young boys and girls.

    Now the situation is such that anyone who says ‘something is wrong with us’ is not going to be popular. Just look at Imran Khan, he is telling people exactly what they want to hear. That is why he is drawing massive crowds ! Recommend

  • sharjeel

    You are right about adopting what is right and would work for people. But why do you think that our own ideologies, systems or traditions cant work. nothing is working because what is working is a british system of divide and rule. that was meant to exploit the resources and people of this region. Do you know that we were Master of this Land before British and Yes our governance system decayed but what if we had not been invaded by east india company or we had defeated the british, you might not be living in east village Sir.. it could have been Bangalore as i see that you are tech savvy. Recommend