Instability vs gradualism

Pakistan has the potential to become a top 20 economy by 2047 and this is only possible through collaborative governance

A man is buying PML-N flag from shop at Qissa-Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar ahead of the General Elections. — INP
A man is buying PML-N flag from shop at Qissa-Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar ahead of the General Elections. — INP

In a modern nation-state, the state establishment (civil-military bureaucracies and the judiciary) are the protectors of stability in the system. Their incentives are designed in a way to keep stability and minimise chaos in the system — they are the ‘steel frame’ of the state.

Ironically, our establishment (in particular, the mil-judicial establishments) had in the past been facilitating instability in the system through their decisions. An example is the way mil-judicial establishments ballooned and facilitated the rise of the PTI in the past decade and brought the party into power in 2018. They created a cult leader (Imran Khan), with no prior experience in governance, someone whose sole agenda is to promote politics of hate and promote instability and chaos. This mistake by the mil-judicial establishments has cost Pakistan a lot.

Since 2014, Imran Khan has been propped up to generate instability and chaos in the system. For example, he attacked parliament and other civilian institutions such as Pakistan Television. The anti-climax of the PTI’s chaotic politics was the May 9, 2023 attacks on key pillars of Pakistan’s national security.

Understanding why Imran Khan has embraced a politics of chaos and instability is simple. In a developing country like Pakistan if the governance and economic systems are not fully delivering to an overwhelming majority of the people, politics of hate, chaos, and instability tend to easily attract people and divert their attention from real issues of performance. Plus, upon assuming control of the government with the support of the mil-judicial establishments of the time, Khan realised that governance and development were not his strengths, and his party struggled to compete with the seasoned PML-N in delivering public goods and development. Faced with this realisation, Imran Khan chose the regrettable path of disrupting and hijacking the system.

Being afraid of his shortcomings, Khan desired absolute power so that he could silence all his critics and political opponents. Unfortunately, he was largely successful in this endeavour during 2018-2022. He put in jail all the senior opposition leaders, the media was silenced and the bureaucracy was turned into a game of musical chairs with postings on sale. The Supreme Court turned a blind eye to his all-unconstitutional acts. After a successful vote of no-confidence motion against him in parliament, instead of accepting the verdict, Khan again opted for a path of chaos and instability. He risked Pakistan’s national security including the country’s foreign relations for his egoistic desire and narcissism.

In the process, the people of Pakistan have suffered the most because their core issues such as access to public goods and employment have become secondary in political and media discussions. This has to change; the people of Pakistan are the primary stakeholders of the country and issues related to their socioeconomic well-being should be at the centre-stage of politics and media. This will only be possible when we can ensure socio-political and state stability in Pakistan.

In 2047, Pakistan along with its neighbour, will celebrate its 100th birthday. If business as usual (the path of instability) continues, then we are likely to remain a low-income country. Two of our neighbours (China and India) will be among the leading economies and nations in 2047. We should aim to be among them by 2047. The next twenty-five years are most critical for us. The outcome of the February 8 elections will lay the foundations for our journey towards our 100th Independence Day. Will the verdict of the people put the country on a path of internal conflicts and chaos or a path of stability, reform, and continuity of policies?

If we look at the rise of China, we will find out that it is predicated on Guanzi’s ideas of prioritising stability over everything else. The ancient Chinese text ‘Guanzi’ has been the key factor in shaping Chinese socio-economic policies. It is rooted in the idea that economic progress is not possible without maintaining stability in the system. In other words, instead of shock therapy or disruptions in the system, Guanzi advocates for ‘experimental gradualism’ — steady reforms in the system.

In the case of Pakistan, the only political party that offers a Guanzi-inspired socio-economic agenda (experimental gradualism) is the PML-N. In the case of Pakistan, the one issue that keeps generating instability is the civil-military rift in the system. The PML-N offers a way forward to address this issue in the light of Guanzi: we do not want to compromise the stability of the system to achieve our goals; instead, we want gradual gains — no single institution, political party, or individual can run Pakistan effectively on their own. Instead, we need collaborative governance and mutual respect among all key stakeholders to create positive synergy.

While it is evident that the establishment is a formidable stakeholder, history has consistently demonstrated that no single institution, including the establishment, can wield absolute power in Pakistan. This is partly attributed to the vibrant and dynamic nature of political and civil society in Pakistan.

Moreover, we recognise Pakistan’s geo-strategic and security requirements and therefore, we acknowledge the significant role of the establishment. For most of our history, politicians and mil-judicial establishments have been log-jammed.

Prima facie, it seems like this is now changing. The military has publicly declared that it wants to fully disassociate itself from any involvement in politics and the judiciary has acknowledged the role of parliament in its recent decisions. It is about time all pillars of the state made a new beginning based on mutual respect and harmony instead of negating each other.

During the PML-N government’s tenure from 2013 to 2018, we provided unwavering support to the establishment on every major security and national issue of the country. Similarly, despite our serious reservations about the establishment’s role in the 2018 elections, we have extended full support to the establishment on key national security issues. We could have opted for chaos and instability but instead, we sacrificed our political interests to promote socio-economic and political stability in the system.

Pakistan has the potential to become a top 20 economy by 2047 and this is only possible through collaborative governance. We will work with every key stakeholder of the system, and we will steer the system to its optimal and constitutional equilibrium with a Guanzi approach. Similarly, we will address the concerns of small provinces and will bring ethnic minorities into the mainstream through collaborative governance. We will promote a culture of pluralism in Pakistan where we celebrate our diversity and differences. Instead of seeing diversity as divisive, we see it as our strength as a nation.

At a societal level, we will promote scientific inquiry and technological advancement at all levels. We have a youth bulge that needs to be empowered with scientific knowledge and technology. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is drastically transforming the economic and social landscape of the world. We will invest in our human resources to be of relevance in the new era of innovation, creativity, and competitiveness.

In short, in the upcoming elections, two contrasting visions are contending for the future of Pakistan. One envisions fostering chaos and instability, championed by Imran Khan and his cult followers. The alternative vision promotes a progressive, inclusive, and stable Pakistan advocated by the PML-N. The way we choose in 2024 is going to have a lasting impact on our future.

The writer is the former minister for planning, development and special initiatives. He tweets/posts @betterpakistan and can be reached at: [email protected]

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect’s editorial policy.


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