Articles by Vision21, Jinnah Series
Leave a Comment

Defining Pakistan-II


Azhar Aslam

This article is a continuation of the first part of Defining Pakistan. We laid out, in the first part, ‘the dream’ of Pakistan’s emergence as a nation symbolizing the human paradigm. We believe that the most fundamental essential for establishment of such system of state is a well laid out strategy of reforms, which we will extend here in this part.


Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation’s pillars high And it’s foundations strong?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
And is it pride?

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly.
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.


This shortened poem epitomizes both the solution, and lack thereof, for the problems that Pakistan faces in all and every field. It is our firm belief that all our social, economic, political, and other ills stem from lack of or bad governance and bad, corrupt, inefficient incompetent, dishonest and dishonourable governors. It has been our misfortune that neither the democrats nor the dictators, who have ruled this country, have ever paid even scant attention to the uplift of ordinary Pakistanis or presented a vision for such or taken any long term view to strengthen the institutions that may produce good governance. Of all the tasks that any reformer faces, or for any attempt at reformation, the first and the foremost is establishing a system of good governance, which is responsive, accountable, transparent and evolves and adapts with time to serve the people. Above all there should be inherently inbuilt mechanisms for self corrections and limitations, both in time and of power, upon those entrusted with governing.

In Pakistan, unfortunately, the overall governance structure is corroded and dysfunctional. Instead of ensuring the implementation of policies and service delivery, it hinders and restricts. Name any problem you have and it can be traced back to bad, dishonest, incompetent and corrupt governance. Faltering and stumbling democracy, fragile and weak economy, escalating budget deficit, unstable financial conditions, ever increasing trade deficit, provincial conflicts, inefficient bureaucracy, poor living standards, lawlessness, institutional breakdown, life insecurity, unemployment, low life expectancy, low quality of educational levels, water, food and energy insecurity, rampant corruption and last but not the least terrorism are self evident parameters that are direct result and evidence of poor and bad governance in Pakistan .

The Human Development in South Asia report issues in 1999 and 2005 rightly states the unfortunate situation that the masses of Pakistan face, as follows:

South Asia presents a fascinating combination of many contradictions. It has governments that are high on governing and low on serving; it has parliaments that are elected by the poor but aid the rich; and society that asserts the rights of some but perpetuates exclusion for others. Despite a marked improvement in the lives of a few, there are many in South Asia who have been forgotten by formal institutions of governance. These are the poor, the downtrodden and the mostvulnerable of the society, suffering from acute deprivation on account of their income, caste, creed, gender or religion. Their fortunes have not moved with those of the privileged few and this in itself is a deprivation of a depressing nature”.

(Human Development South Asia Report, 1999)

Governance constitutes for {ordinary people} a daily struggle for survival and dignity. Ordinary people are too often humiliated at the hands of public institutions. For them, lack of good governance means police brutality, corruption in accessing basic public services, ghost schools, teacher’s absenteeism, missing medicines, high cost of and low access to justice, criminalization of politics and lack of social justice. These are just few manifestations of the crisis of governance.

(Human Development South Asia Report, 2005)

In Pakistan’s case, the system is badly caught into the vicious cycle of bad conditions and bad governance, for over a half century now. The ruling elites censure the previous governments for all the problems and assume that the situation is too spoiled to get right. Hence they continue with their corruption, ineptitude and inefficiencies. Everyone in their turn takes a short term view and makes hay while the sun shines. The few, with the intention and will to work for the betterment of the people are simply sidelined by the politically powerful.

The history of governance in Pakistan is history of the domination of civil service and military over the democratic political system. In their turn politicians have excelled in deceit, self service and hypocrisy, not to mention failing to act within the norms of law and the essence of democratic values. Our politicians use the governance as a means to exploiting any and all resources. Even a cursory analysis of different governmental tenures and the performance of the institutions, shows no significant link between the responsiveness to public interest and a particular form of government.


