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  #261  
Old Monday, December 19, 2011
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The uncertainity that exists


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: December 19, 2011


With the amount of uncertainty that currently exists, Pakistan’s economic future is hard to predict. The economy could go in one of two ways. It could enter a period of even deeper crisis, especially when the country is faced with a serious balance of payments situation exacerbated by Islamabad’s decision to terminate the programme negotiated with the IMF in late 2008. Or it could recover and begin to climb on to a trajectory similar to the one India — and to a lesser extent Bangladesh — is already on at this time. The path Pakistan will take depends on what policies are put in place by the people who gain power following the next general elections that must be held sometime in the next 15 months. But why wait until then? Why shouldn’t those in power now adopt the needed growth-promoting policies?

The country will probably have to wait for the elections to clarify who will yield power in Islamabad and the provinces following the polls. It is passing through a very difficult period — the kind of period that in the past brought the military to power. There now appears to be consensus in the country that repeated interventions by the people in uniform is not the way to move forward and that the solutions to the many problems Pakistan now faces must be found within a broadly representative democratic framework. It is worth the wait for such a system to grow roots. That developing a democratic culture would take time was to be expected, since real democracies take effort and patience before they take root. Even if the wait means a loss of five to 10 percentage points of growth over a few years, this foregone increase in income is worth the price to pay. This is the lesson that we learn by looking at the history of political development around the world.

One of these lessons is that policy reforms in democratic systems don’t move in a straight line. All reforms mean that there will be some losers but many gainers. If the losers have a great amount of political clout, they will manage to block the needed change. It is only when the potential gainers have learnt to mobilise and put pressure on policymakers that the needed reforms can go forward. It is now well recognised that politics and economics react in many different ways. Some of these are obvious; some of them more subtle. But one thing is clear. In democratic societies, change does not come easily. That notwithstanding, it is better to have change within a democratic framework than in those where the decision-making power is in the hands of a few people. There are interesting examples of this non-linear aspect to the process of economic reforms from both India and Pakistan. Beginning first with the Indian case.

In an interview given on December 14, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, said that his nation’s economy will return to a long-term growth rate of nine per cent a year, as inflation slows and the government extends a record of market-opening policies. For the moment, interrupted reforms have stalled the rate of growth. But growth is not the only setback to the Indian economy. Inflation has increased significantly, in part because of the fall in the value of the Indian rupee. India’s currency has tumbled 17 per cent this year, the worst performance among 10 major Asian currencies. The prime minister promised to get India back on the high growth track.

“We will stay the course. We will make India an eminently bankable and creditworthy economy”, he told the press. However, gross domestic product will increase to 7.5 per cent in the financial year ending March 31, 2012. This is two-and-a half percentage points lower than what India has been aiming at for the last several years.

High on the Indian agenda is the reform of retail trade, which is an important part of the Indian service sector but one that has been marred by extremely low productivity. One way of improving that is to permit large retail groups from the West to set-up shop in India. But the entry of companies such as United States’ Wal-Mart, Britain’s Tesco and France’s Carrefour was blocked by the small operators in the country. There are millions of small shops in India that intermediate between the small producers and small consumers. Shop owners have numbers and political power on their side. They were able to successfully work against the latest move by the government to allow these companies to set-up their businesses in India. To Prime Minister Singh’s great embarrassment, the government fearing a political backlash had to take back its decision. In the interview quoted above, the prime minister said that he expects to succeed in his push to open India’s retail market to foreign companies after regional elections conclude by the end of March 2012. The most important of these will be in the state of Uttar Pradesh that has a population of 200 million and where Rahul Gandhi, the heir to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is attempting to establish his credentials for becoming the country’s new leader.

It is interesting that Pakistan was able to open its retail sector to foreign competition a couple of years ago. Three large western companies have come to the country. These include France’s Carrefour, the Netherland’s Metro and Germany’s Macro. Their entry has already had a profound impact on the productivity of the retail sector. However, Pakistan has done less well in the area of domestic resource mobilisation. Here, politics have intervened negatively. Pakistan had to walk out of the IMF programme, since in the judgment of the policymakers it was not feasible to introduce tax reforms desired by it. Politicians in power seem to have concluded that the cost of undertaking these reforms outweighs the benefits.

This leads to an obvious conclusion. Rather than changing the political system as Pakistan did so many times in its difficult history, people active in the political field must educate their constituents: to get them to see that those who fear that they will lose in the short-term, need not lose over the long-run. Immediate loss may be much smaller than long-term gains.

Source: The Uncertainty that Exists
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  #262  
Old Monday, December 26, 2011
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Rescuing US assistance programme


By Shahid Javed Burki
Monday, 26 Dec, 2011


WILL Pakistan be able to go alone if it was shunned by the United States? What will be the cost to America of a breakdown in relations with Pakistan? These questions were asked by a report issued recently by Woodrow Wilson Centre, a Washington-based think-tank. Titled Aiding Without Abetting: Making US Civilian Assistance to Pakistan Work for Both Sides.

The report was the work of a group of 17 development experts, some of them of Pakistani origin. As the title suggests the report looked at the impact on both Pakistan and the United States if the Kerry-LugarBerman (KLB) act signed into law by President Barack Obama in October 2009 did not deliver on its promise. The KLB was developed to satisfy Pakistan`s quest for a relationship with the United States that was not subject to Washington`s political whims.

