When Imran Khan became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he promised the creation of a “Naya Pakistan”. The disenchantment of the people with the existing set of rules and institutions was such that a message like “Naya Pakistan” was bound to resonate with the electorate. It is, however, important to understand the source of Pakistan’s problems before Imran starts finding appropriate solutions.
Of lately, the Pakistan Economy has been extremely fragile with its public debt to GDP ratio at around 74 per cent, a widening CAD, low foreign exchange reserves and a currency that has been devalued multiple times over the last one year. Consequentially, Imran Khan has been seeking financial assistance from other nations and multilateral agencies to ensure financial stability.
The present economic problem is an outcome of the chronic decline of the state of Pakistan over the last couple of decades which has come with the backdrop of the elites draining out the resources of the state. India and Pakistan both attained independence at the same time and Pakistan had better infrastructure and access to the most fertile part of erstwhile Western-Punjab. Despite its advantage in terms of its location and access to resources, the state of Pakistan squandered away its head start in terms of development. Post-1947, Pakistan failed to strengthen its institutions as those in power were reluctant or perhaps unaware of the need to strengthen them. Consequentially, democracy, as an institution remains till date so fragile that no Prime Minister of Pakistan has been able to successfully complete his term.
The fragile democracy has given the army greater influence within the institutions of the state and this is one of the major reasons behind the frequent military rule in the country. Over the course of military rule, the ruling elites were further able to infiltrate into other organs of the state such as the judiciary and the permanent executive which gave them complete control over the country’s resources. This also enabled a concentration of economic, political and military power in the hands of a select group of individual, which enables them to determine electoral outcomes. Thus, even legislators who are bound to form rules and strengthen institutions are frequently the ones who represent the interests of the select elites.
The true problem lies in the separation of power in Pakistan which has enabled such gross encroachments by the armed forces over the powers of elected governments. This encroachment has not just subdued the democratic processes of the country, but it has also resulted in the concentration of power among the elites who no longer want to let go of their status in the society
Over a period of time, this toxic set-up has resulted in most of the institutions becoming extractive in nature. The incentive for the elite is to maintain their social hierarchy and this has ensured that the institutions also behave in a manner that preserves their economic status. The elites fear “creative destruction” and thus, the institutions of Pakistan do not encourage innovation as a source of their growth. Moreover, their economy continues to grow at around 5-6% while the nation struggles in the creation of a conducive business environment that can promote growth, provide jobs and meet the aspirations of its people. Given that the institutions are designed to serve the interest of select few, these institutions can be termed as “extractive” institutions that are interested in the extraction of surplus from the people of their country and through the prolonged process of extraction, there has been sharpening in inter-regional inequality across Pakistan. This extraction can be considered to be one of the major reasons behind the regional separatist movements that Pakistan is currently dealing with.
The crumbling institutions that tend to be riddled with corruption, nepotism and inefficiency work towards the elect few as they re-direct resources to the privileged at the cost of those who continue to remain marginalized. This marginalized status helps the country as these poor people can then be radicalized by the non-state actors who it is believed, work for the state agencies. Thus, the ruling dispensation manages to keep its subjects under check through either economic, political or military power and this is rationalized by the judicial bodies of the country.
Given that the constitutional rules are now being written by the benefactors of the existing system, there is little incentive for them to try to change the rules to promote inclusive institutions. As a result of this, the people of Pakistan will continue to suffer as inter-regional inequalities create more disparities across their country.
The current conflict with India after the Pulwama attack illustrates that Pakistan, as a country needs an external threat to remain united. The ruling elite of Pakistan frequently tries to test India’s patience and maintain an environment of hostility towards India as it serves them politically as a unifier of the entire country. Consequentially, issues of development get sidelined and people ignore the regional imbalances across their country as they come together to face an “external” threat. The ruling elite also uses the nuclear weapon as a tool to deter any external threat beyond a certain level so as to ensure that it can keep an environment of perpetual hostility without facing any military aggression.
The current state of Pakistan is only because of weak institutions that resulted in a systematic decline of the governance framework across the country. This has resulted in the non-state actors gaining more prominence than the elected legislators as the true power centre resides in the non-elected elites who yield great economic, military and political power. The persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, subjugation and colonialization of regions of their own country to promote the growth of these elites is likely to cause a revolution in Pakistan. A civil war or an armed revolution in Pakistan would be catastrophic for the region given that the country is a nuclear state and any uncertainty within their country can have severe ramifications for the stability of the entire sub-continent. With irresponsible armed non-state actors, a brutal army and frequent regional separatist movements, the country continues to be a ticking time bomb that the sub-continent needs to diffuse before the situation goes out of hand.
It is imperative that the world seriously deliberates and intervenes towards ensuring stability within Pakistan as failing to do so can result in the country exploding into a civil war which would have far more uncertain consequences than an intervention by a select group of countries. Pakistan, as a nation, requires to be liberated from the current elites and they desperately need to rewrite their institutional framework to build strong institutions that can deliver development to their people.
The only way to end the continuous conflict with Pakistan would be to liberate the people of Pakistan from their ruling elite and put them on the path of development and it would be better if an external force puts them on this path rather than the region waiting for it to happen on its own. The world and India, in particular, can no longer adopt the wait and watch policy. It is time to act.