Reform! What, why and for who?

Sustainable change requires building a constituency, not just coming up with good ideas


Pakistan was made with a commitment to democracy and development but soon after the founding generation succumbed to greed and politically expediency to accommodate the Mullah and make religion central to politics. The following generation (Midnight’s Children) led by the ignorant, self-centered and hedonistic cult of the types Zardari, Sharif and Fazlur Rahman, willfully destroyed all institutions and all semblance of dignity in pursuit of power and wealth.

A new generation of Pakistanis is inheriting this mess — ruins of institutions, values, discipline, trust, as well as limited incentives for thought and learning. Yet it is heartening to see a renaissance of good writing, music and the arts rearing its head in Pakistan. There is hope emerging like an unsteady baby. Will they inherit the ego, thoughtlessness, willfulness as well as greed of their parent’s generation? Only time will tell.

In a recent article in The News, Mosharaf Zaidi, a thought leader from the younger generation with an incisive pen and strong media presence inquired about the lack of durable reform to conclude reform does not endure because it is “neither truly driven by a purpose nor is it is rooted in the people.”

He points out in reform episodes such as the Musharraf Administration’s 2001 Local Government Act, and the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010, were vitiated by the status quo. He correctly notes that ultimately reform will take hold when people see clear benefits in maintaining it. Distant reform with no clear benefits for the people does not endure. For this reason, the 2001 Local Government Act was killed off, while the 18th Amendment remains under attack.

Zaidi’s analysis is correct. But we need to ask ourselves why, with centuries of global reform experience, we have failed for 70 years? And moreover, “is there a demand for reform and if so what sort of demand?”

Imran Khan rode on the back of the youth to develop a new Pakistan but seems to be stuck merely with vendetta, perhaps because there is no demand for reform nor is there a coherent debate outlining a vision for reform.

(As an aside, most Pakistani thinking and debate remains focused on speculation on foreign policy and parroting aid prescriptions).

All governments whether democratic or not have sought a mandate though infrastructure projects — roads, metro transit systems, and building things such as a stadium.

The Ayub development paradigm (based on the ideas of economist Mahbubul Haq) was one where progress was measured as projects involving expenditure and hardware persists. Even talk of education and health is no more than one involving building more schools and universities that train more people to let them be a part of the brain drain.

The demand, in other words, is for more development expenditures and not actual reform. And development, in turn, is seen as tacking on hardware to our inherited colonial state.

This colonial state was designed for extraction has been kept alive to allow the “game of winner extract all!,” i.e., the winning political party can victimize the opponents to capture extraction gains for a guaranteed five years (despite the constitution saying five years is the outer limit not a term).

Development expenditures add more to extraction while reform would mean a dismantling of the extractive state to develop a deeper reform that development requires.

In the 1980s, the world moved on from the ‘development as hardware’ paradigm. Experience showed that productivity, enterprise and innovation are at the heart of the development endeavor.

It was further discovered that productivity, enterprise and innovation happens in an enlightenment state, where checks and balances are in place and there is a process of informed policymaking through learning and experimentation.

To develop such a state, reform would require a re-imagination of the state from developing and implementing policy to the legal and judicial system that manages rights and transactions. This is a huge and thoughtful agenda which requires building learning everywhere in public policy and avoiding the easy and certain agendas that the Pakistani power elites love to parrot.

The overarching ‘purpose’ has to be a clear modernization of the way the country functions and the way we live.


Because development requires it!

Can such a change take place? Who will drive it? These are difficult questions to answer. And I will not pretend to fully answer them.

It is clear that the colonial extractive state has strong foundations. By design its functionaries benefit from it while vested interest born of extraction are not likely to bite the hand that feeds it. in the post-colonial period, international development partners have arisen to push money to the status quo.

It is obvious that the colonial extractive state will not easily change and has no ability to reinvent itself. We have seen 70 years of a demand on various aspects of the change required such as reforms in the structure of the civil service, local government, police, education, health, public enterprises.

But the colonial extractive state distorts or defeats these interventions to preserve extraction.

By design the colonial extractive state seeks central control of cities and markets to inhibit entrepreneurship and private enterprise. Even the provision of education is limited to what serves its interest and no more. It will resist efforts to liberalize or decentralize.

Current development efforts based on projects and programs seek to initiate reforms while keeping the colonial extractive state intact, which only strengthens its extraction and centralization capabilities.

Development, though measured by global indicators (e.g., growth rate, the proportion of educated people in a country, mortality and other health measures), is an aggregation of local solutions to local problems through a variety of research and innovation initiatives at the city level, in markets and in universities.

The colonial extractive state must, therefore, be dismantled to allow a learning and decentralized state to be developed.

Only when public intellectuals begin to see the centrality of the modernization of the state (and the dismantling of the colonial extractive state) to development will the constituency for change develop.

That is when a detailed vision and plans will become available for a change leader to take advantage of. We have probably missed the opportunity presented by a well-intentioned leader like Imran Khan because no such discourse was available.



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