by Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry

Before a Nation Dreams, it Must be able to Sleep First Safely

“During the final century of the Roman Empire, it was common for emperors to deny that their civilization was in decline. Only with the perspective of history can we see that the emperors were wrong, that the empire was failing, and that the Roman people were unwilling or unable to change their way of life before it was too late.” Morris Berman in his book, “Why America Failed”

PakistanNapoleon still could not bring himself to admit that he (rather than ’factions’) was responsible for his downfall.  OnceThemistocles led ancient Athens to victory over Persia, but later he was exiled, and had to find refuge with his former enemies. As if this reference could undo his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon wrote a famous letter to the Prince Regent, citing the example of Themistocles, “I have ended my political career; and I come, as Themistocles did, to seat myself by the hearth of the British people. I put myself under the protection of its laws…”dated 13 July, 1815. The British like all victors were unimpressed by such a stock-phrase. They sent this “great general”, not to the ambers of a cozy hearth for warming his cold hands and feet, but to St. Helena. Lesson.

Grow, transform, rectify and learn, or be prepared for licking the dust and extinction. This is the law of God; this is the law of nature, and this is the law of history.

Why would Pakistan, its people, and especially its leadership be an exception, when change for them is a blasphemy! Our leadership in Pakistan is like that patient who feels terribly dizzy, but rather than admitting his condition before a doctor, keeps pretending, “Dizziness! No, not really”. How can the problem of political dizziness be addressed then in Pakistan, when every political leader regards himself an Anoki, the wrestler.

It is a fallacy to believe that Muslims or any other nation, are indispensable for God. When nations adopt the ways that result in “corrupting the earth”; or when people as a whole deliberately begin to compromise in matters of human rights, justice and fair-play, and begin to lie with any moral compunctions, and stay adamant by refusing to “revive conscience”, or refuse to follow the process of self-analysis and self-correction, then God just seals the fate of such nations.

“(Look out), the example of those (Messengers) we sent before you (O Muhammad) and you will find no change in our law”. 17:77

Most of the countries in the Middle East were economically doing better than Pakistan when the revolution started there. Egypt had a good robust economy; Tunisia was still a tourist resort and had been called the, “Switzerland of Africa”; Kaddafi could have been a mad man, but he was still holding the different tribes together. Yet people rose against their rulers, why?

Countries often do not fall like a thud or a dynamited structure; often they fall in slow motion. And Pakistan is one of them. The thunderous fall of Afghanistan and Somalia and Sudan fell soft on Pakistani ears. Its elite and privileged class; and its unchanging dynasties of rulers in the last 40 years, who had developed a craving for insatiable hunger for applaud, approval and power, didn’t feel any urge to listen and learn and then change and grow.

They took Afghanistan’s fall with a smile. The factors that had destroyed Afghanistan were re-classified as valuable assets for Pakistan’s regional security. The realities of life remained elusive. The clueless leaders kept asking the People to dream, to think big. But how could they do so when they were not even able to sleep safely. Hunger, lack of safety, chronic ailments, malnutrition, and humiliations haunted them like nightmares, and the leaders yet kept asking them, “dream, fools dream”.

Carol S.  Dweck, a great psychologist in her book, “Mindset”, writes, “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”Carol Dweck perhaps did not know that their lives specie of human beings in our part of the world that honors only the reward and not the effort.

Remember the rubber-band law. It grows when it is stretched. Our leadership in Pakistan had always been nothing more than a piece of useless string that would neither stretch nor hold people together. It would snap at every stretch, but would re-emerge with a new knot.

The tragedy visiting people relating to leadership did not end here; it got compounded when they themselves fell in love with this knotty and dysfunctional string of leadership and began taking it as their fait accompli. Feeding an addiction had never been so spectacular a habit as it became in Pakistan.

