PAKISTAN: The failure of the state

Rustam Shah Mohmand
The inability of the administrative institutions to respond to a multi-faceted decline of law and order across the country is a manifestation of a deep-seated malaise which afflicts the country.

The euphoria in the wake of the February elections has long died down. Instead fear has gripped the nation. Lawlessness is spreading across the country. A mafia is at work in the biggest city of the country; different rules apply there. And it is judged by the policymakers on a different yardstick. There’s a frightening feeling of insecurity which has pervaded all strata of urban and rural society in Sindh. Balochistan is degenerating into a chaotic situation. The rising tide of attacks on government installations is blamed on external actors and agencies. But that is a convenient way of concealing our failures.

The other day people took out a procession in Lahore demanding relief from police excesses. The police, now without any magisterial watchdog, is let loose with virtually no accountability. The predicament of the common man can well be imagined. Teeming millions therefore groan under an oppressive state machinery which is brutalising society.

The frontier is beset with problems of a more fundamental character. Here there is an enormous feeling of resentment against the government.

In the tribal areas the reason for the insurgency is simple: Pakistan being seen as fighting a war that it should not be fighting.

Moreover, the rising gas, electricity, fuel and food prices have confronted millions of families with stark choices of what to do and how to exist and deal with the plethora of problems being encountered everyday.

As if these daunting challenges were not enough, the governments have also significantly contributed to this descent into social chaos by fiddling with established state institutions.

In the year 2001-2002 the government in a mad, frenzied move, driven by an impulse to do something new and drastic and also to lay the foundations of a new system howsoever disjointed, bigoted, irrational and preposterous, replaced age old administrative institutions by creating a cadre of elected administrators. To make a mockery of the system of administrative reforms a retired general, with no credentials and qualification whatsoever was tasked with the responsibility of overhauling an established, deep rooted, time tested administrative structure.

The result is that today there is no captain of the team in a district who could take charge and steer his district out of trouble in an emergency. This has happened in Islamabad, Swat, in Hangu and sometime earlier in Karachi, Lahore and many other cities in the country. Such is the inertia that has overtaken and plagued this country into a state of paralysis that even the new government doesn’t seem to awaken to the reality of abolishing the nonsensical, ridiculous so called “administrative reforms” which were driven by vendetta rather than the good of the people. How much longer would the downtrodden masses of this country be burdened with a capricious system which does not have any outlets of relief for the miseries of the poor masses?

It appears that there is an institutional paralysis in the country. One of the first tasks that the government should have attended to was seeking a parliamentary approval for the policy on the war on terror. The biggest challenge that the nation faces today is whether, unmindful of the domestic cost, we should continue to pursue and prosecute a war that our people are not supporting and which has resulted in a rapidly expanding insurgency that is shaking the very foundation this state. A parliamentary consensus would have earned us respect at home and abroad and with the people rallying around the government, the latter would have been able to bring about the much needed change in a no-holds-barred support for the policy on war on terror.

The government should also have intervened to restore the administrative institutions in the country in a welcome departure from a previous policy, underpinned by hypocrisy and incompetence. Wide ranging economic reforms should have been instituted to bring some semblance of relief to the common man. Institutionalised accountability should have been the norm in dealing with all mega corruption scandals.

It looks to the common man as if it is a rudderless ship. To him it signifies not the failure of the government but the failure of the state.

The writer is a former ambassador and chief secretary of NWFP.

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