Mar 5, 2009

The costs of Brahmin failure in Pakistan

The attack at Liberty Roundabout in Lahore, on Sri Lanka’s brave cricketing sons by the invisible, magic men of terror on Tuesday was not unpredictable. The Pakistani state response to the attacks was predictable, almost minute-by-minute. Expression of shock, outrage, and anger. Expression of a will to fight the war on terror. Establishment of an inquiry committee to investigate the incident. Atrocious crime-scene management. Atrocious public relations. Cartoon analysts blaming India without having even concluded the body count, without having arrested any of the attackers. Counter-cartoon analysts blaming Lashkar-e-Taiba, before the firing had even ended. Allowing the attackers to get away. Claiming that the Sri Lankan bus was caught in cross-fire between rival criminal gangs. And a military helicopter to evacuate the Sri Lankan team--like a martial cherry to decorate the steaming pile of shame and horror that was served up to this besieged nation of 172 million people. Every last detail of the Pakistani state response to the attack at Liberty was entirely predictable. For a country that ploughs the kind of money that it does into military and civilian administration, there is no excuse for the intelligence, security, administrative and political lapses that allowed the Attack at Liberty to take place. The tragedy of errors thereafter illustrates the deepest and most potent cancer that afflicts Pakistan. This is not government for the people, by the people, or of the people. This is government on the people, over the people and despite the people. The PPP government is legitimately elected, and therefore is the rightful owner of the apparatus of decision-making and resource extraction in this country. However, it is a government that cannot by definition serve the greater public good. It is constructed to serve the narrow interests of its feudal lords. It is particularly good at doing so when it pretends to distribute free money and jobs--as it is doing under the Benazir Income Support Programme, and the rehiring of deadweight employees for PIA and a host of other, disastrous cautionary tales of state-owned enterprises. This is no longer a party of idealists looking to change the world, as it was in the early 1970s, the early 1990s and perhaps even the early part of this decade. Instead of idealists committed to public service, this party is now overwhelmed by the landowning elite, on one hand, and a cohort of well-dressed and articulate middle-class upstarts for whom being co-opted into power and the protocols it affords is not a means to the end of public service, but simply the end itself. This party is incapable of delivering the kind of change required to make the Pakistani state relevant again. So too, unfortunately, is Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. Despite the principled position of the Sharifs on the lawyers’ movement, the very name of this party, the PML-N renders it incapable of delivering the institutional revolution required to oxygenate the Pakistani state. For all its linguistic and semantic representation of the great Punjabi middle class, the PML-N is a family enterprise that is stuck in the 1990s. Its execution of public policy in the Punjab was marked by its reliance on retired civil servants as advisers, and its appetite for the destruction of anything that seemed like a threat to the established order of the DMG. This is not Ahsan Iqbal, or Ishaq Dar, or Saad Rafiq Khawaja’s party. It is the party of whichever DMG officer the Sharifs anoint to undertake civil works and municipal management. This is not a party prepared to lead a Pakistan that is petrified by the shadow of the Taliban. The tone-deafness, incompetence and skewed incentives of the political parties of Pakistan are responsible for the diminished, and diminishing capacity of government agencies to deliver their mandates. The police can’t do their jobs, the DCOs can’t do theirs. The intelligence fails Pakistan, so does the Fire Brigade. When Pakistanis discuss functional schools and hospitals, or clean running water, and lament the social sector, they should consider the context. Even the most fundamental rights of men and women in Pakistan aren’t being protected. How then can this same state be expected to deliver K-12, or effectively counter the spread of HIV/AIDS? Political parties don’t have plans of any kind to strengthening or reform Pakistan’s collapsing civil services--which represent the very foundation of state capability. In a state of collapse, the best civil servants flee for greener pastures. This process of reverse natural selection has bled Pakistan of one its traditional strengths--a competent corps of officers. Beyond Grade 19, there is still some semblance of both character and capacity. But today’s young officer is a mostly bitter, and unfulfilled young person, whose talent and the opportunities afforded by that talent could not help him or her proceed abroad or attend IBA or LUMS. All the really smart Pakistani kids are busy bankrupting Citibank on Wall Street, writing soulless code for Microsoft or McAfee, or filing medical malpractice insurance payments to AIG as they perfect the art of surgery. Within this dilapidated civil service is located Pakistan’s police system. Split into two by the Brahmin-Shudra code of officer and non-officer, the police is in tatters. Years of being underfunded, and mutilated, and re-mutilated--by an over-financing of the military, a trigger-happy regime of ordinances, such as the Police Order, 2002, and then the telling habit of amending such orders to please narrow constituencies, over, and over, and over again. What greater tragic irony than the realisation that the policemen who lost their lives defending the Sri Lankan team will be more deeply honoured and respected in their death than they ever were during their lifetimes? Educated, sophisticated and well-trained police-wallahs in Pakistan are the Brahmin officer class. They are protected by layers of firewalls of Shudra cops. This rank classism runs right across all levels and layers of the state. The real irony is that the lower ranks of the police did what they were supposed to. They are the Shuhada-e-Liberty. The class of officers did not. At any level. The intelligence babus, failed. The administration babus of Lahore and the Punjab government, failed. The political babus that the PPP has deployed to steal the Punjab from the Sharifs, failed. The PCB babus that were supposed to liaise with the state to ensure the Sri Lankans’ safety, failed. All the Brahmins put together, the billions of rupees that they are worth, and that they cost, were less effective than the five shaheeds, and the dozens of living mujahideen policeman that fought back against the tyranny of the terrorists’ bullets. Senators John Kerry, and Dick Lugar, Vice President Joe Biden and others (like the Atlantic Council, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank) want money to finance Pakistan’s emergence from these dark days. This is the borrowing-and- buying-your-way-out-of-a-hole approach to governance. It cannot and will not work. Giving more money to this government (or to any government) in the absence of a coherent plan for reform is throwing good money after bad. The PPP or the PML-N do not want to damage Pakistan. But they simply do not have the institutional incentives, or the technical competence to fix what has taken many decades to break. What is tragic is that they do not even have cognisance of the desperation and urgency for reform. India too, was woefully ill-prepared for the Mumbai attacks. But the sum total of the Indian state--its civil servants, police officers, judges, and politicians defined a clear path in the aftermath and proceeded to execute it. Pakistan does not have anywhere near the same kind of operational competence or coherence. That is why the question of India’s involvement in the Lahore attacks is a ridiculous one. It doesn’t matter who dunnit. Pakistani politics and policy are incapable of uncovering the truth. Incapable of articulating its case. Incapable of advocating its cause. This is the profile of a state that cuts deals with Swat’s terrorists. What else is it capable of doing?The writer is an independent political economist

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