In the work done by me for the report I estimated that the impact of a total shutdown of American economic assistance to Pakistan will be minimal. It will push down the rate of growth by no more than 0.14 per cent a year. However, a breakdown of relations will have consequences for other financial flows to the country.

America`s net aid flows may not amount to a great deal but its influence on other sources of finance could be significant.

Pakistan`s decision to walk out of the IMF programme will put a serious squeeze on the government`s financial situation. Large repayments to the Fund will begin in early 2012. Unless the country taps other sources, these payments will very quickly deplete the foreign exchange reserves. It is in this environment that American aid to Pakistan should be viewed. This wasthe context in which Woodrow Wilson group wrote its report.

The report`s 28 recommendations could be divided into four parts. The first deals with the fragility of the situation in Pakistan. The report underscored the point that while Pakistan could fail as a state, it was too large a country and too strategically placed to be allowed to fall apart.

In this context the report looked carefully at the country`s current circumstances. `Pakistan already a fragile state, faces a tidal wave of internal stresses that could belie the myth that the country always muddles though. This looming `tsunami` is centred in `settled` or `main` Pakistan where most Pakistanis live, and not in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan,` wrote the report`s authors.

The crisis the country was facing was fueled by a number of circumstances. These included economic, political, and social divisions that have been complicated by Islamization.

There are socioeconomic pressures building from below after decades of dominance and neglect by a narrow elite in the military and civilian establishments that retains a monopoly over the best education, agricultural land, urban real estate, and jobs and access to scarce capital. A legacy of 20 years of zigzagging policies that have left the country politically and economically underdeveloped and un-reformed, The current situation is precarious.

Added to this is a youth wave that is about to engulf the urban areas.

Half of Pakistan`s 180 million people are 21 years old or younger. Rural inmigrants were piling into slums that often lack access to clean water, basic health care and reasonably well paying jobs.

Given a very poor domestic resource situation, Pakistan for the timebeing has to rely on external assistance that would be sustained over a period of time and would eventually allow the country to stand on its own feet. That was what the KLB was meant to achieve.

The KLB act was divided into two parts or `titles`. The first title spelt out the democratic, economic and development assistance, the second dealt with security assistance. There were no programme specific conditions attached to the flow of assistance under the first title but the resources under the second title came with a number of conditions related to Pakistan`s participation in the struggle against Islamic extremism.

The worsening of relations between the two countries seems to have persuaded a significant number of American legislators to ask the executive branch of the government to attach stringent conditions to the aid that was promised to the country $ 7.5 billion over a five year period. In other words, there is an effort in Congress to attach to economic aid the same kind of conditions that were used for security assistance.

The report argued against such an approach. The Wilson group recommended that the United States `should continue to implement KLB without adding securityor econom ic-related-reformconditions but advocate reforms. [It should press] Pakistan to return to an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund`.

The Woodrow Wilson Center group also recognised that the Americans were poorly managing their aid programme in Pakistan. Its report had a series of recommendations on improving both the design of the programme as well as its execution. It suggested that Washington should `continue budgetary support for theBenazir Income Support Programme` but do so only `if it is tightened to exclude political manipulation and move beneficiaries toward eventual independence.

An effort should be made to `partner with local civil society organizations to improve input from aid beneficiaries, local citizen watchdog groups, and impacted populations throughout the life of a programme.

Recognising that the current programme was being run by people who stayed in Pakistan for short periods on account of security concerns, did not always of good knowledge of development issues and looked constantly back at Washington for guidance, the Wilson Center recommended that there should also be an effort by the American officials managing the aid programme to `recruit more seasoned technical experts, extend Pakistan tours, and devolve authority and accountability.

The Wilson group`s final set of recommendations concerned the building of capacity to handle the making of public policy as well as implementing aided programmes. It suggested that one of the objectives followed should be to `make vocational training the main US contribution to education in Pakistan.` It also recommended the aid programme should `help fill Pakistan`s government`s most critical expertise at the federal and provincial levels but with `payback` conditions for beneficiaries.

The Wilson Centre, in other words, argued for a serious mid-course correction for the KLB programme. The failure of KLB will have consequences for Pakistan`s relations with other countries in the West. Public opinion in many countries that Pakistan once counted as its friends was rapidly souring. Without support from the public, policymakers in countries such as Britain, Canada, France and Germany will not be able to provide significant amounts of assistance to Pakistan.

One example of the growing impatience with Pakistan in a country other than the United States is indicated by an editorial in National Post, a conservative Canadian newspaper, that called the authorities in Ottawa to stop aiding Pakistan.

`Every dollar that we spend on civil projects in Pakistan is another dollar that the country`s security establishment has available to it for providing material support to the Taliban and the Haqqani network in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands.

In replacing Pakistan on its country-of-focus list [the Canadian International Development Agency] can pick from plenty of other countries that are not supporting the terrorists who are planting the roadside bombs that kill our troops,` wrote the newspaper. The collapse of the KerryLugar-Berman effort therefore would have serious consequences for Pakistan. It would spread discomfort about Pakistan beyond the United States.

