What does Mosharraf Zaidi want exactly? Does he even know?

Mosharraf Zaidi

by Adeel

Mosharraf Zaidi is a man who does not want for complaints. What he does seem to want for are answers. He represents one of the great obstacles to progress in Pakistan because he masquerades as a “intellectual” who goes around making critical remarks about everything under the sun. But when it comes time for providing solutions, Zaidi has nothing to say.

Sana, author of Chai Chutney Politics blog, wrote an article on Monday that makes a point that should be discussed widely. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it. Her article, “Democracy in a Box”, lays out the major problem with much of the indigestion among the so-called liberal intelligentsia – they don’t have the patience for democracy, which is a slow process with no easy answers.

Sana writes,

Democracy cannot appear at the wave of a Presidential wand, nor can the National Assembly (talented bunch though they are!) conjure up a self-sustaining system. In order for a true democracy to take root, we must stay true to its principles and give it a real chance to develop. Most importantly, we must understand that democracies evolve.

Pakistan’s democracy, even if it was uninterrupted by military coups and dictatorships, would only be just over 60 years old. That is quite young. In reality, though, it is closer to two years only, and we are still working on unraveling the results of decades of dictator mis-rule. Even America which has been a democracy for hundreds of years does not provide the quality of life of older nations like Switzerland, Norway, or Sweden. It is a process of evolution. It takes time.

In his column for The News today, Mosharraf Zaidi even describes this evolution as it pertains to the American aid that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been speaking about.

Top US policymakers have fought for over two years to win the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Since then, two things have kept that money from flowing into Pakistan. The first is Mr Holbrooke’s decision to dispense with the Clintonian (Bill, not Hill) model of US aid disbursement through large contracting firms that Americans often refer to as Beltway Bandits. That decision, while long overdue, was rushed and was made in the wrong country, at the wrong time. American development assistance, which is not routed solely through USAID, but often through half a dozen different US departments (or ministries), has been in desperate need of an overhaul for years. But to attempt to reform the instrument of aid delivery in Pakistan, at the climax of Obama’s war in Afghanistan, has been a disastrous decision. The American international aid community is so removed and so distant from the mainstream of western assistance thinking (spearheaded by the OECD and captured in the Paris Declaration) that it doesn’t quite know how to deal with large sums of money without the Beltway Bandits. This has meant that the Kerry-Lugar money has been parked in Washington DC, with a clear destination, but no vehicle to take it there.

Even in a democracy as old and developed as America, things don’t always work very well. America still has bureaucratic inefficiencies, it still has corruption, it still has parliamentarians and ministers who have questionable intelligence. But nobody accuses America of being a ‘failed state’ or says that democracy will not work there. Everyone understands that the progressives in America are trying their best to move their country forward, and that little by little things get better. Gone are the days of George Bush. Obama is not perfect, but he is better. Hopefully the next American leader will be better still. It is a process.

There was a comment left on this web site recently that echoed what is becoming a disturbing line of thinking, and one that seems to be at the foundation of Zaidi’s column. The commenter wrote,

We need a governement of intellectuals and technocrats, with local governements, where people with clean slate are elected…If you don’t like to have Graduate Parliamentarians, the voters should be Graduates to have vision to select proper candidates.

There is a famous book for students of politics called, The Best and the Brightest by the famous American journalist David Halberstam. In this book, the author tells the story of how the American government of President John F. Kennedy decided to  include only “the best and the brightest” among the nation’s intellectuals. The thought at the time was that by filling the government with intellectuals and technocrats, everything would run efficiently and cleanly. What they got, though, was the Viet Nam war.

Mosharraf Zaidi laments the ‘brain drain’ that we are experiencing, saying the ‘best and the brightest’ are choosing to work for the UN or World Bank or in London or New York City rather than as a CSP or DMG officer. Certainly this is an issue that is worth addressing – how to encourage our best students to devote their talents to improving the country.

But Mosharraf Zaidi’s bio says that he himself “advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy”. Why is he not taking his own advice? Does his career choice not make him one of the “unknowns at the thaana kuthchehri and galli-mohalla level” that he complains about? Why is he not a CSP or DMG officer himself? Surely there is an availability for him here in the Pakistani bureacracy. It seems that for all his complaining, Mosharraf Zaidi doesn’t have any more stake in Pakistani politics than anyone else he accuses of being out of touch.

The truth is, Mosharraf Zaidi is a perfect example of the impotence of the intelligentsia. They know everything they don’t like – military rule, populist politicians and parties, professional political advisors, etc etc etc. But they can’t come up with anything to say about practical policy solutions. Ini fact, when the politicians elected by the people and the “unknowns at the thaana kuthchehri and galli-mohalla level” come up with suggestions, Mosharraf Zaidi and his lot are only there to criticise, not to help.

They can talk about all the right kinds of reform, but they can’t deliver. More worryingly, their reform-speak is often deluded, because it is devoid of any political rigour. “Let’s clip military powers by marketing bold ideas in Washington DC, instead of Rawalpindi.” Well. We’ve seen how that has turned out. “Let’s raise taxes!” Sure. Because nobody else has ever thought of that! “Let’s improve education.” Sure. Because it takes genius to figure out that education is a problem. Advice that is anchored in Rubinomics and Bretton Woods theology has been failing Pakistan for the entire duration of Pakistan’s lifetime. This should hardly be a surprise. It never works anywhere.

Actually, Mosharraf Zaidi is in such a habit of criticising that he even criticises Mosharraf Zaidi. Today he complains about “clipping military powers”, but just a few months ago he wrote:

“If Pakistan’s military will ever be the impregnable wall of defence for Pakistan that it aspires to be, it needs to be subservient to civilian oversight.”

Mosharraf Zaidi’s writing is like the belch from an empty stomach: After it’s over, nobody is satisfied. What we have yet to hear from Mosharraf Zaidi and his fellow ‘intellectuals’ are some realistic suggestion for how to improve things. Mosharraf Zaidi says that it is obvious that education is a problem, but complains that everyone’s solutions are “anchored in Rubinomics and Bretton Woods theology”, which, honestly, doesn’t even make sense. What does Bretton Wood have to do with education? Is Mosharraf Zaidi simply throwing around monetary policy buzzwords in order to impress people while hiding the fact that he doesn’t have anything constructive to offer? It certainly sounds like it.

Another blogger, Ahsan Butt who writes the Five Rupees blog, has noticed the same problem with Mosharraf Zaidi: He complains for the sake of complaining, but offers no practical solutions for anything. Ahsan offers some advice for Zaidi.

If mainstream Pakistan wants to ignore [us liberals], fine, that’s their prerogative. But don’t blame us when shit goes bad. In other words, don’t blame the victim for the crime. It’s bad enough that we have to live with the actual criminals.

Pakistan doesn’t need more ‘intellectuals’ belching empty complaints. We need people like Sana and Ahsan who are interested in moving the country forward. Mosharraf Zaidi says that “only organic reform” can change the lives of Pakistanis. To borrow a phrase from Zaidi himself: “Sure. Because nobody else has ever thought of that!” Please, sir, define what “organic reform” you are speaking of. And don’t include magic wands or time machines or ‘Democracy in a Box’. We’re waiting for your answers…


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