By Shahid Javed Burki
There is good news from Islamabad.
Some 80 potential donors met in the city and pledged
over $6 billion to help the country recover from
the ravages of the earthquake of October 8. Most
of the funds raised are to be used to rehabilitate
the more than three million people left homeless
and without economic assets. If money were the only
constraint, this would spell the end of the country’s
travails. But that, unfortunately, is not the case.
Faced with this enormous burden to reconstruct an
economy on which some 10 million people depend,
the Pakistani state will also need to rebuild itself.
Over the last 60 years, the state has been weakened
to the point that it barely functions.
With some 15 to 20 per cent of the world’s
poor, the burden of poverty it carries is also much
heavier. There is great inequality not just among
its more than one billion people. Some of the Indian
states in the country’s north and east have
a per capita income that is one-fourth of the average
achieved by some of those in the west and south.
There are serious social and political problems
in the country that the various systems in play
are barely able to handle.
In many parts of the country, women still face great
discrimination. Wife burning to punish young women
for not bringing sufficient dowry for the groom’s
household is sufficiently common to worry sociologists
and social workers. The system of roads, railways,
bridges and ports is straining under the impact
of a rapidly growing economy. India has done even
less than Pakistan to improve the physical infrastructure
it inherited from the British. The Indian bureaucrat,
in spite of all the investment the country has made
in its fabled Institutions of Management, continues
to believe that his job is to obstruct rather than
to facilitate. And yet, India now has the reputation
of a country that works; Pakistan that of a country
poised on the edge of an abyss.
There are many reasons for this of which I count
four as being really important. The Indians do a
much better job of representing themselves outside
the country than we do.
This helps to bring in foreign capital, technology
and management expertise. They have also invested
much more — and much more intelligently than
we have done — in creating a highly skilled
and well-informed work force. Today I will write
about one other difference between the two countries
— a difference that gives India a better chance
of succeeding than Pakistan in the new global economic
and political order.
India today has a much stronger institutional base
than we do. Over the last half century — certainly
after the assumption of power in 1971 by Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto — Pakistan has systematically destroyed
the institutions it inherited from the British Raj.
India did the opposite by significantly improving
upon its institutional inheritance.
In the institutional graveyard we find in Pakistan,
tombstones carry such names as the civil administration
and the system of governance; the judicial and legal
systems; political parties, and the political system;
the systems for formulating and implementing economic
and social strategies; colleges, universities and
the system of education.
Two institutional structures that have survived
are the military and the press, the latter because
of the relative tolerance displayed by a number
of recent administrations, especially the current
one. However, I will suggest in a later article
that a free press without a political system that
represents all segments of the people cannot do
its job adequately. It can only point out the blemishes
that exist in society but cannot correct them.
Why have we created this graveyard of institutions?
The question has been asked and answered several
times. Unlike leaders and leadership groups in India,
those who have ruled Pakistan came to believe that
the institutions that were in place stood in the
way of their ability to reach their goals. Some
of the time the goals were personal enrichment or
concentration of power in a single pair of hands.
Even when the rulers’ aim was to improve the
welfare of common citizens, most institutions were
regarded as bumps in the road to be traversed.
The process of institutional decay began the moment
Pakistan gained independence. The country’s
first generation of rulers did not have a firm political
base. Not prepared to trust the masses, it bypassed
them. Thus began the tradition of rule without consultation,
discourse or representation. At the same time, the
urgent need to rehabilitate and resettle millions
of refugees who had arrived from India led to the
use of unconstrained state power. Evacuee property
— the assets left by the departing Hindus
and Sikhs — was disposed off at the will of
administrators whose actions could not be easily
questioned in the courts. The seeds of corruption
that was to mar the Pakistani landscape in the decade
of the 1990s were, in fact, planted in the soil
immediately after the country was founded.
The first seven years of President Ayub Khan’s
administration were committed to the economic development
of the country, a goal that was achieved with considerable
fanfare at home and celebration abroad. For some
time, Pakistan was feted as the model of development.
