Feb 21, 2009

Sustainable disequilibria

Gone are the days of ‘sab acha hai’ and the sort of thing that the military government wanted to hear all the time. Nine years of the same parrot like presentations and at the end of the day what do you have but the end of the regime. The same sort of thing happens to every kind of tyranny that is prevalent in the world today. The economy is a machine that has to be maintained and modified regularly to work at the optimum level. Once that is done then it has to be constantly worked in such a manner that the level of efficiency is managed. The agriculture sector is the prime sector in developing countries and therefore it has to be maintained at the level where it is lead sector. Recent ecological studies have shown the transient nature of life and its survival is mainly a temporary phenomena. The agriculture sector is coevolving all the time and in that sense the work of various international agencies namely WWF is commendable. Pakistan’s wetlands and the mangroves are no exception. Harmony in nature and in agriculture is fleeting but that fleeting harmony leads to another equally fascinating and fleeting harmony. Just as the cropping patterns should continuously be evolving so is nature and its wonderful world. Disequilibria then in agriculture is not a weak situation rather one from where the matter can be taken to another logical conclusion. Pakistan’s ecological situation is such that it can cater for any and all kinds of interventions. Change to the agricultural sector is no stranger for over short periods of time the system is in constantly flux. When Pakistan had very little financial resources the government of Benazir Bhutto managed to work the economy through a networking system. There is always a case for accelerating this change and these shocks if only to create greater flux. The danger in that is if one is unable to have the span of control that can and does the needful in managing this chaotic condition. Pakistan’s major problem in the economy is that lack of churning that is so necessary to final outcomes be it in the short or the long run. Civilised names have been given to these interventions but the fact remains that if allowed to work the genius of man can and does work wonders. When flux is inhibited death takes over. This death in public could mean the end of an era in public administration. When the economy takes over in this mode of private sector involvement the loss job is never permanent but one that creates jobs at one place and then seeks to create jobs elsewhere. Ecologists, agriculturists and anyone that deals with forests know this notion of constant flux. Pakistan’s economists have been sleeping and not suggesting any intervention based on this concept of flux. I have been asked many times over that like neat lines as to whether the government is coming and going and I give them a nod as much as to say that this is not so and the pessimism is uncalled for. Pakistan had robust growth in the mid nineties when the government of Benazir Bhutto was in power. This robust growth helps in determining the subtleness between chaos and edge. On the dark side there is the added insecurity of the system and there is every danger of a slide if the policy-makers go shy in midstream. And size does not determine the successes or otherwise of the intervention. The issue is that in Pakistan, as elsewhere everyone knows what to do on the subject. Whereas elsewhere the interference and involvement follows a predictable line and the person[s] responsible become accountable that is not so in Pakistan. Pakistan by virtue of having 83 percent small farmers is ideally suited for this kind of flux. These family firms have a basis for churning provided their risks are covered and in other words there is a difference between risk and uncertainty. Risk becomes huge with changes in the cropping pattern because of the lack of markets that confront the farmers. What of governance and that is where Pakistan lacks most. The bureaucracy is rigid and suffers from rigour mortise. In agriculture, particularly the decision-making is very disintegrated. It is fragmented and is in bits and pieces. Bureaucratic structures do not alter and in fact they would rather die then change. The way Pakistan is organised in provinces and in federation without really understanding the manner of organisational decision-making. The Constitution adds to the confusion and is indicative of the fact that the roles of the various structures in governance have not been well thought out. In fact that is where they also suffer from rigidity and the lack of imagination. Once an organisation takes on success stories and then recreates them under certain conditions then the ability to be arrogant about the future shocks comes easily to the system. In other words, this can also become habit forming. It could be exhausting but if taken in the right measure it can energise the system, a kind of self-generating newness. If there were ordinary changes then the response would be a tired yawn. Yes we have seen these apologetic interventions before and we do not have to worry. They come and go and do not make even a ripple and business in agriculture continues as such. How does one get the balance right? New agriculture would lead to new products not commodities, new methods to make old and new products, not to mention new industries and new economics. There is a difference in the rigid death of planned order and the degeneration of chaos. Yes even chaos can degenerate. Old rules have to give way and new rules have to come in to play. Imagine Pakistan being governed in the irrigation department by statues that were evolved in 1921. Go through the organisational structures and the rules created in 1946 and the hierarchy that develops seems to be pathologically out of control. The devolution of the last government is a pathological case in point. Large networks like the federal government are in constant flux because they have to tread a path between the ossification of order and the destruction of chaos. They could go out of control because of and due to a number of reasons. These need not be recounted here but suffice it to say that the flux is constant and ever present and so the ability to take it on in a reasoned and logical manner seems to be the obvious choice. This is where life lives. We have a number of disconnects in our system and we have a number of dysfunctional systems layering one another. Dysfunctional is allowed provided it is taken note of and is corrected. Seeking persistent disequilibria then is a way of life and there can be no question of projecting that as failure. There is all too often an ability to go for the jugular by the cynics of the country. It is necessary to understand that the finger pointing that goes with the culture of Pakistan is not what is either desirable or directional. These changes and these hiccups come in various lengths of time and space. The ability to propel forward then is dependent on the friction that is caused. Friction is required and the balancing of friction is what leads to the innovation that is required. The image of an economy is something that one has to worry about and if it is moving it is alive and well.
Dr. Zafar Altaf The writer is a former federal secretary

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