Rescuing the Pakistani state

Raza Rumi

Three weeks after the floods have broken Pakistan’s back, the international community is yet to show its resolve in helping a drowning country. The reasons for such a slow response are erroneously being understood in the context of the Pakistani government or the current crop of civilians in power. However, this is a narrow twist to the reality. The real angst and distrust being displayed by the world is at the Pakistani ‘state’. The situation is also reflective of the duplicity of international opinion makers and power-centres in labelling Pakistan as a country with an ‘image problem’.

One is sick of reading nauseating reports on how the post-earthquake assistance was ‘diverted’ or squandered. The truth is that in 2005 a military dictator was ruling Pakistan and the entire world was doing business with him. At that moment, the issues of democracy, transparency and human rights all took a backseat and strategic imperatives prevailed.

Pakistani, and by extension the global media, are regurgitating tiresome cliches about corruption without talking about reforming state institutions. For instance, not a single commentator has said that we have a new accounting system in the form of the Project to Improve Financial Reporting and Auditing (Pifra) in place. But it has not been put into place effectively at the provincial and district levels. This is the way we will ensure transparency and good tracking of money received and spent.

The Pakistani state is already a weakened entity and has to be rescued and aided, not trashed and further weakened. The existing provincial governments and their machinery require capacities, resources and a robust reporting framework such as Pifra. Donors should focus on how state systems can be improved instead of diverting funds to largely non-accountable NGOs. Already, the propaganda is so pernicious that militant organisations are collecting funds and extending services when the state is paralysed and dealing with widespread invective.

Pakistan’s foreign debt has already become out of control with billions annually spent on servicing the debt. How about finding creative solutions to the existing loans by extending their date of closing and broadening their scope to include reconstruction? One does not even see a debate for making a case for deferred payments now that the foreign minister has told the UN that we have suffered losses worth $43 billion.

In a time when an economic collapse is being predicted, it would be absurd, nay cruel, to talk of a change in government. The scale of the floods was indeed massive but misinformed reporting and half-baked analyses will only serve to fuel political uncertainty and this could damage the path to economic recovery.

Even if a change in the existing system of power-sharing is altered it will waste time and lead to divisive politics, undermining the relief work. Such turbulence will also suit the designs of many militants and their patron, al Qaeda.

Pakistan’s grave governance challenges have been magnified due to the floods. All predictions and scenarios have become redundant. But state reform remains as pressing an agenda as ever. For Pakistani philanthropists and the international community, the only structures that can deliver aid and undertake reconstruction are the state and its various agencies. Undermining them at this stage is akin to proposing recipes to destroy Pakistan. There is no alternative to rescuing the Pakistani state at this critical juncture of our history.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2010.


Filed under Pakistan, public policy, state

8 responses to “Rescuing the Pakistani state

  1. harbir singh nain

    In my opinion, claims of corruption and official dysfunction as reasons for the paucity of aid are dishonest for those reasons have never stopped anyone from rushing aid to other corrupt and weakly governed countries in need. such as haiti, or even pakistan itself in 2005.

    No, I think the real reason, which will not be confessed to, is that potential donors have developed a distaste for pakistan in recent years.

    Whether that is fair or deserved is debatable.

  2. Hi Raza, there is a certain irony. The world media has been fretting for years that Pakistan is a “failing” state. I have consistently argued that is hyperbole: Pakistan has many problems, no doubt, but the whole “failure of a nuclear state” thing has largely been overblown, the result of fear-mongering and schadenfreude, of people with not enough to do getting worked up about things they know next to nothing about.

    Never mind–the scale of this year’s catastrophic flooding is just starting to set in. A disaster of this scale would be a challenge in any country. In a country like Pakistan, it is a recipe for disaster. Where once fears of state collapse were crying wolf, now they seem far more real.

    The news, however, may be improving. There were telethons in the UAE last week–and private fund raising of this sort is crucial to raise the profile of the efforts, even though the bulk of the re-development funding will have to come from states. I am currently visiting the U.S. and for the first time I hear ordinary Americans talking about the situation in Pakistan primarily in humanitarian terms, without appending “Taliban” and “Terrorist” to every sentence.

  3. Its dishonest on the part of our political commentators and analysts to hold the Govt. responsible for the a slow response from the international community, as they do not want to differentiate between the Govt. and the state, the reason for the failure is the state response to such happenings and mishaps, when our ex-COAS and the president openly confess to the international press that the fund given to us for War against the monsters were spent on strengthening our defense against India and the current COAS call himself India centric while leading a War against terrorists with international allies on international Aids, then who should be held responsible for the trust deficit…

  4. Harbir: I am not sure what are you aiming at – ‘distaste’ is a subjective term. There is donor fatigue and there is distrust of the state for its Afghan policy. Period.

    Steven: thanks for your comment. Good to know that there is a changing perception and idiom. Unless this image changes, the world will continue to misunderstand and misrepresent Pakistan. Of course the collapse theories are far-fetched but this disaster has the potential to exacerbate the weakened state.

  5. shiv

    The semantics of “failed” and “not failed” are a waste of time.

