Pakistan’s Challenges Are Institutional & Structural, Messiahs Are Part of the Problem not Solution


With elections in Pakistan set for February 8th – as of now – discussions abound whether or not this time round Pakistan will be able to resolve all its crises.

Institutional change, according to editor of The Friday Times, Raza Rumi “is an outcome of how the formal and the informal, the de facto and de jure decision makers interact and negotiate.” However, when it comes to Pakistan, “The greatest source of de facto power is the military led by a chief appointed for three years. In the recent past, energies of such leaders have been spent on extending their term in office, and for that they are ready to manipulate the system in their favour, thereby ushering in more instability. They have little or no in-house expertise in complex issues of economic management, growth and social development. On the other hand, the political parties and their leaders are in constant battle to survive in office, avoid jail, or get re-elected and for that reason, their priorities are altogether different. On social development, they are tied to the idea of patronage and distributing goodies for electoral management. Within that patronage framework, spaces open up for service delivery improvements, but this is not always a guaranteed outcome.”

Political parties, Rumi notes, “have a mandate too, and a legitimate claim under the Constitution, to govern and reform. But they are frequently absent from the policy discourse, and their in-house capacity is so anaemic that, once in power, are forced to hire conservative bureaucrats trained in the neoliberal institutions as economic managers, state bank governors and technical advisors. Despite this formidable constraint, the only way forward for reform is striving for a deliberative and well-negotiated consensus among the political elites. That can only take place if the political parties are allowed to function independently of the military diktat or a manufactured politics of polarisation. It is surely a little more complex than the popular reference to a ‘charter of economy’, but parliamentary process on the latter could be the starting point.”

Rumi notes, “The intention here is not to berate well-intentioned international bureaucrats and policy enthusiasts in Pakistan. Knowledge production and public debates are valuable, and ideas matter. But, there is a structural issue with international development. The neoliberal financial institutions shy away from direct engagement with politics, and have found governance as a proxy to address the ‘P’ word. For even a small reform effort, there are political bargains, mobilisations and layers of ownership. Sadly, in Pakistan, there is little or no ownership of ‘change’ among the agents of the status quo, the civil-military bureaucracy and the senior judiciary. The political class is chained by its own financial interests, given the imperatives of patronage, rent-seeking, and finding generous allies in big business, real estate and corporate media.”

In conclusion, Rumi warns, “international institutions, despite their enormous clout, cannot help achieve a political bargain. Nor can Pakistan’s friends in the Gulf.” Instead, “there are two ways in which this might happen. First, a crisis of such a magnitude that it restructures elite-behaviour, e.g., a default in the current scenario. Second, a civilian leader who goes out of the way to foster a grand dialogue between the power players and is not hindered by the militablishment in creating compacts between political forces. Neither a military saviour, nor a group of technical wizards can accomplish such results.”


Author: Muhammad Butt