Our mercurial cricketers achieved a quick and miraculous turn-around in the UK, evidently by having a few sessions of honest talk. This raises the intriguing issue whether this equally mercurial nation can achieve a similar turn-around.
A narrow focus on surface issues makes this falsely look easy to many. If they want, politicians can clearly pass every long over-due reform, e.g., judicial, police, and tax, within weeks. A narrow, moralistic view of free-will sends the national adrenalin pumping even faster. In this view, people are free agents who can rapidly change their actions at will. What stops politicians from doing the right thing, many ask moralistically. For them, politicians too should be given a few sessions of honest talk to move them from their petty to the public interest. And heck, if politicians dither, we can just invite the Pindi boys for a “short” stint, some say. Surely, they, with their no-nonsense, can-do and patriotic outlooks and stern looks, will quickly fix things!
But this apolitical, moralistic view of free will is bookish. Politicians are members of powerful elite groups, e.g., industrialists and landed elites. Their free-will choices are heavily influenced by group norms and interests due to heavy indoctrination. Group norms may not dictate member actions down to the last act but strongly steer their major actions in directions in line with group and not public interests. The same is true for the Pindi boys. They look so unbought and patriotic. But they are creatures of their institutional interests which usually conflict with the public interest. Reform may clip their wings and expose their vast budget and economic empire to scrutiny. So they too support the status quo.
The chances of most politicians and generals suddenly and simultaneously breaking their free-will free from the shackles of their group interests for the public interest are not zero but close to it. Making national strategies on the basis of such miniscule chances is insensible. Thus, what looks like the easy task of changing certain policies by rulers exercising their individual free wills, viewed through narrow moralistic lenses, suddenly becomes the difficult task of confronting the vested interests of powerful national groups, viewed from broader political economy lenses.
At some level, all this is well-known, but is often ignored when the national adrenalin starts pumping due to the false allure of supposedly easy short-cuts to entrenched problems. But if we look at things deeply, the true scale of the problems becomes evident. It is not a matter of removing a few corrupt politicians or even changing politics radically. The root cause is the low-end nature of our economy which produces corrupt politics. So, a change agenda should cover not just politics but also economics.
But who will lead the change agenda? After status-quo landed elites, industrialists and generals, the next powerful group is the middle-class. But it is not as organized as them. An even more immediate problem is that large sections of it have wooly ideas about change and usually look for spurious short-cuts, lacking deep understanding of economic and political issues. Ask middle-class people, especially techno-managerial types, about change ideas and they will likely suggest military coups, technocracies, or even Islamist or other revolutions. Very few will suggest civil society struggle–the most sensible course. Political parties have made things worse by shunning ideology which could teach people about such issues. So, even the PTI, the party which emphasizes reform the most, is an apt reflection of many in its middle-class constituency: shrill, impatient and superficial.
Thus, change will be slow and long-drawn. This may demotivate some, but hopefully it may also encourage some to adopt a broader and longer-term vision. It may help motivation to look at the case of India, whom we defeated at the Oval. It clearly is now on a stronger growth path than ours, perhaps permanently. Even so, after 70 years of democracy and 25 years of fast growth, its per capita income, corruption levels and quality of lower bureaucracy, police and courts are still quite like ours. It will take even it decades to reach high levels of progress. Its case also shows the perils of expecting too much from 1-2 policy changes. So, for many, ending “feudalism” will end all our problems. I support land reforms fully, but not the view that they will make dramatic changes at the national level. India made land reforms around 1950, which helped millions locally. But nationally, “feudal” Pakistan kept doing better economically for 40 years. Even today, India’s rural poverty rate is higher than ours.
If we are all honest, we can grow fast like the Asian Tigers, many say. This is like elephants thinking they can run fast like tigers by being honest. Complex societies like India and Pakistan have their own pace of progress. Those who like cricket-type quick turn-arounds are advised to keep watching cricket!
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