Rescuing US assistance programme | ePaper | DAWN.COM
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  #263  
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Achieving a critical mass


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: December 31, 2011


Social scientists have begun to note that in the first decade of the 21st century, globalisation and a revolution in information technology have achieved a critical mass. According to one analyst, “this has resulted in the democratisation — all at once — of so many things that neither weak states nor weak companies can stand up against popular expression”. We have seen the democratisation of information, of war fighting, of innovation and of expectations. The last is particularly important for reshaping political institutions. The year 2011 started with tens of thousands of Arab youth demanding an end to authoritarian rule. It is ending with the young in Russia asking for the same. As Aleksei Navalny, an imprisoned blogger in Russia, wrote recently: “We are not cattle or slaves. We have voices and votes and the power to uphold them.”

The street first rose in the Arab world but its rise gave encouragement to the forces of dissent in such different cultures as in Britain, France, Spain, Russia and the United States. A clear lesson has to be learnt by political systems in the making, such as the one in Pakistan. The lesson is that the people’s voice must be factored in both the design and working of political systems and their capacity to deliver results for the masses.

Given that, is it too optimistic to hope, as I did in last week’s article, that the next elections may serve to cleanse the political system in Pakistan? On the other hand, is Pakistan’s political system utterly and comprehensively broken? Or is the country simply dealing with the birth pangs of a new system that has been through a long and painful period of delivery over which the military presided off and on for many decades? Can a political system in such a perilous state manage an economy that is in tatters, fixing it in a way to ensure a high rate of GDP growth sustainable over time?

These are hard questions to answer. Neither economic theory nor political science is of much help. That said, it would be hard to argue that the progress the country has made in moving towards a system in which the people have some voice should be interrupted and replaced once again with strongman rule. Governments under strong leaders have done well in East Asia and China. Similar arrangements in Pakistan did not produce the same kind of results. The failure of strongmen in Pakistan was because they had short-term and narrow interests. With the possible exception of General Ayub Khan, none of the other military leaders came with visions to set the economy right in a way that benefits flowed to a majority of the population.

Some could argue that the economy is too sick to be left to the care of political doctors who have displayed little talent in handling it. To be tempted to move in that direction would be to repeat the so many mistakes of history. As I suggested last week, it is worth paying the economic price to develop a system of governance that would last for good and which would provide for all citizens in an equitable and caring way.

Today’s system is far from doing that and what is being promised by those present on the political stage at this moment does not get us there. According to the American political scientist and Senior Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, Francis Fukuyama, “the passion of protesters and democracy advocates around the world, from South Africa to Romania to Ukraine, might be sufficient to bring about ‘regime change’ from authoritarian to democratic government, but the latter might not succeed without a long, costly, laborious, difficult process of institution building”. This was written before the Arab Spring added more examples to those the author had used for how the pressure of the street could start the process of political change. But, continues Fukuyama: “Human institutions are subject to deliberate design and choice, unlike genes, they are transmitted across time culturally rather than genetically; and they are invested with intrinsic value through a variety of psychological and social mechanisms, which makes them hard to change. The inherent conservatism of human institutions then explains why political development is frequently reversed by political decay, since there is often a substantial lag between changes in the external environment that should trigger institutional change, and the actual willingness of the societies to make those changes.”

On their way to political development, history tells us that societies have followed cycles of development and decay. Those who seek to guard against decay must ensure that political systems have several institutional layers which would protect against slippages occurring. If this reading of the process of political development is correct, there is real danger of political decay in Pakistan. Descent into it should be prevented and this will require hard work and understanding. Pakistan will have to have patience before a set of institutions will get settled and will begin to work together and reinforce one another to provide for the common good.

Looking back at the political mess Pakistan finds itself in today, one cannot but wonder about what the country’s leaders were thinking when they embarked on a series of outdated approaches. The approaches they tried might have worked — in Pakistan’s case they did succeed to some degree — but they had no chance of lasting success being perpetuated way into the future. Among the more serious mistakes were those that invested more confidence in the style of political management that put premium on leading from the top. In addition there was confidence that America could protect the leadership groups while they attempted to manipulate the populace from great heights. That way of political management could not have worked and is not working. A profound change is needed in which we manage political development in the country.

Source: Achieving a Critical Mass
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Pluck the low hanging fruit


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: January 9, 2012


There is not much hope that the people who currently hold the reins of power in Islamabad have the political will or the competence to arrest the current economic decline. It appears that the citizenry will have to wait for a regime change before serious action gets to be taken. It is important that this change comes through democratic means. Any other way would seriously set the country back. When the change does come, what should the people in power to do to revive the economy and set it on the trajectory of sustainable growth at a reasonably high level?

There are many lessons policymakers can learn from the experiences in other parts of the world. When I looked after Latin America and the Caribbean region for the World Bank, I saw many economies pick themselves up from almost free fall, steady their situation and then begin to grow and improve the well-being of the citizenry. Both, Argentina and Brazil were able to accomplish that feat. One thing that impressed me about the Latin American economies in extreme distress was that once the right set of policies were adopted, the bounce-back in the rate of economic expansion happened quickly. The recovery was fairly sharp and enduring. This is what is meant by plucking the low hanging fruit.

