On a wing and a prayer
On a wing and a prayer On a wing and a prayer On a wing and a prayer

PUBLISHED 7/14/2017

By Kamila Hyat

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Pakistan, once more, figures on the list of 'failed states' put out annually by the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine and the international Fund for Peace research organization. According to its rankings, announced in August 2008, Pakistan now stands at ninth place on the list, climbing closer towards top place occupied currently by conflict-torn Somalia. Last year, Pakistan held 12th place. Its journey towards disaster has gained pace. In the ranking, which measures factors including uneven development, economy, de-legitimization of state, demographic pressures, public services, human flight, group grievance, security apparatus, human rights, refugees and displaced persons, factionalized elites and external intervention, Pakistan finishes in some spheres even behind Afghanistan, which overall occupies seventh place on the list.

Five of the top six places are held by African states, with Iraq at 5th place. All other South Asian nations have fared better than Pakistan. Pakistan, with Bangladesh, placed 12th on the list, also figured among the nations that had fared worst during the year, slumping by several points. India managed to stay off the list of 60 states facing failure. Israel entered it for the first time.

While the table makes depressing reading, there is some hope in the fact that countries like Liberia, and even Haiti, have made gains, pulling back from the very brink of disaster. Improved anti-corruption and crime control efforts appear to be central to these minor, but still significant, successes. In some cases, UN peacekeeping troops present in the nations have promoted development. In the case of Pakistan, shockwaves generated by the December 2007 Benazir Bhutto assassination are cited as factors that added to instability within it. Militant mullahs, suicide bombers and an army still seen as being the most powerful of institution within the state are other reasons for this inability to make progress.

The ranking is a stark reminder of the plight we face today. The challenge of ensuring that next year Pakistan figures lower on the table is one our leaders must take up immediately. If nations considered to have virtually collapsed, as has been the case with poverty-stricken Haiti, can crawl back inch by inch, then Pakistan too must find a way to do so. Although the task seems immense, the mountain almost insurmountable, the fact also is that many of the issues we confront are interlinked. An improvement in one sphere can on its own generate betterment in the other as well. Political stability and economic turmoil, for one, are closely related. The analysts compiling the failed states study have also noted how high inflation rates contribute to weak states. Pakistan, with inflation in food prices at nearly 100 per cent compared to last year, must keep this in view. The rising rates of essentials quite obviously have the potential to trigger mass unrest, and push the country further into chaos.

Through the last decades, Pakistan's leaders have consistently sought 'quick fix' solutions. On the economic front, this has included strategies that place a giant begging bowl before other nations, such as the new 'Friends of Pakistan' forum established in New York, and then pray for bounties such as good rains and bumper crops, that can bring temporary relief. Even today, economists are being asked to come up with such 'ideas' to tide over immediate difficulties. The much touted policies of former prime minister Shaukat Aziz were no better. The 'trickle down' effect he promised is nowhere in evidence, while under privatization policies, some key pieces of family silver have been sold off.

In the educational sector too, the emphasis is on 'instant formulas' that allow governments to show higher enrolment figures and a larger number of schools on the ground. The vision that would allow leaders to realize that economic stability cannot be achieved unless it is tied in to development targeting people or that schools that offer no education are meaningless, has been missing for years. It is this vision that needs to be built. Commitment to people is the key to achieving this. Without including people in a plan to uplift the country, nothing will be achieved and next year the tables rating the performance of countries will make still bleaker reading.

Pakistan's most urgent issues, including that of terrorism, are linked together. Eventually, militancy can be tackled only if the opportunities for people to acquire employment and access to opportunity expand. Economic growth is crucial to this. So are schools that can replace the 40,000 or so seminaries believed to exist across Pakistan. As the hold of state recedes from across its territory, the country grows weaker and more vulnerable to caving in as turmoil within it grows. The writ of the Pakistani state is in danger of vanishing entirely from some parts of the country. It must be reasserted. The ongoing military operation in the northern areas can only be one prong in this strategy. Those behind the tactics used must also keep in mind that putting human life and welfare behind security interests is most likely to contribute to problems rather than helping to resolve them. A far wider vision is needed to back operations against militancy. We must also tackle other issues, such as the support for at least some militants by establishment elements. This relationship has already caused much damage. The process of healing can begin only if the existing nexus is ended.

Rather than seeking 'quick fixes' and appeals for suggestions that can help patch over the mess, the government needs to build a broad front and concentrate on laying foundations for change. Indeed it must return to the drafting board and review the state as a whole. Much within it, as was said of Denmark in Shakespeare's Hamlet, is rotten. To pick out this rot, people need to be included in the plan. They cannot simply be kept on the outskirts of governance, to be gunned down when they attempt to bring their concerns to the notice of officialdom, as happened most recently in Mingora when police opened fire on protesters angered by the lack of power, gas and water in the city for days, killing six. Others have died before at the hands of police while voicing grievances in other parts of the country.

Given the scale of the risks Pakistan faces today; given that it is now ranked as the ninth least successful state in the world, the government must build an alliance with people. It must openly put before them the contours of the crisis we face, and then lead an effort to evolve a consensus on how to tackle it. So far, for all the talk of parliamentary supremacy and sovereignty, the august body has done little to legislate or make decisions on key issues. This must change. The priorities of people must be made priorities of the state and the fact that improving the situation of people is crucial to acquiring the political stability and economic growth we desperately need must be accepted fully by the leaders we have elected to govern the country for the coming five years.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com