Mohammad Waseem, professor at the prestigious LUMS, asks in Dawn today, ‘Is Pakistan Governable?‘ His piece echoes the fear and despair that has sunk into the hearts of many of our brothers and sisters as it seems we are living through a period when bullets are easier to come by than electricity. The good professor is understandably frustrated with the state of the nation, but I’m afraid his frustration is clouding his judgment.
Professor Waseem expresses his frustration by laying the blame for all society’s ills at the feet of the present government, accusing political leaders of being “grossly engaged in the game of survival in office” and unable – or unwilling – to deliver to the people. But is this true?
Writing in the same newspaper three years ago, Professor Waseem noted that the newly elected Zardari-Gilani government inherited dysfunctional institutions and an abused public.
The PPP government faces an uphill task in terms of addressing issues relating to the inflationary spiral and the much-feared economic meltdown. What is required is the qualitative input of the best available talent in the country in the formulation of policy and the allocation of resources. The ruling set-up very much needs to cultivate its profile as a government by policy not patronage. It needs to develop the potential to swim through contradictory currents of agenda in the war against terror on the one hand and the political and religious sensitivities of the public on the other. While the formal transition from military to civilian rule is complete, the government needs to address substantive issues relating to the bar and the bench and the Seventeenth Amendment.
All governments are tasked with reform. Greece is struggling with debt, India is struggling with corruption, the Americans are struggling with political gridlock, Mexico is struggling with security. Our government was immediately tasked with not one major task of reform, but all of them. Despite these challenges, the government has managed to make some progress.
The most important point, however, remains the fact that high drama projected from media, the coalition has not fallen apart, and opposition parties have chosen to use the political process and not try to upend the chessboard to seize power. Even the so-called ‘war’ between the executive and judiciary was proven to be nothing but a TV drama when Justice Iqbal declared that “all differences will be settled with consensus rather than conflict”.
Obviously, this does not mean that there are no problems still facing the nation. Law and order situation in Karachi must be solved. While the extension of Political Parties Act and amendments to FCR is a good start in FATA, still more must be done to integrate the region’s citizens. And more must be done to address concerns in Balochistan also. Questions about how the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan must be asked and answered honestly, even if the answers are embarrassing. And we need a national dialogue on the prejudice and sectarianism that underlies so many of these issues that tear at the fabric of our nation.
But just as serious problems remain, it’s not quite fair to suggest that our political leaders regardless of party are ignoring the problems of society. What Professor Waseem identified as areas that needed to be addressed by the present government have largely been addressed, even if incrementally. If the present government is bowling yorkers, the professor is moving the wicket.
In another 2008 piece, Professor Waseem noted that the nation’s institutions had suffered “an enormous beating at the hands of the fourth coup-maker in the history of Pakistan”, and warned that “If Musharraf strikes again, he will do so with the support of this unrepresentative and career-oriented elite which is imbued with a supremacist ideology rooted in paternalism”.
Today, he says “Only a strong, authoritative, confident, legitimate and responsible government can deal with the turbulence all around.” It is easy to wish for a more perfect government, but governments are made of people, not angels. The present government was elected by the people, and in less than two years, the people will return to the polls to decide who will take over and carry on. Whether that government is led by the PPP or some other party, it will face the same complicated and difficult problems, and easy answers will remain the elusive smoke of campaign speeches.
Whether the choice of the people meets the hopes of Professor Waseem, I would only remind him of his own words written three years ago: “A move backwards to the age of non-representative rule cannot and should not be allowed ever again.”