What are the few things that need to be done immediately — say in the first one hundred days — after the change in regime occurs? I would suggest four areas of economic reform. One consequence these suggested policies will have is to increase investor confidence in the future of the economy. That alone will bring new investments into the economy by the private sector.

The first is to indicate that there will be no tolerance for corruption in high places. Corruption takes many forms and affects people differently. It will take a while and serious institutional innovation to bring it under control at the lower-level. Significant amount of corruption is built into the administrative systems. The British designed the systems of land records and maintenance of law and order at the local (thana) level so that the people paid for the services of the patwari and the thanedar rather than have the state assume the entire budgetary burden of adequately paying these functionaries. Dealing with corruption at these levels will take time. There will need to be major systemic changes before this can be brought under control. But higher level misdemeanour can be dealt with through the setting of good examples by the policymakers who occupy senior levels and by putting in place a system of accountability that is independent of executive control. The previous attempts in Pakistan to create such a system became the victims of political exploitation. Once the signal goes out that there will be no tolerance for bad behaviour, it will have a salutary effect on the way policymakers will deal with the people.

The second area for attention by the new regime should be the improvement in the investment climate for the private sector. As economists have known for a long time, confidence in the future is an extremely important determinant of private investment and, hence, of economic growth. The private sector will also be encouraged if the regulatory system is overhauled. The new government would do well to review all the regulations in place and streamline them with a view to ridding the system of those that serve no economic or social purpose. They have remained in place since they provide handsome rents to those responsible for implementing them. Some of the laws on the books have long served their purpose but have been retained since some vested interests have turned their provisions into rent seeking activities.

The third area that should receive the attention of the new set of policymakers is the size and funding of the public sector development programme. The Planning Commission has carried out a thorough review of the programme as it stands today and found that there are thousands of projects on its books with trillions of rupees of throw-forward. This is the amount that was allocated but not actually provided and, therefore, remains undisbursed. Several projects are under implementation, providing funds for their managers, staffs, residences and offices. Cleaning up this programme will not only save the government considerable amount of resources, it will also help to rationalise public sector spending.

The fourth area requiring immediate attention is the energy sector. Pakistan’s energy problem now encompasses both electricity and natural gas. It is badly hurting the people and the people have begun to react. There was recently tire-burning on the Islamabad Highway as people expressed their anger at the shortage of gas in their cooking stoves. Gas and electricity shortages are also hurting the economy.

Solving the energy crisis will take time and also require a great deal of investment. The state does not have the resources to meet the growing needs. The private sector has to be brought in. One approach would be to allow the provinces to invite the private sector to invest in hydro power. If anecdotal evidence is any guide, various provinces in the country have hundreds of sites on canals, streams and rivers that can be tapped to produce electricity.

Licenses to invest should be given not on the basis of the price the state is prepared to pay for buying the power produced. This was done when the first wave of IPP (independent power producers) invested in developing the energy sector. Instead, licenses should be handed out on the basis of auctions, with those indicating the lowest price they want for the power they produce, getting the go-ahead. This should be the limit of the state’s involvement.

With these policies and initiatives in place, the Pakistani economy could bounce back from its current slump. They will also set the stage for undertaking deeper structural reforms without which the country cannot climb on a high growth trajectory. The four reform areas discussed above could add as much as a percentage and a half points to the rate of growth every year. This means that by the calendar year 2015, two years after a set of new rulers takes office, Pakistan’s growth rate could double, increasing from three to six per cent a year.

Source: Pluck the Low Hanging Fruit
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Pakistan and the new Great Game


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: January 17, 2012


The latest American defence strategy revealed by President Barack Obama, on January 5, could result in the South Asian subcontinent becoming the stage on which the large powers will play the new Great Game. India and Pakistan are likely to find themselves on the opposite side of the new great power divide. It would not be healthy for South Asia if the United States growing concern about China’s increasing influence results in promoting rivalry between China and India. A healthy competition between the two Asian giants will serve the two well. What would not help is Washington’s use of India to balance China’s rise and thus have New Delhi serve its strategic interests.

The deteriorating relations between the US and Pakistan, as result of a series of events in 2011, have presented the policymakers in Washington with a choice. They can work to resolve the differences and remain engaged with the country that remains critical to its long-term — not just short-term — strategic interests or, they can simply walk out of the country as was done in 1989 when Pakistan’s usefulness to the US was diminished after the Soviet Union was pushed out of Afghanistan. There is considerable temptation to adopt the latter approach. That is certainly the case in the US Congress, which has already declared its intention to reduce the amount of military assistance and economic aid promised to Pakistan.

The new US defence strategy, by focusing so much attention on China, is bound to further complicate the situation and add another element in the American-Pakistani equation. With heavy dependence on external flows to retain some dynamism in the economy and with the Americans threatening to reduce their assistance, Islamabad has already reacted by attempting to draw even closer to Beijing. This effort was only partially successful; Beijing, with its eye on Washington, was not inclined to walk into Pakistan to fully compensate for the threatened American withdrawal. But Beijing may rethink its cautious approach. If the defence strategy sends the message to Beijing that China-containment had become the main interest for the US in world affairs, the Chinese may seek to list Islamabad as its partner to counter the American moves. And if the US responds by getting even closer to India what will result is a four-power ‘Great Game’ with America and India seeking to contain China and China and Pakistan working together to limit Washington’s influence in their geographic space. This will be an unhappy development for South Asia.