Bloomberg carried an article titled, “Mexico Needs More Good Cops”. Economic reform is one thing, but ordinary citizens have to feel safe first is another.  The epochal economic reforms introduced by the Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto could not keep his popularity intact for long. The overwhelming number of Mexican citizens have taken to the streets, which shows that his government has failed to provide safety and protection to them. The  disappearance of 43 students on September 26, kidnapped in Iguala, the third-biggest city in Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest and most violent states, proved the last straw on popularity camel of Mr. Pena Nieto.

In Pakistan killing of people and even of army men in groups is much too common a sight. A few hollow statements of sympathy, a few reactionary steps, and then the business as usual.

One thing is amazingly common in Pakistan and Mexico, and that is corruption in the police. Ninety percent Mexicans said they had little or no confidence in their local police, and 75% said the same about the federal police. What would people say about police in Pakistan?

The five year “golden rule” of the PPP, and now the two- year clumsy hotchpotch governance of the PML (N), did not even take the first step in reforming the police on modern, honest and efficient lines. Police in all the four provinces have become the private militia of the political parties or of the mafia like it happened in Mexico.

The police in Mexico are not paid as low as they are in Pakistan. They, however, get compensated through illegal ways. The police were paid $460 a month by the city in Mexico, and $770 a month by their gang bosses. In a crime-ridden Chihuahua state, for instance, 98% of a 12,000-person force was found on the muster role of the mafia. The concrete steps taken by Mr. Enrique Pena Nieto in the field of economics, and in liberating the energy laws, just failed to defend him within two years of his rule because he had failed to provide good cops to the country. Similarly, in Pakistan, all the Metro and Mega projects appear meaningless, rather a wastage of time and of borrowed money, if the people of Pakistan remain unsafe everywhere-in their homes as well as in their work places. No nation can dream of creativity and betterment, if its lives are under constant fear all the time.

“When Warren Bennis interviewed great leaders, “They all agreed leaders are made, not born, and made more by themselves than by any external means…I believe… that everyone, of whatever age and circumstances, is capable of self-transformation.” Carol S. Dweck in “Mindset”

Corruption is a social cocoon in developing countries. Alexander Lebedev and Vladislav Inozemtsev state that corruption “wreaks havoc on the societies of developing countries, fuels social unrest and violence, and increasingly undermines the stability of the West.” This last part of the statement is meaningful.

Developing countries like Pakistan and India confuse corruption with bribery. While the former is like a huge corporation, the latter is a mere corner grocery shop in comparison. Bribery is a local phenomenon, a low-level problem, neither systemic nor organized.

Those petty local officials who indulge in it, “do not act within organized networks and wield little influence  over broader  societal institutions” say Lebedev and Vladislav; corruption, on the other hand, is labeled as “high-level systematic phenomenon and is vastly more destructive.” Those who indulge in it are often the rulers, who “not only abuse rules but set themselves.” Pakistan could not bridle bribery, a local disease, how could it handle corruption which became a second nature of its rulers. It is corruption and its compulsions, (not the spirit of service), that keeps the former and present rulers in the saddle of power. Power and corruption supplement each other; the one keeps the other alive.

Corruption inflicts double damage on societies. “It continuously erodes already weak governance as corrupt officials manipulate the legal system in favor of themselves and other elites. On the other hand, it drains away critical resources needed for economic development.”

The only way to overcome this endemic curse is to hit it hard. The good thing is that the West also begun feeling its pinch. A global action is being contemplated against these corrupt rulers; a universal anticorruption convention is being envisaged. Soon, it is hoped, it is the looted money of these rulers which shall become a Midas touch for them. They will get petrified by their own avarice.

In the 19th century corruption flourished in the West in all the major countries, including the United States. It took them a century to curb it. Now its epicenter has shifted to the developing economies, where high social inequality and weak governance fuel the ruling elites’ desire to enrich themselves at any cost.

Why is the West now getting so sensitive to an issue that had been a rallying cry of the victim people of the developing economies? After all, it was the West that let these high-robbers deposit their loot in their coffers; it let them open off-shore firms, and resolve any business disputes in London and New York courts.

