From Resolution to Institutions | Dawn Special Report

23rd March 2016
by Javed Jabbar

The Lahore Resolution moved on 23rd March 1940 ( actually adopted on 24th March) does not contain the word "Institutions". Yet implicit in the demand for the creation of new, autonomous, sovereign "independent states" (subsequently amended to become a singular state) was the explicit goal to build the whole range of institutions which enable a state to develop and progress.

Seventy six years after the adoption of the Resolution and sixty nine years after the birth of Pakistan it may be relevant to briefly survey the process of how our institutions meet the requirements of an independent country

Surviving a perfect storm :
Pakistan faced formidable, if not unfair odds from its very inception in the task of building institutions . The dice was actually loaded against it. The country weathered “a perfect storm”. Now, in hindsight, our survival post-1947 and post-1971 is nothing less than a miracle of sheer grit and the will to survive. Over the next several decades, this quality became a steely resilience, sometimes declining to insensitive apathy but also often surging to defiant determination and surprising strength.

Positive aspects of Pakistan's initial survival and in the post-1971 phase , re-vitalized the remaining part of the state to adapt pre-1947 entities and to build new institutions. The record is mixed, often tending to failure . But operational continuity was maintained , occasionally achieving distinction and sometimes, even excellence.

Three basic pillars :
As the pillars which enable the state to serve society, fundamental institutions comprise the Legislatures at three levels (Local, Provincial, Federal), the Executive (civil and military) and the Judiciary also at the same three levels as the Legislatures. Non-state institutions are also crucially important. These exist in the private business sector - the formal organized, corporate part and the informal part ; diverse forums of civil society as in professional associations, trade unions, social groups , grass-roots community networks ; and the media which, despite their own wide diversity together represent the fourth pillar of the state. This brief reflection focuses only on state-related institutions .

Working within their own domains but, in practice, sometimes over-reaching, sometimes under-performing, state institutions over the past seven decades may be assessed by at least six basic standards. To what extent have they ensured the principles of : rule of law, equality of access for all citizens, merit, integrity, transparency, accountability ? The unavoidable conclusion is that our institutions have achieved only marginal , occasional success. The obligation to be impartial , particularly in a political party-based system in which partisan interests are perpetually active becomes a seventh standard for judgement . State institutions should thus be assessed by whether they remain ruler-centric and authority-centric, or are genuinely citizen-centric.

Unempowered Local institutions :
If the first temptation is to affirm that state institutions have largely mis-performed it needs also to be acknowledged that the evolution of the three-tier Legislatures was erratic and inconsistent because of four military interventions . Yet ironically , throughout our history to-date, the most important tier of the Legislature – which is elected Local Bodies – was truly empowered on a (temporarily ! ) sustained basis only in 2001-2008 in the tenure of General Musharraf (1999-2008). In contrast to the dominant powers of the Federal Parliament and, post the 18th Amendment of 2010, the new autonomies of the Provincial Assemblies and Governments,elected Local Bodies , even in 2016 , remain hostage to Provincial authority .

In theory , Executive institutions are separate from the three Legislative institutions. In actual practice virtually all Executive institutions at all levels are extensions of the partisan, party-based majorities which control the Legislatures. This symbiosis of power is checked and held in balance only in a fragmented and sporadic manner by the Opposition, the Judiciary and the media . The result is that several Executive institutions have become mainly elitist, corrupt and incompetent.

With as sweeping a generalization as the previous sentence, it should be noted that there are also numerous examples of exceptional individual leaders and officials, at multiple levels, and of some state departments and organizations that are respectful of citizens, that do not take bribes and which render their duties with refreshing efficiency. If only the Judiciary, and the legal profession which also comprise some judges and practitioners of notable integrity and courage could change the painful , tortuous process of justice . Ultimate verdicts can take as long as twenty five years from the start of a trial in a lower court to its conclusion in the Supreme Court .

Concentration of resources :
Two basic factors are prominent in the failures of state institutions for the past sixty nine years . First: despite the emergence of a huge , multi-level middle-class ( about 14 million households out of about 28 million ) , and despite fragmentation of land ownership , the control and distribution of capital, resources, wealth and surpluses remain subject to elitist classes and interests . The almost anarchic impact of the internet and new services are gradually eroding this historic concentration. But small numbers still dominate the majority . Second: the inability to recognize, in time, rapid societal changes taking place both within Pakistan and elsewhere in the region and the world, and the challenges these new changes posed to the capacity of institutions.

Compounded by higher population growth and urbanization than all other South Asian countries, the deficiency of capable leadership at the senior-most levels takes prime position. With the caveat that leaders do not descend from Heaven : they are produced by the people, and, in turn, by the quality of fair access for all to quality education and training systems, and the impact of ethical norms and facilitative modes which are generally prevalent in society.

While the in-built tendency to nepotism persists, the lack of prompt accountability aggravates. Internal organizational flaws carried over from pre-Independence colonial times magnify the problem in conditions that are quite different from the 1857-1947 era. A pertinent example is the Police Act, 1867, many of whose Sections still apply in 2016 in more than one Province.

