Pakistan’s failing Institutions

Prof Farakh A Khan:

‘Pakistan First’ has been the recent slogan but will someone tell me what it means in practice. Former President Gen Pervez Musharraf pushed the slogan but in actual fact it was ‘Musharraf First’ and in the process sold Pakistan to American for dollars. The slogan now is ‘Save Pakistan’. We have economic wizards pushing their agenda to make Pakistan prosperous. The PTI and other parties have their economic agendas, which few people understand. Most of strategies have been tried in the past and failed. Presently Pakistan is surviving on $12 billion remittances every year from our workers abroad and scraps from the West and Japan. We also talk of ‘good governance’ without qualifying what this means and how this would be fixed. Then there is crowd puller, since everyone suffers from it, ‘corruption’ but we don’t know how this can be rectified. Every military and civilian government started out with the slogan of ‘ending corruption’ but soon ended by being corrupt. We created ‘Anti Corruption Department’ which itself became highly corrupt!

Our education system is in a mess and the health system is gasping as the end is near. State owned enterprises are only running on massive injection of funds provided by the state. Closing down these money guzzlers is not an option. We are ailing under terrorism, sectarianism, target killings and independence movements among the provinces. Are we a failing state or failed state? My own opinion is that Pakistan is a failed state even though it has all the parameters of a well off state.

First and foremost we should define what is a failed state and study why states fail? There are many variables, which make a state fail but for Pakistan it suffers from institutional failure. For a long time I have been saying ‘State rests on its institutions’. I believe when institutions fail we get all the problems seen by people as illnesses (corruption, bad governance, collapse of state institutions etc.). Failed institutions are unable to correct the problems faced by the society and eventually leads to economic failure. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index out of 144 countries Pakistan ranks 124 (Khan, Mubarak Zeb. Global competitive ranking. Dawn Economic & Business Review. September 10, 12). Thus a failed state can be defined as one where its institutions have failed. If we did not get infusion of remittances and hand-outs from the west we would have collapsed long ago along with our precious ‘bomb’. If we try and tackle the symptoms it will not cure the real problem.

There are many theories put forward locally as to why Pakistan failed. These theories are: lack of democracy, political bungling by our leadership, military takeovers, over population, high rate of illiteracy, foreign conspiracy, corruption, load shedding, inflation, no justice, culture, even the lowly goat was faulted etc. These theories can be debated but would need another article. In short these are symptoms of failed Pakistani institutions.

My thesis is that Pakistan has neglected major sector of state institutions, which actually are supposed to deliver to the public. So far every government has concentrated on 1% of the top employees and ignored the 99% of mid and lower level of workers. Prosperity in Pakistan is linked with 99% of government employees. If we desire change in Pakistan then first get your institutions running and give people a chance of creating a prosperous Pakistan. There is only one choice for Pakistan in its plan to develop and that is to focus on the people rather than just the elite. Let me give a simple example. When we plan an Expressway in the city first cater for the pedestrian and the cyclist. But without functioning institutions this cannot materialise.

There is no denying that leadership of a country/organisation matters but we have ignored 99% of people who are to carry out the policy decisions in the country/organisation. This has been Pakistan’s failure. Every policy or plan fails because the organisations/institutions in Pakistan have not addressed the problems of the vast majority of lower level employees who actually run the projects. Our political leadership has no idea of what to do for Pakistan and is only seeking quick popularity with absurd action. If a hand pump is put in a village the president or prime minister takes the credit. After one month of floods the ‘President orders relief effort in flood-hit areas’ as if without his orders the government shall remain paralysed (APP. Dawn. September 20, 2012).

We have many examples from countries around us selecting pathways to prosperity. Pre Mao China was knocked out by tiny Japan. Today China has no democracy but is booming and there are many other examples of flourishing states in the Far East with dictatorships and semi democracy. In 1979 Chinese leadership Deng Xiaoping decided to change their communist economic system as enforced by Mao Zedong (died 1976). The economic system was gradually opened in a planned manner over next 10 years with spectacular results. Thus political leadership does matter the same as the leadership at the institutional level.

Historically we have the example of Spain in the 16th century. Spain went into South America to loot vast quantities of gold and silver and transport it back to Spain. At that time Spain did not have a developed infrastructure to absorb the new wealth. With the looted bullion Spain went on buying spree in Europe making them rich and Spain remained poor.