What is needed instead is a deep American involvement in helping Pakistan to develop its political system and its economy to guide the ongoing revolution in the Middle East and several other Muslim countries into the right channels. Drawing a connection between the Arab Spring and Pakistan’s development as a way of helping the West’s strategic interests may, at first sight, seem a bit of a stretch. But such a link becomes apparent when the dynamic unleashed by the events in the Middle East is put in a historical perspective.

What is at issue now is the direction the Arab Spring is likely to take. The first series of elections in the Arab world — in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt — following the street-inspired revolutions have brought parties with strong Islamic roots into prominence. In Egypt, it is already clear that the party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood will have the largest presence in the newly elected assembly. It has won close to one-half of the seats, while another quarter has gone to the Salafists. The revolution was brought about by disaffected youth but its consequences will not bring them into political power. “So why are so many Arabs voting for parties that seem regressive to Westerners?” asks John M Owen, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and the author of an important book on the clash of ideas and politics. His answer: “Liberalism in the 19-century Europe and Islamism in the Arab world today, are like channels dug by one generation of activists and kept open, sometimes quietly, by future ones. When the storms of revolution arrive, whether in Europe or in the Middle East, the waters will find those channels. Islamism is winning out because it is the deepest and widest channel into which today’s Arab discontent can flow”.

But today’s revolutions are different from those that came earlier; they are taking place in full global view where those participating in them are in constant communication with those watching them. It is unlikely that the liberal forces that relieved the countries of absolutist leadership will easily give way to the dominance of political forces that may take the affected countries towards another form of control. This happened in Iran in the late 1970s. To ensure that Islamists, even if they win elections, will not dispense with liberal democratic forms, the liberal forces are looking for models in which religious parties are embedded within democratic systems.

Pakistan could become such a model if its fledgling democratic system succeeds. Pakistan, at this time, is deeply involved in containing the rise of Islamic extremism. One way to deal with it is to combine the use of force with accommodation. Those not prepared to work within the established legal framework must be dealt with firmly while those inclined to use the norms of democracy to advance their agendas must be given accommodation. Pakistan’s difficult political evolution is being watched by many in the Middle East. If it succeeds, it will be seen as an example to be replicated. However, the United States by withdrawing its support at such a critical time and forcing the new Great Game on South Asia, will unleash another dynamic that could seriously set back the Pakistani experiment. A strong anti-American sentiment would undoubtedly help the Islamic groups and inhibit the more liberal forces. In other words, Washington must look at Pakistan through the lens of the Arab Spring rather than as a player on the other side of the game to contain China.

Source: Pakistan and New Great Game
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Poor governance and citizen’s discomfort


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: January 23, 2012


When ‘governance’ entered the language of economics, it was a camouflage term used by the World Bank. The latter substituted it for the term ‘corruption’. By bringing in the term governance in its discourse, the Bank wished to impress the countries it was working with that corruption was taking a heavy toll on their economies, in particular on the poorer segments of the population. But at that time, corruption was too impolite a word to use in a dialogue with the countries who borrowed from the Bank. Once serious analytical work got to be done by the Washington-based institution, it was realised that the word governance went much beyond corruption. It also implied, the distance between the government and the people it was meant to serve. It included the responsibility for providing public services to the citizenry and their quality. It included holding public servants accountable for their work. Responsibility, deliverability and accountability, therefore, are three important attributes of good governance.

Since poor governance has a negative impact on economic performance, this is one reason why the rate of economic growth has stalled in Pakistan. It has contributed to Pakistan not achieving the rates of GDP growth attained by other large South Asian economies. In addition to poor governance, a number of structural problems prevented the country from reaching its potential. These included a high rate of population growth; low rates of domestic savings and consequently, inadequate investment, not only in human capital but also in infrastructure, industry and agriculture; weak industrial and export structures, dominated by products based on cotton; an ambivalent attitude towards the private sector and the absence of liberal economic framework until the early 1990s; high levels of defence spending; poor resource mobilisation by the government; underdeveloped institutions of governance; and highly centralised decision-making. Among these contributors to economic growth, poor governance is one of the more important ones.

Since 2008, the country has been limping through a period of political transition. The rule by the army, that had by then governed for 33 years out of the 61 years of independence, gave way to that by the elected representatives of the people. There was excitement in the air; there was expectation that through their representatives, the country’s citizens will sit at the table where important public policy decisions were being taken. There was optimism that the pace, at which political transition then underway, would proceed smoothly and would usher in a government that would be more responsive to the needs of the citizenry. However, within a couple of months of its induction into office, the coalition government that had assumed office in Islamabad collapsed and the country entered a period of political uncertainty that has lasted to this date. Political uncertainty contributes to economic stress; people willing to invest in the economy are unlikely to invest their capital when risks are high. Political turmoil and poor governance were to take a heavy economic toll.

