NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 40

Governance amidst a growing crisis

It is a mess across Pakistan as the crisis of governance deepens and the economic condition of the majority of citizens of the country deteriorates to an unprecedented level. From the situation prevailing in Pakistan with rising crime rates, multiplying conflicts at the family, locality, village, city and thus societal and state level and its apparatus’ inability to respond to these conflicts and crimes, the country seemingly has become ungovernable.

This is really a serious situation with people discussing the total collapse of the governance structures everywhere but no one, including the media, is really trying to focus on the factors and actors of the mess and crisis. Rather, every individual and institution is after money and self-aggrandizement with least care for the whole country or society in which they have to live and survive ultimately while getting succour from it.

A more serious issue is that the policymaking bodies of the country that ideally are parliament and provincial assemblies have largely been discussing the “achievements” of the government in case of treasury benches and “failures” of the government in case of opposition benches. Although there is some debate in the federal and provincial parliaments about inflation and price hike and some other related issues, yet there has been no extensive and profound debate in these institutions about the all-encompassing mess and crisis in the country.

Insofar as the causes of the prevailing conflicts and problems in the country are concerned, the foremost is the collapse of the governing structures at federal and provincial levels. The authorities at the various tiers of governance and administration have largely failed to cope up with even ordinary problems of law and order and controlling commodity prices. The authorities are even unable to negotiate problems, like environmental pollution, regulation of road traffic, encroachments by land mafias on state and private land, effectively banning polythene bags and maintaining a satisfactory condition of public health and hygiene. The institutions of governance and administration have largely failed to tackle these issues because of large-scale political instability in the country.

Political instability is the second most important cause of the extant crisis and crimes in Pakistan. Now political instability is a complex and hard-to-understand phenomenon. In the prevailing context of Pakistani society, political instability could be defined as unresponsive governance structures due to incompetence and lack of the political will and working of political institutions, like political parties, cabinets and others, for vested individual or group interest, instead of the public interest. It is important to note that since 2002, there have been elected governments in the saddle in the country without the imposition of martial law or a break in the political process. However, behind the scenes, the powers-that-be have been playing their games and the political and elected governments have not been that political and elected in the real sense of the word. Nevertheless, there has been a kind of continuity of whatever kind of democracy we have in the last 20 years. The situation logically should have provided a lot of political stability to the country; however, the result has been the opposite. Because it has always been argued that if the elected democratic system would be given an opportunity to sustain itself through non-intervention, then the political system would work and provide much-needed stability to the country. Although the democratic-elected system has persisted for the last 20 years, it is quite debatable whether this so-called elected system has been democratic in the real sense of the word. In this regard, it could be argued that it has not been.

The country’s establishment has been calling the shots overtly or covertly and it has not been something very secret. Secondly, and most importantly, political actors, like political parties and politicians, have not been really making a collective effort to make use of this rare opportunity in the form of the continuous electoral system to create necessary conditions for thriving democracy. For instance, all the ruling and opposition political parties could not hold intra-party elections so that genuine political leaders could come to the fore instead of family members of party founders or their near and dear ones. Then, all ruling political parties, whether at the Centre or in provinces, whether it was the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Awami National Party (ANP), religious parties alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, National Party (NP) or all those which remained in the saddle at the provincial level, resisted local government bodies in their provinces. Therefore, the issues and conflicts that could be addressed by local governments or municipal bodies at the grassroots level could not be addressed, leaving them to fester over time. Ultimately, political stability could not be achieved and what we have been seeing is a complete mess in the country at every level.

It is important to note that Pakistan has seen some kind of democratic governments on the trot since 2002, and at the same time privately-owned electronic media has also thrived in the country. This was followed by the mushroom growth of social media and mobile telephones in Pakistan. The mainstream electronic media, in particular TV channels, have contributed a long way to creating awareness about public and political issues of society and the country. This has increased the masses’ expectation of the state and the government to provide them with basic necessities and essential services. With the state remaining a traditional entity with extensive hierarchical and centralized structures, as symbolized by an iron-clad civilian bureaucracy corrupt to the core, it could not respond to the growing needs of an increasingly complex society. This has resulted in innumerable ungovernable spaces in the country, the upshot of which has been an unmanageable mess all over.

However, the media has created and disseminated awareness among the masses in Pakistan about their rights but it could not educate the people about their responsibilities. For instance, the media could not develop a debate and narrative about citizens’ responsibility to pay their taxes to the state, and more importantly, has not been able to carry out necessary political socialization of the masses so that they could stand up for their rights. In case any undemocratic institution or force attempts to bring down their elected government, how could they resist it? Instead the media largely follows its vested agenda and that of the forces that finance them or promote their owners. Thus, media channels and organizations, by supporting one political party against the other and by backing some state institutions against others, are following a non-state agenda.

In short, the situation in Pakistan, whether internal security, economy, society and political arena, is alarming. In this situation, the intelligentsia has to lead the way forward. Unfortunately, the intelligentsia of Pakistan is also filled up with pseudo experts; therefore, we could not see any response to the prevailing crisis from the thinking and writing class of Pakistan. Anyhow, even a handful of intellectuals could make a big difference and lead the way if they come together and debate the solution.