During the 1950’s and 60’s USAID gave large quantities of funds to South Korea, Taiwan and Pakistan. Pakistan goofed it up and remained poor while war torn impoverished South Korea and Taiwan flourished. S Koreans took Pakistan’s first Five Years Plan prepared by top American brains and made it a success while Pakistan languished in poverty.

We also have the example of North and South Korea. The starving communist North and bubbling South both have strong institutions yet the economic disparity is glaring. The North has a strange kind of communist dynastic dictatorship while the South has soft dictatorship, which understands the dynamics of economics.

In countries where power and wealth is in few hands they also end up as failed states. I shall give a few examples of state failures. To my perception many countries in the world today are failed states. Baring oil and gas the total exports of the Arab World is about the same as tiny Finland. The Arab kings and despots have accumulated huge amount of wealth in western banks and failed to invest in its own people. When their oil and gas will not be required these countries shall revert to miserable life before oil was discovered (Bernard Lewis on CNN. September 3, 2012). Arab countries are failed states. In my opinion United States of America is also a failed state with its massive debt.

We also have example of two neighbours in the town of Nogales, Mexico cut across by the border into two. The development in Mexico and US sides is shown in aerial photographs. One side (USA) is bustling with high-rise and road network while the in the south (Mexico) the land is barren (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012). This analogy may not be a true depiction of development on two sides since other variables were not taken into account (Sachs, 2012). Poor illegal Mexicans workers in US do just as well as any other American citizen but fail in their own country. The difference is of functioning institutions in US and corrupt incompetent institutions in Mexico (Nossiter, Adam. Islamists overwhelmed by tasks to administer northern Mali. International Herald Tribune. September 3, 2012). South American states are good examples of static and developing countries when they focus on the elite or the people.

Northern Mali now occupied militarily by Islamic extremists has an acute problem of governance. They want the administrators and teachers back in their area and are presently negotiating with the government in the south to send back people to run services.

The mighty Mughal Empire was created by dynamic few from Central Asia facing poorly structured Indian forces. We then see collapse of Mughal Empire against handful of British invaders. Unlike the Mughal army the new invaders had an army with a system. If the leader in the Indian army was killed the rest melted away whereas in the British army there was a rank system and the next officer took over command. Regular pay, discipline and a command structure made the British lick large untrained mass of Indian ‘army’ fighters. The Khalsa army in the Punjab under Ranjit Singh was partly trained by European deserters and commanded by European generals. However the army was never paid on time. Ranjit Singh was a shrewd politician as well. He knew that his army did not stand a chance against the British forces and made treaties to safeguard his interest. After Ranjit Singh the army became too strong and was in open revolt siding with one Sardar or the other. To get rid of the army it was sent to fight the British starting what was called the Sikh Wars. This was the end of Sikh rule and entry of the British into Punjab. Sikh administration was based on sending in armed men to collect taxes. Edwards while helping the Sikh Darbar at Lahore supress rebellion in Multan noted that the Sikh officers treated the people ‘as cows to be milked’. Today our leadership treats the state as a cow to be milked. Sikh Empire was a failed state.

Development of Fata is not possible under the present set up. The only institution that has worked in Fata is the jirga, which is mainly used for conflict resolution. There are no institutions for development of roads, electricity, collection of taxes, a justice system, centralised security system, higher education etc. ‘Foreign’ investment is not possible because of lack of institutional support. People of Fata are hard working, intelligent and honest and are successful in places outside Fata but fail in the area itself. Anyone who is educated migrates out of Fata, which has no future under its present system. Fata is devoid of institutions, which can produce progress and development. In Balochistan Area B comprising 98% of the province, which is run by Sardars is devoid of institutions and cannot be developed. CM Balochistan with less than 2% of the province under his control lives most of the time in Islamabad.

We need to scientifically study provinces of Pakistan including Fata in terms of governance levels, natural resources, population density, social structure, literacy rate, level of human resource and impact of cultural and their final impression on development and progress. We also need to study the status of migrant workers from Fata in other provinces.

So far Pakistani planners have focused to the higher echelons of institutions that form less than 1% of the manpower of the intuitions. In the Punjab the senior bureaucrats have more than four top of the line expensive ‘institutions’ for their ‘training’ but over the years standards have deteriorated. We have seen our top retired civil servants elected to run elite clubs failing miserably. It is questionable as to how they perform in running massive departments in the government sector when they are unable to run a small elitist organisation.

In many developed countries including Japan governments come and go sometimes very quickly but has no impact on their economy or development because the institutions are working. Parliaments make laws and policies, which are to be implemented by the government agencies. Change of parliamentarians’ presidents/prime ministers makes no difference to governance.

