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Polity and governance are closely related. The civilizations that have overtaken the rest in social, economic, and technological development have demonstrated a very close symbiotic linkage between the two. Tailored to each society’s peculiar needs, political models are tweaked to respond to those needs, ensuring a mode of governance that promotes public welfare, social justice, and economic growth. All free societies pick up political models based on their social and economic realities. The common thread running amongst the success stories of politics and governance is the ability of the polity to throw up a rule based system of participatory governance where all stakeholders are the prime beneficiaries. The political model is nothing but an evolved structure of participatory governance where the social contract between the governed and the governing begets a political system that is accountable and responsive to the public. Renowned political economist Ostrom defined such a system in 1973 as “a comprehensive, functionally uniform, hierarchical organizations governed by strong leaders who are democratically responsible and staffed by neutrally competent civil servants who deliver services to citizens”.
The above definition of an ideal governance system underscores the importance of strong leaders, functional organizations, and neutrally competent civil servants geared towards service delivery to the citizens. Do we have strong leaders and effective institutions? Do we have a civil service capable of service delivery with utmost competence and neutrality? The answer is a resounding no. From the above polemics emerges a bigger question: Do we have a political system capable of throwing up a governance model that is honest, responsive, and non partisan? If the answer is again a no, do we conclude that we need to examine the system for its structural flaws? Fareed Zakaria in his book “The Future of Freedom, Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad” writes that most of the third world countries that were once colonies are illiberal democracies that have all the outward appurtenances of a democracy but lack the institutions that ensure rule based governance. Pakistan fits the bill of such illiberal democracies. According to Robert Kaplan the main problem in emerging democracies is of establishing a central authority rather than superficial structures of electoral politics.
Robert Kaplan refers to such emerging regimes as “Hybrid Democracies” where due to lack of institutional decision making structures, the unelected bureaucracies from amongst the security services and the military come to share the authority with the elected public representatives. As per Kaplan, amongst such “Hybrid Regimes” might ultimately emerge a governance model that is responsive both to the needs of public and economic growth. What kind of a system would fuel economic growth and social equity in Pakistan? In order to answer this question, one needs to understand the interplay of three elements in a governance model. These are civil people, state, and the political system. Americans evolved a constitutional order borrowing some and rejecting most parts of the British political system. Montesquieu and Tocqueville suggested a balance between the powers of state and individuals essentially through the prism of people’s needs expressed through the civil society. The US model of governance thus retained an ideal balance between parliament, executive and judiciary allowing the executive adequate powers to govern untrammelled by the intervention of the other centres of power.
The armed forces need to be brought under an institutionalized decision making structure through well resourced bodies like National Security Council, Committee of National Security, and a potent Ministry of Defence. All three Services should be brought under a Chief of Defence Staff to ensure unity and economy of effort, besides achieving greater operational synergy
Pakistan was unfortunate in having to borrow a colonial political construct and then remaining stuck in that groove despite the people’s desire for a system that delivers optimally. The trouble with the British Westminster polity was its failure to create a balance between the parliament and the executive. A prime minister permanently dependent throughout his term of office on the shifting loyalties of MPs was a sure recipe of disaster in a country where feudal traditions dominated the social landscape. The upshot of such traditions was a system of constituency politics featuring a semi literate population that set great store on the politics of patronage. Amongst three elements i.e. state, people, and the system any tinkering with the system had to keep the nature of the people at the forefront. A semi literate population deeply affected by social polarization needed to be educated and raised in its human development stock before expecting any rational political choice from it. Pakistan’s present political system has failed it on several counts because of these limitations.
The main failures of the system are observed in delivery of social services, uneven economic growth, social inequity, politicized bureaucracy, poor enforcement of law and order, and a perennial political instability. For any system to work for the people the quality of the people and the leadership emerging out of these is of paramount importance. In countries like Pakistan, where a social contract between the state and people is yet undefined the slavish imitation of a colonial political system is a sure recipe for failure. Pakistan has to institute fundamental reforms in its political system as well as the mode of governance to make any meaningful progress on the human and economic development fronts. Pakistan needs a political system that separates law making from executive functions in order to curb the negative influence of patronage politics. A new constitutional scheme needs to be introduced that leads to a separation between the parliament and the executive modelled on the US or French system. The parliament should be restricted to legislation and oversight of important policy decisions by the executive like the US Congress’ powers to ratify the declaration of war by the US president. The head of the executive in Pakistan should be able to choose his cabinet from amongst the most competent people in the country to run the government while the parliament should be restricted to legislation and oversight of important executive decisions.
The real political power should be devolved to the local government level with full financial powers to run policing, municipal service delivery, urban planning, health provision, and tax collection powers. In order to make local governments effective for service delivery the existing provinces should be carved into smaller administrative divisions. Turkey with a population of 76 million has 1394 municipalities. By that analogy a country like Pakistan with a population over 200 million needs to have over 4000 municipalities. What we have instead is a hodgepodge of disempowered local governments depending on the doles of provincial governments. The country needs to have a screening system for the aspiring parliamentarians. Only educated and morally irreproachable politicians with a clean record should be allowed to contest elections. In Iran one cannot become a member of parliament without a post-graduate degree. The head of executive should select cabinet members amongst the best and ensure a think tank in every ministry staffed by the best and the brightest. A national education and energy emergency should be declared and a road map for development chalked out through integrated planning making optimum use of our natural resources.
Police and bureaucracy should be restructured in line with international practices emphasizing specialization and technology integration. The armed forces need to be brought under an institutionalized decision making structure through well resourced bodies like National Security Council, Committee of National Security, and a potent Ministry of Defence. All three Services should be brought under a Chief of Defence Staff to ensure unity and economy of effort, besides achieving greater operational synergy. Competent executive, empowered local governments, depoliticized police, responsive bureaucracy, legislation focused parliament, and integrated policy planning is the silver bullet that would see us slay the demons of political inaction, poor governance and economic meltdown.