Thursday, March 11, 2010

Field Hockey: Pakistan's Race to the Bottom

Pakistan field hockey has hit rock bottom. The four-time world champions and winners of the Olympic gold medal in field hockey have ranked at 12 out of 12 nations that participated in this year's World Cup in India. And it's not just hockey; the fortunes of the national cricket team are also in steep decline. Pakistan Cricket Board, the nation's cricket body, has slapped bans and fines on the top players of the national cricket team after the loss of all of the matches played during their recent Australian tour.

With the close relatives and cronies of the ruling feudal politicians heading Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) as well as other key functions in government, the nation's sports are not immune from the corrosive effects of the national politics of the day. What is happening in the sports arena is tragic, but it is not limited to Pakistani sports teams. The fall of cricket and hockey are symptomatic of a much larger problem. There is a race to the bottom in the national life; the economy is stagnant since 2008, after being among the best performing in the region; its politics is petty; there is total breakdown in law and order; the nation is slipping in the UNDP human development rankings; there is growing sense of insecurity from terror attacks; the country is experiencing unprecedented multiple crises of power, water, gas, food, and the list goes on and on. A wave of toxic cynicism is engulfing the entire nation in the absence of inspiring and competent national leadership.

It was under the military government of President Musharraf that Pakistan's private mass media were born and bred, and enjoyed unprecedented freedom in the history of the nation. Ten years ago Pakistan had one television channel. Today it has over 100. Together they have begun to open up a country long shrouded by political, moral and religious censorship under military and civilian "democracy" alike. Now they are taking on the government, breaking social taboos and, most recently, pushing a new national consensus against the Taliban.

The multiple TV channels spawned by the Musharraf media revolution were joined by the expanded middle class which also grew along with the media to bring down the previous government in 2008. Now, the ruling feudal politicians, and prominent media personalities are mindlessly and tirelessly repeating the mantra that "even the worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship." They insist on it as an article of faith. What they completely ignore is the fact that "good" dictatorships in many East Asian nations have helped create strong economies with large and highly developed middle class populations, leading them to durable and competent democracies.

Clearly, the politicians and the TV talk show hosts are not the ones paying the heaviest price for the current sham democracy led by the most incompetent and corrupt people. Instead, it is the lower middle class and the poor who are suffering the most. Many of them have lost their jobs and slipped back into poverty with the declining economy during the last two years. They are unable to buy the basic necessities such as food and fuel because of high inflation. They lack the resources to insulate themselves from the terrible effects of deteriorating governance in the name of democracy. Unlike the feudal politicians and the well-paid TV talking heads, the poor and lower middle classes can not buy private security, or get a private diesel generator, or have private delivery of water to their homes. Nor do they have affordable access to justice from the "independent judiciary" or the services of the largely absent "pro bono" lawyers to petition the courts on their behalf. They are left to fend for themselves with no help from the urban elite or the members of the "civil society" who make up the vast majority of the most vocal supporters of feudal democracy in Pakistan.

Pakistan's average economic growth rate was 6.8% in the 60s (Gen. Ayub Khan), 4.5% in the 70s(Zulfikar Bhutto), 6.5% in the 80s (Gen. Zia ul-Haq), and 4.8% in the 90s (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif). Growth picked up momentum in the 21st Century under General Musharraf, and from 2000-2007, Pakistan's economy grew at an average 7.5%, making it the third fastest growing economy in Asia after China and India. There were 2-3 million new jobs created each year from 2000-2007, which significantly enlarged the middle class, and helped millions escape poverty.

Unfortunately, there is a troubling history of the democratic process in Pakistan resulting in the election of leaders who are demonstrably both corrupt and incompetent. After surviving the lost decade of the 1990s under such leaders, and then thriving in the last decade under a more competent dictator until 2007, Pakistan has once again returned to the bad old days of the 1990s. The economy is stagnating, inflation is high, there are shortages of everything from food to water and power and security, unemployment is rising, and many are slipping back into poverty.