In 1994 I took over a destroyed hospital size department. My goal was to turn it round with the same staff and resources. I realised that if the behaviour and motivation of the lower staff could not be changed there was no hope. Unfortunately existing literature on the subject only focused on research on institutions, which were already working above 90% but there was no research publications if these were at 5-10% level. Thus there was no model to look up to besides some experience of a leader in catering sector (Khan, 2000). The people who are experts in various subjects on development in Pakistan assume that the institutions are running at above 90%. They make projects plan reforms and find that money has been wasted. A well-known scholar claimed on a private TV channel that Pakistan was facing the following problems which are tearing it apart: terrorism, extremism and failing economy. Without functioning institutions nothing can be done. During 2005 earthquake and 2010, 2011 and 2012 floods our administration had disappeared. We after the 2005 earthquake went on to create National Disaster Management Authority, which should have been part of the administration rather than an independent agency. In the end we call in the army to do the job. In the next 2013 floods we shall see the same zero response of our governments. The horrendous Karachi garment ‘factory’ fire where 290 people were killed and the same day fire in shoe factory in Lahore (September 12) stunned the nation and was outraged wanting blood. Future investigation will show that more than six agencies involved in safety of factories are corrupt and incompetent running on political hand-outs. The fire fighters are badly trained and lack equipment. There will be more fires and we shall be going through the same motions of paying compensation to the dead and injured. I have been told that restaurants in Lahore have to bribe more than 10 agencies that control this sector and the public foots the bill. As a form of political gimmickry we are made to believe that creating new provinces shall solve all the problems of the poor in the area. They shall inherit the same Thanedar and Patwari to screw the people.

The education system is dead. Many of the state run schools are derelict and the teachers never turn up. Most schoolteachers lack training and are of little use in education of the nation. In the field of medicine we have only focused on training and betterment of doctors whereas health care is mainly in the hands of nurses and paramedical staff for whom there is little opportunity to train. To top it all they are badly paid. Health care system in the rural areas is appalling despite many training initiatives launched by WHO.

In our police service baring a few senior officers the policemen are untrained, badly motivated and underpaid mob. The living conditions of the policemen are appalling. Their offices (Thanas) are functioning on ‘charity’ of the people to procure stationary and other items. The policeman lack motivation, dignity and have no concept of policing as in the west. During their initial ‘training’ at entry in the police academy the policemen are mainly used for different chores by the seniors. In this period of nine months ‘training’ they fire a total of six pistol shots. It is not surprising that the police are terrified of terrorists. After retirement pension does not support life and they have to fall back on bribery and corruption hence thanas are on sale.

Our lower courts are functioning on a system of extortion and personal favours. There is no justice for the poor of Pakistan. The people are fleeced by the lawyers and various appointees of the government in the courts. No wonder poor people of Pakistan avoid being involved in court procedures.

Finally all these services at the senior level bureaucracy are highly politicised. Starting from the days of Gen Ayub Khan every government made bureaucracy, police and higher judiciary subservient to politics of its time. Transfer and posting of officers is entirely based on political concerns. Appointment of large government corporations’ heads is also politically motivated. The elitist culture of Mughal and British period is still thriving in Pakistan. We still promote expensive British period Government Houses and sprawling Government Officers Residences. The ruling elite made Pakistan fail by killing its institutions for self-interest.

Can we reverse this phenomenon? Is it too late? First we have to recognise the problem and change thinking at the elite level. We have a mass of junior cadre civil servants who have been ignored by our desktop thinkers and political parties self-interest. Unless we can improve our lowly government servants who are crucial for improvement of services to our people and expect our plans to work the dream of good governance to emerge out of chaos of todays Pakistan will not result. Many Pakistanis feel that the only way to change institutions is to freely use the ‘danda’. This is the worst kind of strategy since it produces a workforce, which is ‘Waiting for Orders’ and looses innovation, creativity and drive.

To bring change in our lower cadre of government servants we need to make plans and take bold initiatives. For the senior services we should immediately depoliticise and protect them from political sharks and recognise merit. This is not a difficult task and can be achieved within six months at the most. Once this is in place we can then tackle other pressing problems cited by our ‘experts’ in various fields.

If our leaders are sincere for change in Pakistan then they have to first get the institutions working again. But do they know how or have the will to do it? The solution as one Islami ‘scholar’ claimed on TV is that we should wait for Imam Mehdi and he will sort out the Americans.




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