Nov 21, 2018 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Contours of a mess
In my last article (Genesis of a mess) I traced how our current mess piled up over the decades. The 1947-51 years gave us the Kashmir issue, the use of non-state actors in regional tussles and the geo-securitization of state concerns, plus a legacy of centralizing power and undermining ethnic aspirations.
The 1951-58 years empowered bureaucrats over politicians and gave us palace intrigues. The Ayub-Yahya years glorified military rule and gave high-level sleaze, inequitable progress and military responses to crush ethnic gripes. Bhutto gave a politicized bureaucracy, over-control of economy by state and political victimization. Zia gave us extremism, sectarianism, mass corruption, arms, drugs, “jihad love” and abuse of faith. The 1990s saw much ineptitude and sleaze. The Musharraf years gave us terrorism. Post-2008 democracy gave more sleaze and ineptitude. So unlike Saddam in Iraq, no single villain created the bulk of our mess. But army dictators (Zia in particular) deserve more of the blame.
Today, the broad contours of the mess include terrorism even if it is checked. Extremism is getting stronger via the politics of TLP-like groups. The quality of governance and democracy is poor. The role of agencies in politics has returned. The economy remains underdeveloped and is headed for a slowdown. Our social indicators remain abysmal and society remains badly divided horizontally and vertically.
Can we get out of this mess? At the end of the first 90-100 days of the rule of the “party of change” (during which it had requested a reprieve from critique), it seems apt to look at its potential to address the mess and deliver the promised change. Imran markets himself as a transformational leader like Mahathir who can deliver tabdeeli (major change). Unluckily, nearly a century of days into his rule, his idea of change seems to be endless policy change, U-turns and even W-turns. He seems more about populist ideas like donation and austerity drives and catching thieves than about solid policy ideas for increasing the tax, exports and manufacturing bases.
PTI fans may protest such a glum verdict on a new setup. But my glum verdict is not based on PTI’s failure to already bring about major change, for that will take years. It is based on what it has shown during these early days about its limited capacities to bring future change. This includes a lack of a clear vision, policy ideas, political courage and managerial competence. Much of this was apparent earlier based on how the party and KP were run. At the federal level, those issues have become more apparent.
Nor are these issues of inexperience that can soon be overcome with time. The main issue is incompetence, as is also true for PPP and PML-N (unlike them, PTI has an unstable majority too). Unluckily time is a remedy for inexperience but not incompetence. Nor can the “great leader” easily fix the incompetence issue in his team. He seems unwilling or unable to recognize it given his support for Buzdar. His hands are tied by the pool of talent available and coalitional issues.
Most seriously, the issue of incompetence has most to do with Imran himself, as his CV and show in office reveal. Honesty, a World Cup win and a hospital are his loudly marketed skills. But these seem awfully thin compared with our current mess or those of successful third world leaders like Erdogan, Mahathir, Xi Jinping, Thaksin, Lula etc. who all presided over much less complex states. None of them are really honest but all had much political management experience before reaching the top. They employed populism but also exhibited serious policy and political management skills in office and had able deputies, all of which Imran largely lacks. None of the states followed the fairy-tale path of first vanquishing corruption to ignite fast progress.
Thus, honesty, the deep desire of our middle-classes, is an irrelevant and uncommon trait among successful third world leaders. Modi uncommonly combines loudly trumpeted honesty and bigoted populism with some competence but has been less successful as PM. Competence and not honesty is the critical trait and both seem weakly, and dare one add wickedly, perhaps inversely correlated in developing states. Competence in complex fields like business etc., let alone simple sports, doesn’t ensure competence in the more chaotic field of governance.
Pakistan is a more complex state in terms of its internal and regional dynamics compared with almost all successful third world states and faces much weaker external opportunities than them. The deep horizontal and vertical cleavages in society also make it much less easy to produce the competent (not necessarily scrupulously honest) leadership required to ensure progress. Thus, the chances of our mess getting resolved or major progress soon seem thin to me. But collapse is unlikely too with the most likely outcome being slow progress with many U-turns and W-turns!
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