Pakistan: An Idiosyncratic Road to Better Governance

By Anjum Altaf

One has to sympathize with Pakistan at this time beset as it is with problems from all sides. The focus ought to be on ensuring survival. But surely there must be some thought that extends beyond the sympathy, beyond the jaded expressions of shock and sorrow. Will Pakistan continue to lurch from crisis to crisis? Will this cycle of pray and beg, beg and pray, ever come to an end?

It will, but perhaps not in the way we would like. There is no such thing as equilibrium; it exists only as an idealized state in textbooks of economics. In the real world, things either get better or they get worse. And who will now dispute that, in general, things have been trending down in Pakistan mostly as the result of self-inflicted wounds. So, the real questions are the following: How long can this trend continue and how far is the real bottom? Will Pakistan survive drowning in the flood only to drown in the waves of anarchy let loose by the flood? What can we point to that seems likely to reverse the trend?

There are very few who would not want this trend to reverse. But, at the same time, there are very few who seem to have the capacity to effect a positive change. There is anger and there is frustration but these sentiments that should propel change are too diffused to gain traction or momentum. They are pulling in so many different directions that the end result is negligible.

If this diagnosis is correct, the remedy should also be obvious. The desire for change has to be aligned to gain strength and everyone has to pull in one direction for it to gain force. How is this consensus to be achieved given that it is not being achieved through elections that are the normal recourse under governance based on electoral representation?

My own sense is that a major contribution can be made by the representatives of civil society. We can see that the thousands of non-governmental organization are seething with ideas and suggestions and energy. But every NGO has a different objective that prevents it from linking up with other NGOs in a common effort. It would be unrealistic to expect NGOs to give up their individual objectives but, in such times of extraordinary crises, it should not be unrealistic to expect them to also adopt a common over-riding objective that they would pursue collectively.

The modalities of such a strategy should be a matter for discussions but some obvious ideas suggest themselves. Thus, NGOs could agree on one big goal that they would pursue collectively every year in addition to their individual agendas. This could very easily be a goal around which most NGOs across the ideological spectrum could rally. Access to better health services or clean drinking water could provide such unifying objectives.

My own suggestion would be to start with the low-hanging fruit and unite on a campaign to demand competent leadership of all public sector organizations. The abuse of public sector appointments for political patronage is a scandal that should be unacceptable in any society. The fact that nothing can be done about it in Pakistan points to grave problems in our systems of governance and accountability. These problems need to be addressed if we are to hope for a reversal of the many negative trends that are leading Pakistan down the slope to social and economic disaster.

My second suggestion would be to try out this strategy of collective effort by picking a test case in which there is minimum disagreement and maximum support. This may seem trivial to many but I would pick the organizational set up of cricket in Pakistan as the test case. Pakistan by itself is too big and too daunting a challenge to take on straight away. The cricket organization is much more manageable. If we can collectively succeed in restoring integrity, competence, and accountability to the organization of cricket it would provide citizens with the confidence that they can take on bigger challenges.

I am actually surprised that the governance of cricket is not seen as a microcosm of the governance of the country. The parallels stare one in the face: the appointment of the wrong people at the top followed by protection of gross mismanagement, incompetence, nepotism, favoritism, corruption, intrigues and arbitrariness and the frustration of all attempts at accountability. The damning indictment of our system is the fact that despite the passionate involvement of millions there seems no way to bring an end to the scandalous situation that continues to flourish despite clear objective evidence of the damaging outcomes.

Is it really impossible for the citizens of Pakistan to demand and effect a change in the management of cricket? If that is really so, there is something very seriously amiss with our system of governance and any hope to bring about change at the higher levels would remain nothing more than a pipe dream.

An earlier post using sports as a metaphor for national decline can be found here.


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