Pakistan has given scant attention to the need to provide good governance not only in recent times but throughout its history. However, the country has reached the point where the issue of governance can no longer be ignored by the ruling establishment. The need for good governance acquired special significance as the streets in Middle East exploded and brought about regime change in four countries that had been governed for decades by the same heads of state and relying on the support of the same sets of people. A number of other countries in the region have also come under pressure. The street and the public square in the Middle East have sent out two clear messages to those who govern. First: the people subjected to decades of rule in which they had no role to play and in which their welfare was simply ignored have arrived at the limits of their patience. The other message was that in the modern means of communication, the citizenry have found the tools to get organised, agitate and put pressure on the ruling establishment to mend its ways. These two messages have relevance for Pakistan as well.

The quality of governance in Pakistan is as poor as that in the Middle Eastern countries, contributing to a major economic downturn. Poor economic performance, however, has not prevented the well-to-do from becoming rich, leaving the rest of the citizenry way behind. Political scientists from the days of Samuel P. Huntington have been emphasising that relative deprivation — their term — can be a powerful sentiment for forcing political change. It has been deployed in Pakistan’s torrid history for bringing about regime change. The governments headed by President Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto fell largely because the people were unhappy with what they had received from the ruling establishment.

When the youth get agitated of what lies in their future, they are likely to raise their voice and if the voice was is heard, they are likely to take to the streets and assemble in public squares. This is precisely what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. These countries were not spared the pressure of the street even though their economies were growing at a brisk pace. In fact, as Political scientist, Samuel Huntington wrote a number of years ago, the feeling of relative deprivation becomes acute when the economy is growing rapidly but most of the incremental income is captured by narrow economic and political elites. Absence of good governance, therefore, could — and often does — result in political instability. An open political system and vibrant media serve as safety valves but when the pressure being built up cannot be released, there can be trouble for the establishment. It would appear that the movement launched by Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf has got traction because of the growing discontent among the citizenry, in particular among the country’s youth. It is worth noting that corruption and its eradication were the main themes in the speeches given by Khan at the largely attended rallies in Lahore and Karachi.

Source: Poor Governance and Citizen's Discomfort
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Governance and citizen’s discomfort


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: January 29, 2012


Political uncertainty need not have produced poor governance. In Pakistan, however, the two came together. Poor governance has many meanings. It means the indifference of those in power towards delivering the services people need; to ensure security for the lives and properties of the citizenry; to respect the rights of all minorities, ethnic as well as religious; to hold themselves accountable for their actions; to provide stability and continuity of policies; and to create an environment which leads people to develop confidence in their future. Those who have governed Pakistan since 2008 have failed on most — if not all — of these counts. There are many indicators of the decline in the quality of governance. To take one, corruption: according to the 2011 report issued by the Berlin-based Transparency International, Pakistan ranks poorly on that score. It is close to the bottom in the organisation’s ranking of countries around the globe.

There are several measures a well-intentioned government could have adopted to improve the quality of governance. Of these, four are of particular importance: to establish a system of accountability for all public officials in which the citizenry has confidence, to strengthen the legal and judicial systems, to give autonomy to the judiciary and to bring the government closer to the people. There was some movement on two of these four. One of these — autonomy of the judiciary — was forced upon the political system by the civil society. The second — grant of greater authority to the governments at the subnational levels is still work in progress.

Some attempts were made to set up institutions of accountability, most recently, by the administration headed by ex-president Pervez Musharraf. He reorganised the apparatus inherited from the democratic governments that ruled in the 1990s and appointed a highly respected army general — Lieutenant General Muhammad Amjad, in whom he saw all the needed qualities — as its head. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was meant to “put the fear of God into the rich and powerful who had been looting the state”, Musharraf wrote later in his autobiography. “A special NAB ordinance was issued to give power and full autonomy to the organisation”, he continued. The NAB worked diligently and hard at the beginning of the Musharraf era. But as had happened so many times before it, too, became politicised.

In an attempt to stay in power, while realising that he could not stop the country from moving towards democracy, president Musharraf struck a deal with Benazir Bhutto and her party, the PPP. As a part of the deal, he issued the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) on October 5, 2007. According to Transparency International “in many ways, this was a set-back for anti-corruption moves in Pakistan, as all proceedings under investigation or pending in any court that had been initiated, or involved the National Accountability Bureau NAB prior to October 12, 1999 were withdrawn and terminated with immediate effect. NRO also granted further protection to parliamentarians as no sitting member of the parliament or provincial assembly can could be arrested without taking into consideration the recommendations of the of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Ethics or the Special Committee of the Provincial Assembly on Ethics.” The NRO became an issue of contention between an assertive judiciary and the PPP-led government. The issue remains unresolved.

Pakistan — in particular its policymakers — have not fully grasped the importance of a well-functioning legal system for providing good governance. No significant attempts have been made since the founding of the country to reform the legal system so that it adequately addresses the varied needs of the citizenry. Dispute settlement and holding accountable those who break the law are two of the more important attributes of a good legal structure. Both attributes not only help the poorer segments of the society. Failure of one or of both hurt the political system and it obstructs the smooth economic development. The legal system’s inability to deliver timely justice is one reason why an increasing number of people in Pakistan are being attracted towards the Islamic way of providing justice.