Nonetheless, Pakistan’s first military ruler
did not appreciate the important point that the
process he had begun could not be sustained without
a functioning judicial system, representative politics
and freedom of expression.
In this approach he was encouraged by a number of
development theorists who believed at that time
that strong military governments led ably by visionary
leaders could deliver their countries from economic
and social backwardness. There was not much point
in consulting the people with the help of a representative
system of government or giving them voice with the
help of a free press. Even an independent judicial
system was seen as obstructing the path to rapid
Ayub Khan came down hard on the judicial system,
on the development of political parties, on developing
a representative system of government, and on the
press. On the other hand, he developed a sound system
of economic planning and management, a local government
structure that brought the state closer to the people
and an educational system that began to improve
the level of human development. Had he not suppressed
the first set of institutions he and his government
would not have fallen so easily to the predatory
designs of an ambitious general who was much less
well equipped to govern.
Ayub Khan would not have succumbed had he allowed
the press to freely report on some of the economic
tensions that were caused by his model of development,
had he put in place a political system that could
find relief for those who felt that they had been
left behind by the fast pace towards reaching economic
goals that were once believed to be unachievable,
had he permitted the judges and the judicial system
to keep the fast moving economic and social systems
within legal bounds. Ultimately, the institutions
he did not build, or those that he did not develop,
destroyed those he had created with tender loving
The destruction of institutions continued under
Ayub Khan’s successors, General Yahya Khan
and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The two together put away
the system of bureaucratic management. That system
may have had many faults but it also attracted high
quality human resource to its ranks and provided
reasonably good governance. It worked well in the
area of economic management. And Bhutto’s
heavy hand fell on the system of education, bringing
politics into college and university campuses. Bhutto
also continued the Ayubian practice of suppressing
the freedom of expression and manipulating political
processes to achieve personal goals.
Once again, as had happened to Ayub Khan and Yahya
Khan before him, the institutions that could have
saved him from being dislodged by the military were
simply absent when they could have served a useful
purpose for him. In fact, tragically, Bhutto was
sent to the gallows by an institution — the
judiciary — that he had himself subverted.
President Ziaul Haq continued to show not only the
same disdain for institution-building that was shown
by his predecessors. He went one step further and
began to use the state to bring religion into politics,
the economy and society. In doing so, Zia was not
responding to public demand: he, like some of his
predecessors, was putting in place what he thought
the people needed or should require.
Zia’s Islamization program left a legacy with
which the country is still trying to come to terms.
While bringing religion into many spheres of public
life, the Zia administration did practically nothing
to resurrect the institutions without which societies
simply cannot develop. The political system remained
largely unrepresentative, political parties continued
to be manipulated to serve the ruling master, the
judiciary was forced into submission and the legal
Eleven years of civilian rule interspersed with
five general elections underscored one important
point about institutional development: that periodic
reference to the people, without the support of
institutions, is not a recipe for the development
of a representative form of government. The two
mainstream political parties that were given the
opportunity to govern made no effort to prepare
the ground for erecting a permanent structure of
governance in which people would openly participate.
That had been accomplished in India; given the chance
once again, the Pakistani leaders let the country
down once more. Theirs was total failure that once
again encouraged the military to step in.
That the military takeover saved the country from
plunging into a political and economic abyss has
been contested by some of my friends who were very
active in politics at that time. I continue to believe
that a break was needed in the trajectory the country
was pursuing at that time. But the question is whether
progress has been made since October 12, 1999.
The answer has to be in the negative. Once again
there is a belief that institutions are not important;
what are needed are the leader’s goodwill,
determination and vision. Under President Pervez
Musharraf there has been no progress in terms of
developing civilian institutions, improving the
state of the judiciary, strengthening the legal
system, developing the capacity to do strategic
thinking in economic affairs, forcing the development
of political parties, and laying down rules for
succession. And by requiring the military to enter
not only politics but also many civilian activities,
he may have hurt the one institution that had survived
the general decay in the country’s institutional
foundation. (Courtesy Dawn)