By Nasim Hassan, Delaware, USA
Currently a great fermentation of ideas is going on in Pakistan. There are at least twelve daily television talk shows discussing every issue of national importance as compared to few weekly talk shows in the USA. The issues are also discussed and debated on Internet forums, Urdu and English newspapers.
Invariably the politicians from various parties end up fighting and blaming the past dictatorships and era of other parties. However listening closely it seems that these people agree on substantive issues while interrupting other people on minor ones. Many times all guests are trying to get their word across while the anchor person is interjecting more questions.
I believe the representatives of civil society, religious leaders, intellectuals and media should focus on few fundamental challenges that impact the lives of ordinary people. Let all of them pull together and make efforts in a positive direction. This joint effort will certainly result in improvement. As times passes by the situation will improve. If all well intentioned people keep on opposing one another on esoteric problems then every day new problems will emerge and efforts in multiple directions will not result any meaningful development. I also believe there is a need to find and articulate the rational middle ground, educate the public and provide possible solutions. In the following write- up I have focused on three major matters concerning Pakistan.
Control of Corruption
This is major obstacle in the path of progress in Pakistan that is common in all third world countries. The politicians from all parties agree on various TV channels that there is a huge corruption problem. However in every debate the opposition party blames the party in power while the ruling party points towards the mess created by the past dictatorships. There is an unending list of corruption in bureaucracy, expensive rental power units, sugar shortages and Hajj in 2010.
After a few weeks new scandals comes up and the debate continues. The corruption cannot be eliminated in few months or even years. This will require and independent judiciary and an honest tax collection system. Nothing can be accomplished without equitable tax and revenue collection system. Once the state establishes a system where every citizen above a poverty line pays an income tax the conditions will start to improve. Value added or sale tax places an undue burden on the poor masses.
I strongly believe that no state can function properly without good revenue collection system. The state cannot depend upon the generosity of rich countries. All countries have their own national interests and cannot continue to provide grants, loans or assistance without any return on their investment.
So it is the responsibility of mass media to start a campaign of education for all people about the need of a strong institution to collect revenue/taxes from all people and sources including customs and excise.
Rule of Law
No country can make progress without protection of life, property and personal honor under the rule of law. The rule of law cannot be established if the country does not have resources to fund well trained police force and judicial system. So it is linked with eradication of corruption particularly in revenue collection system. Since the corruption is prevalent at all levels in Pakistani society it should be given a top priority.
In fact all taxpaying people should be given incentives or some extra privileges. The people who pay high taxes should be given some legal powers such as honorary magistrate or other form of incentives that are recognized in Pakistan. Tax payers should be recognized in private and public forums.
All corruption, environmental, terrorism, industrial and criminal problems should be properly addressed. The priorities should be set in place for spending hard earned revenue. The priorities may differ from state to state and even cities depending upon the urgent need of public. The investors whether local or foreign will not invest their resources in any country where there is no rule of law.
The basic criteria in law enforcement agencies should be the hpw competence and honesty. The religious, ethnic, provincial and tribal ties are still very strong. So the religious parties in particular should accept an honest and competent people regardless of his or her religious or political affiliation.
Systems of Governance
The western ideas of free market capitalism, free press and democracy are supposedly the essential ingredients of progress in modern World. However no system works under bad governance. Democracy cannot function without institutional foundations and rule of law.
The rise of China under a communist party for past thirty years contradicts this viewpoint. During the same period, the US and Europe have developed huge budget deficits and national debts. Many countries in Europe like Ireland and Greece are undergoing great upheaval and uncertain economic conditions.
Again looking back in Pakistan, the era of Ayub Khan saw substantial economic and industrial progress although he is always condemned by writers and intellectuals as root cause of Pakistan decline. The difference between rule of Ayub Khan and current democracy is the functioning institutions and systems of governance.
Pakistan has to develop systems relevant to the culture, traditions and religion. These systems can be National Accountability, Independent Election Commission, and Planning for critical issues such as Flood Control and Water Resources. All parties should agree on certain systems and provide periodic updating.
The current government and its leadership were elected and run a coalition government at the center and the states. Common people get disillusioned with corrupt feudal democracy where incompetent cronies are installed in various public sector companies and get away with everything. Strong institutions to check the politicians and the state are required. Otherwise even Kingdoms are better for common people than corrupt democracy where the politicians in power loot the country and stash the wealth away in foreign countries.
Every nation has to develop its own model for progress and prosperity. This model has to emerge from grass roots and must include the cultural, environmental and geographical considerations. It is about time that Pakistani intelligentsia discusses this issue and communicates that model to the general public. Pakistan can look at India, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, China and South Korea for guidance.
Currently I do not see any consensus among the major players. Politicians in power defy judiciary. The opposition parties like to share power but criticize the government policies at the same time. Religious parties hark back to the era of khulfa-i- Rashdeen.
News media focuses on problems that keep on changing on a daily basis. However most of the issues emerge from corruption, incompetence and lack of strong institutions. Liberal, conservative, religious, ethnic and regional divide dominates the talk shows. It is about time people of all persuasions join hands together and select only few issues of national importance. The issues can be national accountability, control of corruption, electricity generation, building dams for water and flood control, elimination of terrorism, equitable tax collection or any others.
The system cannot be changed if all major players are pulling in ten directions chasing hundreds of problems. Religious leaders can highlight the current problems and play a great role in the reformation of society. This is perfectly Islamic to call for honest governance. I am very optimistic about the young generation and their idealism. The Supreme Court, independent news media and emerging civil society are showing a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. I have high hopes for a peaceful and stable Pakistan.
Nasim Hassan, a consulting chemical engineer was born in Shimla, India but moved to Lahore in Pakistan after partition in
1947. Currently living in Delaware, he has served the Pakistani- American community in the tri-state area as a director and president of Pakistan American Society of Delaware Valley. His areas of interest include South Asia and Middle East. He has firsthand experience of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan and maintains contact with people and affairs in the region. Nasim has written a number of articles for Pakistani newspapers covering the experiences of first generation immigrants in the USA