Borrow and pray —Nadeem Ul Haque

Development is not about quick-fixes. Holding the begging bowl doesn’t result in sustained development which is a process of modernisation where each and every part of society must move with the times. It only happens when minds change everywhere

“I will take you to President [Asif] Zardari and you tell him what needs to be done. It’s a matter of one hour!”

This was a friend of the powerful talking to me. His added advice was that this is how things are done here, and get done. I had to decline the invite because of my deep scepticism of quick-fix solutions.

Indeed, the sorry pass we are in today is owed to our naïve attempts at quick-fix solutions. The fast talkers always get into the corridors of power — generals and their powerful politicians. They say nice, simplistic things and claim they can fix it all. And yes, as all of us know, they are appointed.

These powerful people tell us that they have the solution in hand anyway. Saudi Arabia will give us a few billion and the US will give us some more. Then there is France and the Europe Union. They are ready to cough up more. That will see us through another year. By then we can focus on agriculture. A few good rains and we should be ok.

Summing up: we are still up to our old tricks. Borrow and pray for good crops. And this in the year 2008.

Would these people consider fundamental reform that might end their privilege and include the poor? Not a chance! They will be given the usual development crumbs — more agriculture, more cheap schools that do not educate, more bureaucracy, less markets and less opportunity. But so long as the privilege is maintained through some external financing and better rain, we will do fine. Privilege remains intact!

Would they allow more poor to enter their cities! Could the poor have some room? Of course, our polo grounds and golf courses cannot be touched. The poor can live way out there and have no density of population and market development to allow them some entrepreneurial opportunity.

“We need more industry and export,” they argue. Has export happened? Despite huge subsidy and incentives, where is this industry? Is it expanding overseas? Is it generating high growth in exports or large-scale employment? The subsidy and debt forgiveness have not been enough. Why should we continue on that road? Because they are members of our club!

Sir, development is not about quick-fixes. Holding the begging bowl doesn’t result in sustained development which is a process of modernisation where each and every part of society must move with the times. It only happens when minds change everywhere; when the lowliest office takes pride and is given pride; when all of us are working hard and taking pride in our achievements; when we appreciate prize winners from international competition more than the lazy gainers of ill-gotten wealth; when the lazy and the ill-educated are not in power.

Development, then, is a process of building institutions, reforming outmoded structures, instilling discipline, inspiring education and anointing innovation. It happens when the lazy rent-seeking elite is replaced by the entrepreneurial knowledge-seekers and innovators.

“We have committees to tell us what to do. We have some very good people advising us.” Or so I am told. Good people, eh? Puzzling, though. Why not appoint these good people to positions where they can make development happen. Why not let them come into executive positions and empower them to make change. Perhaps we are not serious about change. We merely want a quick-fix so that subsidies to the rich, rent-seeking, loan-defaulting idlers can go on.

“Person X will become the finance Czar and will fix it all!” Was that not said of Shaukat Aziz? Was that not said of all our whiz kids since Nur Khan’s days. No development of any country (and Pakistan is a not a small country) is a one-man job. We need teams, many teams in all organisations.

Let our good people populate (and not just head up) universities, organisations, and bureaucratic positions, not merely sit on committees. Give them the mandate of reform and change. Tell them we want modern, productive and innovative institutions. That would be change!

Let professionalism enter everywhere, not just sit on the committees part time. Building organisations is a lifetime job and needs serious committed professionals. No one can tell you in an hour how to build one organisation, leave alone fix a country.

Then came the final cut; how can an evening in Pakistan not happen without that. “We do not need any foreign educated or experienced people. They do not know the ground realities. They have no idea of what happens in Patoki!”

Indeed. Ground realities are what keeps the status quo! Read Voltaire and he will tell you that the French aristocracy also argued for their ground realities.

I happily accept that I do not know the ground realties that will keep me from reform to eradicate the curse of privilege and include the ordinary. Privilege has almost cost us a homeland and should not be preserved!

My understanding of Mr Bhutto’s message was the end of privilege and the inclusion into governance of the poor! I hope Zardari will finish the job!

Nadeem Ul Haque is former Vice Chancellor of PIDE. Email:

Source: Daily Times, 28/9/2008

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