Governing the Ungovernable

Book Review: By Wahid Bakhsh

It is governance and not foreign aid that is the greatest determinant of an economic turnaround, argues Ishrat Hussain. Pakistan was among the top 10 countries performing better with 6% GDP growth, annually, until 1990, but the economy witnessed a serious setback in the forthcoming years. The writer elucidates how Pakistan performed from 1947-90 and 1990-2015. The book also strives to analyze the factors that adequately accounted for the relatively robust accomplishment in the first half and relative decline and stagnation in the second half of the history.

Governing the ungovernable provides a 360-degree view on each institution including Economy, Polity, Military, Judiciary, etc. It not only mentions the causes of failure of the aforementioned institutions but also carves out a series of reforms to strengthen the state institutions that are efficient, autonomous, strong, responsive and likely to do better. Moreover, the writer counters several popular myths and misconceptions regarding Pakistan’s economy and governance. The hypothesis that the growth of the economy only occurred due to the high influx of foreign aid is invalidated by the author through compelling arguments. He opines that two conditions were largely responsible for such an exponential growth: first, profits were generated for investors, second, credit was channeled towards them. The notion that growth increased during military regimes and was stagnant during civilian leadership is only superficially true. The economy slowed down because the agricultural groups were exempted from paying taxes, businessmen were entertained with state loans, and the corrupt culprits were protected to share the proceeds.

Similarly, the popular claim that the US only supported dictatorship in the region is also against the reality. USA’s dislike for dictator Saddam Hussain, Muammar al Gaddafi, and the popular support for the largest democracy, India, proves the fact that the US only supported its national interests in the region. US support for Pakistan has been opportunistic rather than strategic or deterministic. In the same way the author believes that either a technocratic government or a military coup is out of question in the future. He suggests that the free media, active social media, vigilant civil society organizations and political parties will barely allow it to happen.

In addition to this, Ishrat Hussain opines that devolution of powers to the provinces didn’t change much for provinces. This is solely because the power resided in the few hands i.e. provincial headquarters. He calls for decentralization of powers in the sectors of education, health, and local governance. These all must be devolved to the districts governments as it becomes hard for a single provincial secretary to control such a large number of institutions.

Ishrat Hussain also favours a judiciary, independent but within ambit of certain restrains, to allow economic growth. Recalling the history of judicial activism in Pakistan, he mentions in detail the massive economic fallout that Pakistan had to face due to suo moto notices and deliberate delays in decisions. He goes on to say that the infamous decisions were taken by the Apex Court in the Rekodiq, LNG, and the privatization cases that brought about loss of billions of dollars. He also presents reforms for all institutions focusing on the current political situation, saying that there is a dire need to introduce electoral reforms in the country. Empowering Election Commission witt unfettered powers, and abolishing the system of the caretaker government, can avert political instability and favoritism during the election process. Likewise, He laments that the dynastic politics and the tribal, and the caste (biradari) systems have halted the growth of democracy in Pakistan.

Finally, to critically analyze the book, the chapters on military and religious edifice are not very clear in identifying the part played in making Pakistan an ungovernable state. The writer seems a little biased when he evinces the role performed by the military in destabilizing Pakistan. He poses all the blame on civilian leadership for direct and indirect military interventions. Having said that, his arguments also seem contrary to the facts discussed by the champions of civil-military relations, who include Aqil Shah, Ayesha Jalal, and Ayesha Saddiqua in their respective books. These erudite scholars consider the establishment responsible for its negative role in Pakistani politics. It is the lust for power, protection and extension of their self-interests, and the inherent superiority complex that dragged the military into mainstream politics. Nevertheless, the writer is optimistic and seeks the solution of all tribulations in democratic progress. This book is a must-read for politicians, bureaucrats, policymakers, CSS aspirants, and especially for the students of Political Science and Public Administration as one is nerd until he questions.

Book: Governing the Ungovernable

Author : Ishrat Hussain

Review by Wahid Bakhsh

Wahid Bakhsh Deenari belongs to District Jafferabad, Balochistan. He is pursing his BS degree in the discipline of Political Science from University of Punjab.

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