Reality and complexity :
Some state institutions continue to be willfully detached from reality . For instance, the bizarre contrast between the real , high market-value of land and the officially recognized ,documented low values certified by Government departments , with the difference being transferred under the table between seller and buyer with the unadmitted yet full complicity of state representatives .

There is also misuse by partisan and personal interests . When the top leadership disregards norms, the complexities of white-collar crime and the devices behind which the actual beneficiaries can conceal their identities make it extremely difficult to promptly trace the real culprits . The illicit transfers of enormous capital sums to Dubai and elsewhere by many in public life is one symptom of the accepted deceit . Such facets pulverize state institutions.

Threats to national security :
When institutions do not perform at par with minimal , globally defined standards, threats to both internal stability and external security grow larger. When weak performance-controls, production of goods and services at low standards of quality are accompanied by an abysmally low level of income tax compliance (by one estimate, of , say , ten million eligible tax-payers, barely one million regularly pay tax ), the state is starved of revenue while heavy subsidies and circular debt only spiral upwards to strangle institutions.

Ill-wishers of Pakistan which are, in turn, state and non-state, see the spectacle of implosions of governance on a major scale, as opportunities to foment disorder and chaos. Borders and whole communities are penetrated by subversive agents and extremists.

Islands of excellence :
Taking modest yet justifiable pride in certain state institutions that are islands of excellence in their own respective spheres makes one wonder whether such good exceptions to the bad norms can ultimately prevent a large-scale breakdown of national security. At this time certain selected civil and military institutions whose domains cover political, judicial, technocratic, educational, scientific, defence and logistical sectors either consistently or periodically work effectively to sustain and protect the state. This capacity needs to be comprehensively replicated in all other state institutions.

Perhaps at least ten steps are required for reform . The process will have to begin with attitudinal and behavioral changes , at the citizenship and leadership levels. This can only occur over one or two generations. Such change will come from a re-construction of education in all four provinces and regions, enacted with an iron will to discard the medieval and the primitive content of curricula and to a re-casting and massive capacity-building of teachers and support facilities. A central , national vision for a new approach to education becomes all the more essential after the total de-centralization of the subject to the Provinces .

Substantial reforms required :
Major constitutional amendments and new laws are required. Some of these should truly empower Local Bodies by , for instance, specifying the periodicity of elections instead of giving them cosmetic facades, for a bottom-up, not top-down approach. New modes have to be devised for virtually instant yet fair accountability for cases when when the top leadership takes potentially damaging actions which initially may be popular . Electoral accountability occurs only after five long years when the damage has already wreaked havoc .

Democracy has to become more inclusive and representative of society through the introduction of compulsory voting (as presently practiced by about thirty countries) and other reforms (eg. only candidates who secure 51 per cent of the votes win the right to represent ) . These measures should replace the existing, absurd anomalies of the first-past-the-post electoral system ( by which candidates with less than , say , 25 per cent of the votes get to represent all 100 per cent ) . Political parties will also be obliged to produce professionally capable leadership in place of family and dynasty-based cliques.

Cohesion between the civil and the military sphere is pivotal. The military needs to accept bipartisan oversight of certain institutions and aspects of its operations . Corruption infects both spheres, to larger or smaller degrees. The military will probably be willing to co-operate fully if truly credible accountability of the civilian leadership is assured. In both spheres the quality of training and professional development requires continuous upgradation to keep pace with the phenomenal on-going expansion of global knowledge , science and change .

Combating religious extremism :
Over the past two decades, in pre-dominantly Islamic countries in general including Pakistan, the virus of religious extremism has come to infect societies as well as institutions. A skeptic may justifiably ask : what do religious extremism, religiosity, showy piety, sectarianism , hate-speech, hate-literature, proliferation of weapons and frequent use of violence have to do with the performance of basic institutional services such as schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, courts ,water-supply, electricity, sanitation, police, railways, buses, even PIA ?!

The simultaneous regression into religious fascism and shoddy governance is not just an accidental coincidence. These are concurrent trends in the neural network of society and the organic composition of the state. When belief becomes a grievous threat rather than a binding thread, when subjective faith is sought to be imposed on objective reason , when young minds are brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers or living terrors, when a former chief justice of a provincial high court devoutly defends a cold-blooded , fanatic killer --- all individuals and institutions become equally vulnerable to decline, insecurity and decay.

As we proceed from 2016 to 2040 , only twenty four years hence, to mark the centenary of the Lahore Resolution we see institutions being challenged by new knowledge , technology and tensions , by seamless new realms of mass human connectivity , by international co-operation as well as confrontation . These changes will also affect the nature, the stability and growth of the state . Empowered in a way we have never before been , each of us , in our own fields of work and activity has the responsibility and an opportunity to help shape the future of Pakistan . The paradox remains that mortal individuals , as citizens and as leaders , make the critical difference to building immortal institutions .

As published in the Dawn special report on 23rd March 2016.