The problems with the existing system have been investigated a number of times, most recently by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The well-funded ADB project to reform the legal system did not go very far in addressing the problems that have rendered it dysfunctional. Its failure to fully achieve the stated objectives was the poor by-in by the various governments at the federal as well as the provincial levels. In spite of the pressure exerted by the Bank, there was little establishment interest in making the legal system responsive to the needs of the common man.

A legal system is as effective as the judiciary that administers it. Largely, because of the support by the citizenry through the various civil society organisations, Pakistan’s judiciary at the senior levels has begun to provide comfort to the people. The heavy involvement of the legal community — the ‘black coats’ movement — during the waning days of the Musharraf regime has increased people’s confidence in the Supreme Court and the provincial high courts. The courts operating at these levels have begun to take a deep and increasing interest in the political and bureaucratic systems accountability. The current conflict between the Supreme Court and the PPP-led government in Islamabad is likely to be resolved in favour of the judiciary, notwithstanding, the resolution passed by the National Assembly on January 16, expressing confidence in democracy. An efficient and effective judicial system is an important part of the democratic structure, not separate from it.

There is hope that the reshaping of the structure of government following the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the constitution will improve the quality of governance by bringing the state closer to the people. But there is also anxiety that the devolution of so much authority to the provinces could cause disruption in a number of areas. There is a particular concern that unless the process of devolution is managed carefully, it could result in the deterioration of public services to the poorer segments of the population. It is now recognised that bringing the government closer to the people is essential for improving the quality of services provided by the public sector. This objective can be achieved if the process of devolution underway, factors in the lessons that history and experiences have to teach.

Source: Governance and Citizens' discomfort
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Political parties and economic policymaking


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: February 13, 2012


At this stage in our political development it is useful to provide a brief overview of the structure of politics and identify a number of divergent interests that are embedded in today’s political system. They will have to be reconciled in order to formulate a coherent set of policies aimed at finding appropriate solutions to the many economic problems the country currently faces. At play are half a dozen political interests each of which is represented either by political parties or by people’s movements. I will begin with the political parties and the ideologies they represent.

The two major political parties — the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N) are committed to a significant presence of private enterprise in managing the economy. For the PPP, this is a major departure from the days of its founding. In the ‘foundation documents’ issued in 1967 and 1968 when the party was developing its approach to economic management, it adopted an economic ideology described as ‘Islamic socialism’. The Islamic part of the slogan was mostly for optical purposes; it had little relevance for policymaking once the party gained power. But the party was serious about socialism. Once in power, the party went ahead and expropriated a significant part of the privately owned economic assets.

The PML-N on the other hand inherited the private sector orientation of the original party. Under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the long-serving president of the party and the founding father of the state of Pakistan, there was a strong preference for encouraging private entrepreneurship. Being a member of the trading community, private enterprise and private initiative were in Jinnah’s DNA. In fact, once the British had agreed to create Pakistan, Jinnah encouraged some of the well-established business houses to move from India to Pakistan. Among them was the Habib family. Under Nawaz Sharif the party has simply reverted to its original preferences.

While it is helpful that the two mainstream political parties are no longer far apart in their economic preferences, there is major difference in the way they look at governance. That said, I would argue that the PPP has been less concerned than PML-N about the appropriateness of using government finance for personal use or for the benefit of the constituencies that support it. The League’s traditions go back to the days of Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. The former was a rich man before he assumed the reins of power in Muslim politics. He did not add to his wealth when he became Pakistan’s chief executive and gave much of it away when he died. Liaquat Ali Khan, who stepped in his shoes, is said to have died a near-pauper. Several other leaders of early Pakistan, Iskander Mirza and General Yahya Khan among them did not have large assets on which they could live after they left office.

Moving down from the national to the subnational parties, the economic interests of the MQM, and ANP, are focused on bettering the economic interests of the communities they represent. The former has been more diligent in pursuing the economic interests of its constituents. The latter, while representing the Pashtun communities of the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), has been less active. Given their support base, both parties are in favour of putting more power in the hands of the provinces. The MQM would like to go a step further since its political and economic interests are not entirely served by devolving power to the provinces. It would like to see authority devolve to local government institutions since its power base is concentrated in Sindh provinces large cities of the province of Sindh. While the MQM has been more successful in working for the welfare of its constituencies, the ANP’s record is much less attractive in this context.

There are also several regional parties operating in Balochistan. Most of these are convinced that the federal government has not acted to promote the development of this large and resource-rich province. Dominated by tribal leaders, the sociocultural attributes of this province are different from those of K-P, the other small province in the Pakistani federation. Even when an attempt was made to provide financial compensation to the province for the exploitation of its ample mineral wealth for national use, much of this amount was expropriated by the powerful tribal maaliks and very little trickled down to the very poor. Even when the distribution of income is deteriorating in the country as a whole, it is getting even worse in this province. Given Balochistan’s geopolitical position, with long borders with Afghanistan and Iran, and with Pakistan’s longest coast line, it is not surprising that there is growing foreign interest in the area. Some of the smaller political parties operating in the province are reported to be receiving foreign funding.