The lack of coherent and visionary policies and vested interests of the powerful groups has been the common feature of the different regimes. And it continues to be so even in a media conscious age.

Due to the archaic feudal system in Pakistan, the power has been concentrated in the hands of a few groups and civil-military bureaucratic nexus. The traditional power brokers, the wealthy landlords, managed the affairs with the prime view to protect their own material interests and maintain their powerful status. Lack of education and merit based selections has further added to the problem of bad management and bad governance. The recent issue of the fake degrees of present parliamentarians has exposed well the fact that little attention has been paid to the merit and competence in Pakistan ’s political and parliamentary system.

Ishart Hussain, a former governor State Bank of Pakistan writes that ‘the vested interests wishing to perpetuate the status quo are politically powerful and the coalition and alliances between the political leadership and the beneficiaries of the existing system are so strong that they cannot be easily ruptured. The inclusion of public interest in the political and bureaucratic systems of the country and the idea of power to people, has therefore remained an ideal. The decaying institutions and poor governance has made it impossible to be realized to date.


Governance is a multi faceted concept. It is generally defined as the setup of political, economic and administrative authorities to manage the affairs of a country. It is considered to be the manner in which power is exercised to manage country’s economic and social resources for development. The system of governance enables all the actors including government, civil society and politicians, through its diverse mechanisms, processes and institutions, to deliver the objective of ‘Welfare of the Citizens’.

The object of the ‘Welfare of Citizens’, broadens the scope and definition of governance to great extent, as the welfare is a vast notion in itself. The welfare of citizenry encompasses the access to basic rights of living such as food, housing, health and education as well as the other rights and freedom of expression, freedom of religion, access to justice, security of life, safety of rights dignity, an environment free of terror and insecurity and the right and access economic resources and opportunity. The complete picture of the rights of the citizenry makes the role of governance bigger

and more crucial than it is normally thought to be. The issues of governance are various, yet closely interconnected.

The link between good governance and economic and social wellbeing of public has become the conventional wisdom now and needs no debate. The notion and concept of good governance is thus, to be as an instrument of a society’s institutions, that lead to broad-based inclusive economic and social development. Good governance is therefore a system, wherein public interests and problems are managed effectively and efficiently.

Therefore if the access of common citizens to these institutions is difficult or limited, it reflects the weak or bad governance. The differences in the quality of institutions determine the gap in performance, between rich and poor nations. It is also observed through various studies that governance mechanisms and system are the ‘key defining factor’ of the different development indicators, among the countries with same income levels.

It thus concludes that it is foremost and fundamental to revitalize the institutions and the overall governance system to deliver the core functions of the state. A paradigm shift of the role of government, civil society and political system is essential to reform the governance system.

We believe that our salvation lies in reforming our system of governance. Pakistan cannot even take the first step to its road of progress and prosperity without this most basic and fundamental of the features. And the guiding principle in this pursuit remains ‘The power to the people and by the people’.

The specific aspects regarding the governance that need to be directly addressed are:

  1. The system of attaining and exercising power, to manage the institutions, with the capacity to represent public will and interest and act therein;


  1. The competence of state structure to design and implement policies to discharge its function of welfare for its citizens under the direction and guidance of the government. ie institutional strength regardless and in spite of managerial competence of governors.

We can now list certain attributes as guiding principles, to help build and develop the reform agenda with regards to the above mentioned aspects. Logically, and as observation confirm analytically too, the reasons of poor governance are the lack or absence of these very same principles.

  1. Devolution of power and decentralization of decision into multi-armed and multilevel governance. By this we mean that there must be more than one power centers within the system of governance. We shall discuss the detailed structure in the following paragraphs, but as a way of explanation we see more benefit in two or even three centres of executive power rather than one, with defined limits and proper checks to each power centre. Similarly more executive powers should be devolved to smaller and the smallest units.

