Times are tough, I know. The dismay is in air. When you speak to people, all you hear is negativity, gloom and cynicism on the direction we are headed. You will find very few who show confidence in general state of affairs. When terrorists are striking on symbolic targets in different cities with impunity; when economy is spiraling downward; when prices of essential commodities are rocketing sky high; when all you hear are stories of corruption in government ranks with few notorious figures handling the most important of ministries; that is a time when a word like ‘Change’ seems very fascinating.
Why would not anyone yearn for change? It is such an appealing word when nothing seems to go right. And when the biggest disaster in country’s history strikes, which exposes the ineptness and lack of capacity of government more than ever, the change mongering picks up. People start to put aside the rationale arguments and become ever willing to ignore the legitimate ways to bring about change for the ‘greater good’. Flawed notions like ‘national interest versus democracy’ are put out there. Apparently dead dogmas like doctrine of necessity are flogged and brought to life.
Even those who are sensible enough in these darkest of times to stick with the legitimate means, consider the present lot of ruling politicians as rotten eggs, which needs to be replaced as early as possible. They believe in trickle down theory of governance which presumes that replacing a single ‘corrupt’ person with a ‘good’ and a ‘pious’ ruler at the top will set in motion the change and other heads will roll too, which will lead to good governance. How utopian! We see opinions like how Pakistan needs a messiah to turn this all around. That is the time when delusional megalomaniacs form new one-man-show political parties as they are led to believe in their messianic abilities.
As the former military dictator Musharraf admitted recently in a rare moment of frankness that he believes the atmosphere in Pakistan is conducive to any ‘change’ and he feels he can exploit that to bring the change, which the country needs.
I am afraid the country does not need change in faces, for we have done nothing but that for the last six decades. The country needs a change in the way the state is organized. It needs a comprehensive reform agenda and the political will to sustain that and to see it through. Such real change needs to be institutionalized for good.
For instance, no one is talking about the lack of local government structure at the lowest tier where the state is supposed to provide the essential services to its citizenry. While the media focuses with all its energy on Swiss cases, which have a remote connection with common people, they forget to note the absence of any local government for the past ten months. This absence has been duly noted in the flood relief work. There is a strong need to put in place a viable local government system and its capacity must be strengthened. The sooner the provinces move towards it, the sooner they can be seen responding to the citizens’ issues.
If you want to advocate for a change, then calling for a change in the governance priorities can be a place to start with. It is high time we gave importance to our lagging social and economic indicators. Only 45% of Pakistanis have access to improved sanitation. Child mortality rate (under 5) of 53 per thousand is more than twice the average mortality rate for the South-East Asia and much higher than that of India (37), Bangladesh (33), Nepal (31) and Indonesia (19). According to the Economic Survey 2009-10, we are a country that spends 2.1% of its GDP on education with literacy rate of 57%, if the figures of Economic Survey of 2009-10 are to be believed. Let’s rally for a change in how we lackadaisically make policies to meet the Millennium Development Goals and how the unrealistic policies fail to get implemented due to lack of resources and low capacity.
Pakistan is a security state where after a disaster like recent floods, the defence budget mysteriously increases by Rs 110 billion while the development budget is slashed by Rs 73 billion. A developing country with poor socio-economic indicators, in which the defence budget is Rs 552 billion while the development funds stand at Rs 590 billion, will not progress no matter which messiah is holding the reins.
I am all up for a change, if it produces results what the country actually needs. Changing faces at the top to rule over a poorly structured state will not produce any desired results. Fantasizing upheavals like French Revolution is an easy way to show disappointment with the present state of affairs. Advocating for policies restructuring in a security state like ours is a difficult task. But who said the real change was easy to come?