An Institutional Graveyard
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 economic development.
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 care.
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 system atrophied.
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)



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.