Jan 1, 2010

"Political elite is a minor culprit"

By Shahid Husain

Haris Gazdar is Senior Researcher at the Collective for Social Science Research, an independent think tank based in Karachi. He has a Masters degree in economics from the London School of Economics (LSE), and worked as a Research Associate at the Asia Research Centre of the LSE before joining the Collective. Gazdar works on social policy issues and has been an active participant in the debate over poverty issues in Pakistan.

In an exclusive interview with The News on Sunday (TNS) Gazdar explains the crises faced by the Pakistani society and makes valuable suggestions to improve the situation. Excerpts of the interview follow:

The News on Sunday: A political crisis is brewing up. Can it derail the democratic process? What will be the consequences if it happens?

Haris Gazdar: There are several important political problems that have been developing over many years, if not decades. I am not talking about social problems that are perhaps more acute than political problems. Nevertheless, many people believe that it is not possible to address serious social problems without some measure of political stability. So, I will focus first on the political problems. Many political scientists and historians of Pakistan, such as Dr. Mohammad Waseem, agree that the most critical political problem is the conflict between representative and non-representative organs of the state. The main transition at the time of de-colonisation was the introduction of representative organs of decision-making into a functioning state. All other institutions such as the bureaucracy, military, and judiciary existed in colonial times. The major change was the introduction of the idea of popular representation. For a variety of reasons this transition has never been completed successfully in Pakistan. The representative (political) and non-representative (apparatus) organs of the state are invariably at loggerheads. What is interesting and tragic is that on some of the key issues of policy the collective priorities of these two broad elites do not differ too much. By and large the political elite and the apparatus elite agree on the geographical contours of the territory of Pakistan. They agree on a capitalist economic direction with close engagement with Western industrial countries. They are generally suspicious of India. It is tragic that despite all these areas of agreement these two sets of the elite have not been able to come to a working arrangement. It is interesting that neither side has been able to prevail completely over the other.

Now I have my own political views in which I hold the apparatus primarily responsible for this state of affairs. Other people are free to disagree. I believe that the apparatus has a relatively narrow social base in the country and does all it can to protect its interests. It promotes the violation of the 'rules of the game' by which I don't just mean the constitution. The 'rules of the game' in any democratic dispensation will invariably favour the political elites over the apparatus.

Most other political problems and crises can be seen within the framework of the unyielding and destructive conflict between political and apparatus elites. The federal question and inter-provincial relations, for example, are constantly muddied due to the interests of the apparatus elite. The fact is that for various historical reasons the social base of the apparatus elite is restricted to specific regions and ethnic groups, and this comes in the way of negotiated settlements to relatively simple issues.

The most grotesque manifestation of the disproportionate power of the apparatus is the morphing under Ziaul Haq's regime of a secret apparatus with its links to jihadist and sectarian militants. This is grotesque because it goes far beyond the usual tension between the political elite and the apparatus. A great amount of violence has been internalised in our society, and millenarian and nihilistic ideologies have been sponsored in order to provide a social base for this outgrowth of the apparatus. It is like a cancer that is feeding off the apparatus which in turn feeds off society. The political elite has its selfish interests in stopping this cancer from taking over and that interest would also include preserving the main body of the apparatus while excising the cancer.

Right now it seems that we have arrived at a point where democracy and its nemesis -- the apparatus and its cancerous outgrowth -- are engaged in a most deadly duel. If the democratic process is derailed it will be a victory for the apparatus, but only in the sense that the cancer will have received a temporary lifeline which will allow it to feed off society for a bit longer. Given the changed global security perceptions I don't think that the Zia-ist outgrowth can survive. But it can, of course, cause tremendous and possible irreparable damage to our state and society before it is 'taken out' by foreign powers. It is, therefore, in the interests of our own society that we strengthen those elites that are willing to resist and fight back the cancer. All the indications are that the joint political enterprise that was needed to resist the cancer simply does not exist. If the apparatus was unable to see the political elite as a potential ally for its own survival even at this stage, everyone will be free to draw his or her conclusions about what happens next.

TNS: Do you agree that the failure to address acute socio-economic problems will lead to anarchy?

HG: Along with some colleagues I have tried to look carefully at the anatomy of the Taliban-al Qaeda takeover of specific regions of Pakistan. I think that we are right in concluding that in Pakistan and Afghanistan there is a method at work. In conditions of chaos the most organised force takes over. In places where the requisite level of chaos does not already exist, you do everything possible to engender chaos and then provide yourself as the stable alternative. This was the pattern in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and this happened in our tribal areas and in Swat after these organisations returned to Pakistan.

There is another curious pattern. These groups have almost always started their attack on a society by putting themselves forward as honest brokers and providers of quick justice. There is great resonance between their stress on quick justice and the cacophony of the rightwing forces in mainstream Pakistan who like to frame all social, economic and political issues as matters of 'justice'. It is hardly surprising that those who were romanticising 'jirga justice' until a few years ago are today calling for negotiations with the Taliban. Questions of power and rights are subsumed under this all-embracing but ultimately vacuous category called justice. Then they can appeal to the moral authority of religion to place themselves in the position of arbitrators.

Anyone with even a limited understanding of contemporary society knows that 'justice' cannot be equated with arbitration. It is also clear to most sensible people that justice is subsequent to a prior statement of rights and entitlements. But, unfortunately, the catchy slogans of quick justice have whipped up a lynch-mob type of frenzy which creates ideal conditions for the anarchy that you hinted at.

