In recent years, an increasing number of international observers, scholars and analysts affiliated with the media and think tanks in the US and Europe have been dubbing Pakistan a “failing state”. Although using such a blanket statement about Pakistan is indeed wrong, yet the multifarious problems that have inflicted the country and the crisis the state has faced are enormous.
The successive governments and military rulers’ failure to stem the rot has obviously contributed significantly to the situation. A number of reputable international analysts and experts have been furnishing different reasons for Pakistan civil institutions’ constant downslide. A study of these factors reveals generally three distinguishable and major reasons for the state institutions’ decline. These include: the country’s inability to provide security in the former FATA and now newly merged tribal districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Balochistan province and most of the rural areas across the country; the government’s incapacity to manage the natural and man-made disasters, for instance, the recent rains in Karachi and the havoc they wreaked. Another vital factor which different quarters have cited for the contemporary crisis in Pakistan but which remained largely ignored has been the prevalent ethnic tensions in the country. Unfortunately, these ethnic tensions over the years have assumed the shape of a conflict gnawing at the capacity of the state to fulfill its fundamental responsibility to the people and society at large.
An independent and honest analysis of the present crisis in Pakistan could be that governance in the country is not good. This really is a cause of grave concern for every thinking citizen of Pakistan. However, Pakistani officials have been pooh-poohing such deep analysis and instead most officials air statements to condemn a realistic analysis and dismiss it as “rubbish.” The panacea is that policymakers and officials should do some introspection to gauge the situation. The best way for doing this would be to conduct objective and thorough research employing latest social science techniques in order to assess the prevailing situation. However, due to very poor social science research infrastructure available in Pakistan as well as the government’s total apathy towards research to gauge social trends and then formulate policies on its basis, it would remain a pipedream.
Insofar as the government’s failure in the merged districts, KP, Balochistan and the country’s rural areas is concerned, it is now an open secret. At one point, the Pakistan Taliban, backed by Al Qaeda, had almost set up parallel administrative and judicial structures in South and North Waziristan and the rest of FATA. Although the state has established its writ in the tribal areas after large-scale military offensives against the terrorists and militants, yet the situation leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, ethno-nationalist Baloch terrorists continue to target civilians and personnel of law enforcement agencies in Balochistan province, but the provincial government has not been able to control the situation.
In most of rural areas of the country, the state writ is eroding and the agrarian influential elite and criminal elements are increasingly joined or replaced by religious insurgents or local mafias are in control. The emergence and entrenching of so-called militants and criminal groups, particularly in entire rural Southern Punjab is a case in point. Ironically, whatever state’s symbolic presence exists in the rural areas is at the mercy of these forces rather than deriving strength from the supreme institutions of the state.
The political and democratic forces in Balochistan have been demanding the handing over of the provinces’ resources, like gas, from the central government but to no avail. Political parties representing smaller nationalities of the country, including Pakhtoons, Sindhis, Balochs and Seraikis, have been demanding a new social contract in the shape of a new constitution devised on the basis of ethnic and legislative equality of the major ethnic groups. These groups regard the 1973 Constitution as an institutionalized framework for the hegemony of the Punjab by giving the latter lopsided legislative majority vis-à-vis other nationalities. According to them, the legislative imbalance tilted highly in favour of the Punjab and leading to the framing of unpopular and unrepresentative policies is the main cause of all the maladies befalling Pakistan.
The situation in urban areas of the country is also not satisfactory. This can be gauged from the present state of civic amenities in the largest city of Karachi where one heavy rain is enough to turn the metropolis into a submerged island. Criminal gangs operate with impunity in main cities of Pakistan. Urban decay is ubiquitous and the government institutions’ responsiveness is hardly there.
The problem of contemporary Pakistan is that there are virtually no real national political institutions, like political parties or national political goals. Every institution has become restricted to a particular area or interest while the so-called national parties are mere power hungry. In such a situation, people are really in a dilemma that how to put the country on the right and developing track. There are very few saner and democratic voices among the political forces while the country already does not have any choice regarding the political system. In such a conundrum, arguments of having a new social contract are very important to heed to. Furthermore, keeping in view the state of the Pakistani state and society, no one can deny the necessity of a new social contract. However, the question is whether the country’s political leadership has the will to accept the indispensability of such a debate.
The present government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, may have every intention and seriousness to address the grave issues of the country. However, after the one year performance of the government, it seems that it is suffering seriously from lack of capacity and even direction. If even the present government and PM Khan fail to stem the institutional rot, the problems of the country will compound.