Studies have conclusively proven that community empowerment leads to lower transaction costs because individuals do not have to appeal to higher tiers for any services. It is also a fact that service delivery from the provincial levels remains poor and social service delivery is in a state of collapse. It is also a fact that devolution is not effective without transfer of financial powers.

The devolution should happen both in executive as well legislative arms in a parallel manner. ie there should be a legislative arm of people’s representative at each level of executive for transparent accountability. This devolution should be zero sum. ie there should be disempowerment of higher levels. The main purpose and stated objective of such a devolution is to achieve cost-effective and timely service delivery.

John Gaventa of IDS UK has made an apt observation when he says that ‘We can win a global change ( in Pakistan’s case country wide change), but it will not have teeth unless it is rooted locally. The challenge is now to develop new forms of alliance, new forms of citizenship…’

  1. Political system and culture that admires and appreciates democratic and human values with

public awareness and social responsibility.Using power to promote civil and social values. Supporting strong institutions that bridge civil society and the state, strong civil liberties participatory and deliberative democracy, strengthening and broadening the basis for party system of participation, increasing the role of civil society,

  1. Rule of law Up gradation of rules, enforcement mechanisms, organizational structures and incentives of state structures
  2. Strict separation of the executive and legislature. In other words MNAs and MPAs should not be the ministers. Their job should be the legislation and accountability of the executive. Transparency and Accountability need to go hand in hand with full and free access to the information for the public in the form of freedom of information legislation with regulatory oversight that ensures free flow of information to public in a consistent manner.
  3. Coherent policies based on larger interest of public, and responsive to public demands with political will and commitment to implement these policies. The rewards of government decisions should be aligned with the social costs and benefits to the public at large.
  4. Supportive & Competent administrative system that ensures smooth, efficient, cost effective and timely delivery of services. This has to combine with fair mechanism for dispute resolution, equal access to opportunities, adoption of meritocracy as a rule, fair judgment and appropriate rewards. As far the precise system of government is concerned, numerous studies and case studies show that there is no correlation between the particular form of government and welfare of the citizens. No particular form of governmental system is an ideal for delivering the object of the state. We have seen different countries world over have made different systems of state work for the objective of welfare to the citizenry. The state of development in China is an example in this context. The system of state is not democratic. But the communist party has taken the form of an institution that gives equal opportunity to each and everyone to attain power.

As long as there is political will, and honest commitment to the citizens of the country, the welfare

will be delivered, no matter what the system. Where the system matters is when it gets the governors who are either not willing to deliver with honesty or are simply incapable of doing it. In which case, the system should have inbuilt mechanisms, to promptly remove such governors and replace them.

For Pakistan, due to its feudal background, colonial history and vision of a future as a human state, however, democracy may be the more desirable setup because it provides an easier mechanism of accountability and is more effective in delivering power to the people. When led by the values of protection of the human rights, democracy creates avenues for the public to participate in policymaking. It provides a system for the inclusion of multiple social groups in policy making and grant people the right to hold authorities accountable and judge them on the basis of their performance in discharging their duties.

However as we have emphasized above, this democratic system has to be tailored to the specific needs and peculiarities of Pakistan. The modes and methods of democracy and governance have to be Pakistan centric and Pakistan specific. Implanting of any other system has been a failure and will continue to be so. On these basis there must be developed an indigenous system of governance which can ensure equal opportunity for people to participate, merit based selection, transparency and aaccountability and finally constant but smooth transition and change with transfer of power.

Without addressing the roots of governance crises in Pakistan, efforts to improve the state of development or bring prosperity and welfare for masses, will not yield a meaningful and permanent solution mechanism. Good governance and welfare based reform agenda are the essential ingredients of any attempt to salvage our society, politics and economy. The agenda must not ignore the core values of human rights including civil, cultural, economic, political and social and in total the right to live with dignity and peace.

But is it possible to frame and evolve an indigenous system of democracy and governance? We shall turn to this in our next section.

This entry was posted in: Articles by Vision21, Jinnah Series


Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s