TNS: To what extent external factors are responsible for the economic crisis faced by Pakistan government? What steps should be adopted to contain it?

HG: We can look at economic problems at two levels. Some are long term structural ones and others relate to short-term crises. There is a link between the two, of course, but it is useful also to see them separately. The longer term problems relate to the absence of a core of decision-making relating to economic development over the decades.

As a result, the Pakistani economy has developed in a 'shallow' way. The productive sectors have not really moved in any concerted direction to take advantage of natural opportunities provided by existing resources or strategic location. Service sectors revolve around the trade, distribution and servicing of imported commodities and technologies. And our people are only able to capitalise on their individual ingenuity, hard work and enterprise by going abroad. The day-to-day health of the economy is dependent on the nature and quality of our economic transactions with the rest of the world, and these transactions are highly dependent on our tactical involvement in our peoples' strategic games.

This is not going to change in the short-term. Which is why for short-term crises such as the one brought on last year as a result of the economic profligacy and mismanagement of the Musharraf-Aziz period as well as global economic conditions, had really had no choice but to leverage our strategic position once again and get help for stabilisation. Yes, we can get out of this cycle of dependence and strategic prostitution, but for that to happen the first condition is some level of agreement between different elements of the elite on sharing power.

If not then external players will continue to arbitrate our internal disputes and our economy will remain structurally dependent on strategic assistance. In this case too I can reveal my own political bias. I believe that the main culprit is the apparatus; the political elite is only a minor culprit.

TNS: To what extent NFC award will help in alleviating the grievances of smaller problems?

HG: I think it is a great achievement of the democratic process. Musharraf for all his power was unable to arrive at a compromise for a simple reason. His government used differences between the provinces in order to hold on to an unreasonably high federal claim on our resources. The compromise between the provinces was made possible by the 'sacrifice' made by the federal government. This is not just good for the smaller provinces, but all provinces, and for democracy in Pakistan.

TNS: Given the fact that the Baloch youth is almost totally alienated, will Balochistan package bring some solace to the impoverished province?

HG: The Balochistan package touches on virtually all issues of importance to the Baloch people. There is one issue of concern that is not immediately covered, but that too is implicitly covered if you read the small print. That issue is the one relating to the demographic anxiety of the Baloch people. Well, the package states that all unanimous resolutions of the Balochistan provincial assembly since 2002 will be honoured, and as far as I know there is more than one such resolution dealing with the issue of inter-provincial migration.

Anyway, the main problem with negotiation today is two-fold. The Baloch side does not know if the civil government will be able to deliver on its security-related promises, i.e. the recovery of disappeared people, the issue of cantonments, and military operation, etc. It is quite justifiably, given our history, waiting to see how far the civil government has been able to gain concessions from the security side. On the other side, the problem is that the Baloch political movement is highly fragmented and that is partly the fault of the apparatus. But the consequence of fragmentation is that it is hard to find credible parties on the Baloch side with which to negotiate.

Despite these problems, I think that negotiation is still the only way out. And the roadmap to negotiation will always be something like the package that has been offered. Let us see how things move forward. This also, incidentally is an example of the capacity of the political elite over the apparatus in handling tough political questions. I will, in fact, even include the much-discredited PML-Q in this regard.

After all, the parliamentary committees came to the same conclusions as the present government. In fact, it is hard to come to any other conclusions. It was the apparatus side of the previous government that is thought to have skippered the negotiation process.

TNS: How will you assess the role being played by the judiciary? Is it going too fast?

HG: It is always going to be a problem when one segment of the state becomes too powerful, particularly if that segment belongs to the apparatus side rather than the political side. The judiciary faces similar problems to those faced earlier by the bureaucracy and the military. That it will be seen to have too narrow a social base -- a loud and populist constituency, but nevertheless a narrow social base.

In most mature systems whenever you have the argument for judicial activism you also have, from within the same institution, the argument for responsibility. In England, this is called the doctrine of judicial self-restraint; in the US it is called the doctrine of the 'political question'. The point is that the preservation of the judiciary as a legitimate institution is dependent on it being seen as non-political. It is not an issue of political partisanship. No, the question is that if the judiciary is seen to be involving itself in political questions it will sooner or later lose its social legitimacy. This would be disastrous in Pakistan, whereas we have already seen, the entry point for the revolutionaries is an attack on the system of adjudication and arbitration.

TNS: Given the dominating role of the armed forces how crucial is it to pay heed to health and education sector?

HG: This allows me to address something I deliberately left aside at the outset; that social crises are more acute than political ones, but political stability is necessary for moving ahead on social issues. It is not just education and health. We need to adopt entirely new approaches to all the 'social sectors'. So far, our approach has been incremental. We say that some more people should have healthcare, or some extra children should be in school. In fact, this incremental progress will only take place if our targets are universalist -- both in terms of coverage and in terms of outcomes. If it becomes unacceptable -- in a qualitative sort of way -- for any child to be illiterate, the design of our systems will be quite different from what it is at the moment. The same goes for health. There is some shift in this direction. The idea that all people are potentially eligible for income support and will then be selected from a universe according to some criteria is valuable. This encourages universal registration, even if the benefits are targeted. We need similarly universalist goals in all social sectors.

Incidentally, the social and military sides are somewhat similar in their approaches. In many countries the military is seen as an instrument for nation-building through universal draft. I am not advocating this, but merely pointing out that in our case social achievements as well as military participation is seen as something that can be incremental rather than by society as a whole.

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