For a country in which Islam, in particular its extremist version, has become such a visible and often destructive force, parties functioning in the domain of religion have had little political consequence. Islamic groups in the country can be divided into two categories. There are those like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiatul-Islam that have always functioned in the formal political space, accepting the norms of political behaviour. It was only when they coalesced and came under one banner as they did when they created a coalition called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal that they became influential in the policymaking arena. More often than not, they operated from the margins of the political space. However, political organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba have a very different political agenda — a radical make-up of the Pakistani society and its political and economic aspects. They are willing to resort to the use of violence rather than operate within the political system.

Reflecting all these divergent political interests in shaping a common approach to formulating economic policy will require clever and dedicated leadership. This is not present on the scene at this stage. The next set of elections may bring a new group of people into the political space and put them in policymaking positions to rescue the country out of its difficult economic situation. Until then, Pakistan will have to muddle along, costing a great deal in terms of lost growth and increased levels of poverty.

Source: Political parties and Economic Policy Making
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Pakistan’s most difficult test


By Shahid Javed Burki
Published: February 21, 2012


Understanding the history of crises in Pakistan can contribute to a better appreciation of the way the Pakistani economy has evolved since the country’s birth in 1947. History also helps to define the space in which those making public policy must operate. Some economists call it path dependence. In technical terms, ‘path dependence’ is something economists have begun to believe is an important determinant of the present. This refers to the notion that ‘often if something that seems normal or inevitable today, began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice’.

The current structure of the Pakistani economy was shaped to a considerable extent by the past. So were its relations with many countries in the region. It helps to understand how that happened in order to deal with the problems to which the past may have contributed. One possible solution to the many problems Pakistan faces today is to improve the country’s relations with India, the sister state to the south. Why focus on relations with India is a question that needs a detailed answer.

Pakistan, a crisis prone country, is now faced with its most difficult test. The government that holds the reins of power in Islamabad is preparing to complete its first term in office. Will that happen and will the PPP-led coalition in Islamabad call for another set of elections sometime before the end of Spring of 2013? If the country passes that critical mark on the way to its further political evolution, it would have possibly set itself on a course it has been seeking to travel on ever since it gained independence nearly 65 years ago. There are many hurdles over which it must jump before the country reaches that point. If it does, would that mean the end of the period of crises that began the moment the military passed the baton to an elected set of people’s representatives?

The period since March 2008 — when the current prime minister from the PPP took office — has seen many crises not just in politics but in a number of other areas as well. Nothing has remained unaffected — not economics, not the society at large, not relations with the world beyond the borders. Pakistan’s torrid history is speckled with crises. They arrived at regular intervals to claim the attention of the people in power. This preoccupation with finding solutions to crises deflected a series of policymakers from evolving a long-term vision for developing the economy and shaping the political system.

Crises began the day the British decided to transfer power not to one, but to two successor states. One state — India — was created on the basis of an idea that the state structure could be erected that would serve all people, all the time. That idea has mostly worked. But the ‘idea of Pakistan’ did not work. Pakistan was given statehood in the belief that the Muslims of British India could not live in a political system and in an economy dominated by people from other faiths. They had to have a country of their own which they could mould according to their sets of beliefs. These were different from those on which India would build its own state structure.

Less than a quarter century after gaining independence, Muslim Pakistan broke into two parts. The one in the east used ethnicity to create the state of Bangladesh. As the name of the new country implies, it was to be a country for ethnic Bengalis. The other part in the west, then called West Pakistan, retained the name of Pakistan. The new Pakistan was multi-ethnic, spoke several languages but did not know what should be the basis of nationhood.

Is it necessary for Pakistan to define the meaning of nationhood? After all, hundreds of new states have been created since the founding of Pakistan and only a handful of those are based on an ‘idea’. However, Pakistan having been established on the basis of a distinct idea, believes that it must have a reason for its existence as a separate state. For more than half a century, it used India as the basis of nationhood. Perceived Indian threat was used for decades by various groups of Pakistani leaders to create a sense of statehood among a very diverse citizenry. To some extent, the impression that India was set to undo Pakistan was justified by a series of actions taken by the first Indian administration under prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It seemed determined to cripple Pakistan before it could develop its own economic legs on which it could stand. This India centric approach may have made sense in the first decade or so after independence since, a number of crises were created by the hostility of the administration headed by Nehru. But it has now lost its relevance.

The drama of crises in Pakistan divides into three acts. The first, as already suggested, figured India. New Delhi took a number of actions — some real, others more feared than real — that made the leaders of Pakistan extremely nervous about the intentions of India towards their country. The second figured leaders in Pakistan with strong ideological preferences. General Ayub Khan, the first military president, favoured the private sector to take the lead in developing the economy. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was disposed towards a socialist approach, choosing to expand the role of the state in economic management. General Ziaul Haq was inclined to ‘Islamise’ the economy without fully appreciating what that implied.

The third act in the drama is the one that is playing out at this time. Most of the crises the country currently faces are the product of poor governance. In this context, the term ‘poor governance’ needs to be defined in broad terms. It means more than corruption, of which there is a great deal in the country. It also means neglecting the creation of institutions without which no economy can develop. One thing is clear about this on-going, three-act drama. It is only by building the capacity to deal with crises that their recurrence can be prevented.

Source: Pakistan's most difficult test
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