PAKISTAN: Reconstruct or perish

by Dr. Mubashir Hasan, former finance minister of Pakistan

Courtesy: Daily Times

Reconstruct or perish, the choice before the ruling elites of Pakistan is clear. They have worked the country into a state of turmoil; call it an incipient civil war or a general uprising. The forces against what is left of the governing capacity are lawless, destructive, cruel and unorganised, yet they are powerful and aggressive, much too strong to be resisted by the present set up of the state which is decayed and predatory, with links abroad, and not truly national.

The administrative structure, the mainstay of the state, has fallen apart. The police, normally, the protector of life and property of citizens is itself in dire need of protection. The higher judiciary with its newly acquired independence also cannot give its best without an effective administrative machine. The top echelons of the political government have little credibility. The armed forces, the protectors of internal and external security, are under attack from within.

The breakdown of public services such as electricity, water supplies and railways, and the non-availability of essential goods has undermined the authority of the state. The looters and grabbers among the government and the people are having a field day. Money and guns are the principal currencies of social intercourse. The social contract is in tatters. The religious and national antagonisms, the hatred for the United States as a patron of the state, and the conflict between haves and have-nots, feed the turmoil.

While there is no dearth of concerned citizens, the ruling elites of Pakistan, a combine of civil and military services and their feudal, industrial and trading associates, held tightly in the clutches of a self-serving network of laws and rules, are in a state of shock and paralysis. The newspapers and TV talk shows are full of peripheral narratives and debates. Little guidance is available from intellectuals and historians.

Should large-scale anarchy break out, its duration cannot be predicted. Too many variables — tangible and intangible — are involved; however, the result is certain. The present system of governance along with its ruling elite are sure to be swept away to be replaced by a dispensation more oppressive and cruel, with the potential of set the entire region on fire.

The state of Pakistan needs to be reconstructed.

Now, a state is nothing but an instrument of coercion, an organisation of armed men of police and military along with magistrates, prisons, tax collectors and secret service. In order to be strong and durable, the state has to have full support of its citizens and that is exactly what the state of Pakistan has increasingly lacked during the last sixty-two years to reach is present perilous condition.

The irony of the current foreboding situation is that Pakistan is not a poor country; the rulers are rich and predatory, only the state is poor. For decades the country has been a net exporter of capital worth billions of dollars annually. Pakistan is not a weak country. With the support of its people it can hold its own against mighty military powers. Pakistan is not a small country. More than 160 million people with exceptionally large agricultural and pastoral areas are assets few countries possess. But the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

The choice before the ruling elite is stark: hand over power to a genuine democratic system of governance. Simply stated: hand over power to the people on the pattern of developed democratic countries, such as the United States, Canada and others.

In a new dispensation, the citizens must exercise power over themselves and for themselves. Big government should give way to small government. What the people collectively can decide and implement at a smaller level should not be decided and implemented by the body of an area of larger population.

The provinces should be enabled to decide what powers and authority they would like to cede to a new federal authority. In order to be truly sovereign Pakistan must be transformed into a state of all the peoples and all the nations.

There should be three levels of government — citizens’, provincial and federal — made up of councils and assemblies elected by the people at each of these levels to exercise political, social and economic power as agreed to in a revised constitutional compact.

The citizens’ government at the level of the village or cluster of villages or tribes should have the jurisdiction and authority for the protection of persons and property, the management of local policing and the setting up of citizen courts with juries for enforcing criminal law.

The citizens’ government at the level of tehsil and taluka should have its own administration to maintain land records and should adjudicate on questions such as those presently dealt with by the revenue officials of tehsils and talukas. It will also have its own civil courts. The citizens’ governments at the district and city level should perform both tax-levying and internal executive functions on matters prescribed in the constitution.

The expenditure of the citizens’ governments should be met from the revenues collected by the provincial tax-collecting apparatus and directly credited to the account of each district, tehsil, taluka, village and cluster of villages. The revenues of the poorest councils may receive a subsidy from the provincial government. The provinces should exercise power over all matters not specified in the jurisdiction of the citizens’ and federal governments. The government of the province should conduct inter-provincial relations and relations with the federal government.

The guarantee for the emergence of a sovereign Pakistan also lies in erasing the perception of being a client state of foreign powers. The US, because of its military involvement in Afghanistan needs Pakistan’s help and cooperation as never before. However, the bulk of Pakistanis are far from enamoured by the US. In order to be friendly and win cooperation of the people of Pakistan, a radical change of course is required on the part of the United States.

Pakistan should establish healthy relations with the countries of south and southwest Asia. There exists a massive commonality in the economic and strategic interests of Pakistan and the countries of the region, including Turkey, which can form the basis of very close cooperation.

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