    If you take a medical analogy you will find that a very ill patient in an intensive care unit is considered as being made up of “systems” – each of which gets support as it fails. His kidneys fail and he gets an artificial kidney (dialysis). His lungs fail and he is put on a ventilator. Finally his heart fails and he is put on mechanical heart support. And then they say: “This man is alive”. What is not said is that he is almost dead. It is semantics. “Image” hardly matters.

    The Pakistani army took over the governance of Pakistan several times because governance failed. They never set it right. The failure of governance over the decades by both army and civilians led to a disastrous breaking off of East Pakistan and even now everyone knows that chunks of Pakistan (eg North Waziristan) are out of control of the Pakistani government (civil or military). Economic failure has been supported by aid. Military failures have been supported by foreign training and arms.

    It is social failure that foreigners cannot repair. But Pakistani leaders have fostered a culture of blaming everything on external agents (as has been pointed out by many on here. ) Realizing that is only half the story. What is even more grave is to move one step forward from this realization and think of what to do next.

    Put yourself in the position of a Pakistani leader – a politician or a general. If Pakistani people who are suffering from something or the other ask you who is at fault, whom do you blame it on:

    1) If you blame the people – they will lynch you.
    2) if you blame yourself and you fellow politicians and general – you will once again be lynched.
    3) If you blame previous leaders the people will give you a chance to make things better and when you fail you are asked why you have failed
    4) If you blame an external agent (India, USA, Israel, Islamophobia) then you are shifting the blame and you may get a chance to survive if your people are stupid enough to believe you yet again.

    For Pakistani leaders, blaming external agents is the natural choice. And as long as external agents are blamed and demands are made on them Pakistan’s social failure will get worse, but they escape being lynched by Pakistani people. “If India solves the Kashmir problem all will be well”. “If the US had not ditched us we would not have had extremism” “If India had not opened all its flood gates we would not have had floods” “If the world had given more money we would have been fine”. This is a list of excuses that we have seen and are sure to see again in future.

    But telling Pakistanis the truth about who is to blame is sure to cause anger and recrimination in Pakistan. Pakistani people – poor and deprived as they may be are not so stupid as to allow the current social set up in Pakistan of elites, military and awam to survive if the truth is told.

    So the truth will not be told. I appreciate the attempt on PTH to face up to some truths but the fundamental truths of Pakistan are that all the existing power brokers of Pakistan (Military, feudocracy and mullahs) have a hand in its current failures and until they go nothing will change. But removing all of them in one go will not happen without violent upheaval and revolution. And none of them will give up without a fight.

    Pakistan is heading towards definite overall failure as things stand now. Like a box of biscuits that appears intact from the outside but has only broken fragments inside, everything inside Pakistan has failed or is in a state of failure – be it leadership, civil society, democratic norms, constitutional law, law and order, the military, education, the economy – you name it – it has failed to a greater or lesser extent. All that remains is for the spirit of the Pakistani people to be broken.

    Pakistan has not failed? Who is deluding whom?

    The results of such failure can be predicted to an extent. A failed Pakistan will still have its 170-180 million people who will need to live. As Pakistan breaks up into multiple power centers, with no power being in overall control – any internal strife in Pakistan is likely to spill over into other countries. Those countries will react and interfere inside Pakistan. If you look at Pakistan today – all this is already happening. There is already a degree of failure in Pakistan affecting other countries and there is already external interference manifesting.
    I think a lot of Pakistanis have not yet woken up an smelt the coffee. Perhaps Pakistanis are tea drinkers – but they have not been reading the leaves.

    When Pakistani leaders beg other nations to come and help them – the most powerful nations will come in and will interfere. because such an invitation is an admission of failure. But if they do not admit failure, the failures will still show up as social strife that affects other nations (terrorism, economic and political refugees, inability to cope with natural disasters) – who will interfere anyway because their interests are affected by internal Pakistani failures. Catch 22. It’s all happening live now in Pakistan.

    Just because a nation has its name as an independent country in the United Nations is does not mean that it is not a failed nation – or heading towards failure. The UN can’t stop that. The UN will merely give new names to the countries that are formed out of a failed state.

  6. karun1

    western media/ppl are convinced not about corruption but that their aid will be used to buy military paraphernalia..

    solution has to be drastic…..disband the army….cut it to 1/3 the size.. and give up nuclear weapons for a very large consideration.

  7. pankaj

    The three INSTITUTIONS who are systematically enriching themselves at the cost of the people are

    1.The Pakistan army which is the RICHEST organisation in pakistan .It owns massive lands ,factories and DOES NOT PAY Taxes.

    2.The ruling elite , the feudals, businessmen ie the political class.

    3. The civilian bureaucracy which runs the day to day administration . AFTER the upper two groups have enriched themselves, it too makes money for itself .

    The outside world knows that all aid will be siphoned off.
    The common people are just TOO WEAK ,Too poor and too helpless to do anything.

    The judiciary and media CAN T or won t be allowed to ROCK THE BOAT.

    Even if they want to bring change they wont succeed

    Pakistani people are just plain unlucky

  8. Ali Abbas

    Raza, thanks for trying to put our focus back where it should be; saving the victims of the flood attacks. There is no point in being smug about Pakistan’s failure as a State as this helps nobody.