It would be great if Pakistanis could have both competence and honesty in their leaders. However, I would personally insist on competence to deliver good governance as a minimum criterion for leadership positions, if I can't have both.

Here is my incomplete wish list for the kind of competencies desirable in governing Pakistan at this critical juncture in its life:

1. Motivational Competency: The leadership needs to sell a vision of a secure, peaceful, stable and prosperous Pakistan, and motivate the people to work toward achieving it. It's not going to be easy, but strong motivational skills can help inspire the nation, in spite of the deep skepticism and toxic cynicism that pervades the nation's discourse today.

2. Security Competency: What the leadership needs is a comprehensive strategy using a mix of intelligence capability, political dialog, military force and close monitoring to isolate and defeat those who continue to perpetrate murder and mayhem on the streets of Pakistan. Such a policy must be developed, debated, sold to the people, and constantly refined to produce results.

3. Human Development Competency: No nation can achieve greatness unless its human resource potential is developed and utilized to the fullest. It is a challenge that will require a team of committed and competent professionals with the full backing and the resources of the state to build a public-private partnership for mass literacy campaigns and to provide access to food and health care. Beyond that, there will be a serious focus required to build great institutions of higher learning to develop knowledge based economy for the twenty-first century.

4. Economic Competency: There is a need to build a non-partisan economic leadership team with the best available talent and experience in Pakistan. Such a team should be chartered to come up with policies and programs to spur nation's economic growth to create opportunities for the tens of millions of young people, and to generate the national resources for funding ambitious programs in human and economic development of the nation.

Can our current leadership do it? Their past record is not reassuring. However, if they make a serious effort toward it, and start to show some results, I am confident they will find real support for their efforts in Pakistan. Results from good governance by the leadership will be the best guarantee for reversing the current race to the bottom and ensure the survival of democracy in Pakistan.

The rhetoric that "even the worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship" can not save democracy. If the current crop of elected politicians are really serious about strengthening democracy, it is important for them to pursue a broad good governance agenda in Pakistan with education and training of politicians as the center piece. It is important for them to revive the idea of a school of government in Islamabad to increase the chances for democracy to survive and thrive in Pakistan. Unless the politicians find a way to improve governance to solve people's problems, the nation will be condemned to repeat the past history of democracy's failure in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Why is Democracy Failing in Pakistan?

Pakistan's Economic Performance Since 2008

Human Development Slipping in South Asia

Pakistan's Decade of 1999-2009 in Review

ASEAN Architect Suharto Passes On

NRO and Corrupt Democracies in South Asia

Malaysia National Front Suffers Setback

Musharaf's Economic Legacy

Musharaf's Media Revolution

Pakistan's Corruption Indexes

Return to Bad Old Days in Pakistan

Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy

Daily Carnage in Pakistan

1 comment:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a opinion piece in the Guardian today praising Pakistan's "maturing" of democracy:

A comparison with Afghanistan illustrates the significance of Pakistan's reforms: President Hamid Karzai is trying to take control of the appointment of the electoral complaints commissioners, whose integrity was instrumental in curtailing the widespread fraud that marred his re-election last year.

In Pakistan, the recent constitutional reforms reduce the president's discretion to appoint election commissioners by giving the opposition a voice in this process.

However, the reforms go far beyond the issue of elections, restoring key features of the original constitution of 1973, adopted after the secession of East Pakistan, today's Bangladesh. The constitution foresaw a parliamentary system of government and significant competencies for the four provinces, but soon power shifted to the president, a trend that became even more marked under the periods of military rule by Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf.

The reform, known as the 18th amendment, moves powers from the president to the prime minister and parliament, and from the federal level to the provinces. The president can no longer dissolve parliament at will, but only in specific, narrowly defined circumstances. The provinces will be exclusively in charge of a wide range of tasks, including social legislation, family law and criminal law. In signing the amendment, President Asif Ali Zadari will lose much of his authority, though he will remain extremely influential as co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples party.