In the past forty years, a whole new brand and crop of asset managers, bankers, lawyers and realtors has emerged in the West, “dedicated to laundering dirty foreign money and lobbying for laws that make its activities harder to prosecute”. If the developing countries remained victims of bad governance, and stayed vulnerable to sundry crisis, it happened so because the West let that happen.

Now it appears, the matter of the corruption of the foreign rulers, and of their family members, is beginning to over-spill. It is creating social conflicts; it is becoming instrumental in directing hatred towards the West. The corruption of Hosni Mubarak, Suharto, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire amounted to some $5 billion alone. A former senior official of China, Zhou Yongkang, had amassed money to the tune of $14.5 billion. In Russia the proceeds of corruption touched to the amount of $300 billion; India emerged as number one in black money, garnered and deposited abroad, and so is Pakistan. The G20 countries in their Summit endorsed India’s stance espoused by Modi on Black Money. The need for disclosure and transparency by sharing tax information according to the Global standards has been agreed upon. This would make it easy for the victim countries to getting information about the un-accounted for money boarded abroad, and enabling the developing countries to get it expatriated. This money accounts for 85% of the world’s GDP.

India has taken some bold steps unlike Pakistan. Its slogan has shifted from, “Look East” to “Act East”; and its leader’s faith in the poor people is a positive step. Already some 7.1 crore accounts have been opened by the poor, that brought in 5,000 crore to the banks who had always remained skeptical about the poor’ people’s honesty.

What has Mian Nawaz Sharif done in concrete terms so far? Not even 10% of what the Mexican President had done. One foreign tour after another, often undertaken by both the brothers. The country’s leadership could not agree on a person who could lead the election commission, though all cry foul in elections, including Mr. Imran Khan. Why? They want their undue share in the cookies that elections bring. There is an element of dishonesty and insincerity lurking behind this delay. Same is true of the local body elections. The country sacrificed over 60,000 innocent lives in terrorism, and yet it could not establish a robust, bold,a no-non-sense Anti- Terrorist Court. Neither its leadership, nor its courts can dare to condemn the terrorists openly. They can subject the people to torture. Jamiat Islami leader tells the people to choose between Makkah or America? Who allows them to hold such comparisons?

Some 126 billion rupees, approximately one fourth (22%) of the country’s annual budget is spent on holding rituals of Sufi, Barelvi and Shia Muslims. Some 70 billion rupees annually is spent on taking out processions, and making arrangement on the Taraweeh during Ramadan. Just for the management of the Muharram processions for ten days, the police often have to ask for 200 million rupees.

If the leaders get invoiced for the blockage of business; of streets, and for the employment of police, of the loss of life and property, etc., the meetings would stop overnight. The sickening cliché that it is the democratic right of a person to hold public meeting, to protest on the streets; it is also the demand of the democracy that such a loony has no right to cause any loss to business, to peoples safety, nor has he any right to perturb the civic life.  Making people and leaders responsible for their actions is a part of good governance in any democratic system.

“Why Nations Fail”, is an eye-opening book. Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, highlight the causes that guarantee the failure of a nation if it fails to address them immediately.  Most countries fall apart, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Often they meet a slow process of death, and they die inch by inch, moment by moment. Wars, no doubt, weaken them; violence gnaws at them slowly; draughts starve them; corruption makes them hollow and chaotic; loans make them servile and dependent; floods worsen their living conditions, but they still keep on floating. They sink only and get destroyed only when they “fail to take advantage of their society’s huge potential for growth, condemning their citizens to a lifetime of poverty”.

“God’s biggest gift to us is our Potential; and our gift to God is its growth”. This type of slow and grinding failure has left many sub-Saharan African, Asian and Latin American countries fail. Pakistan unfortunately is undergoing this kind of slow, grinding and gradual failure.

Where people remain subjected to exploitative and “Extractive” economic institutions and to a  political leadership that discourages and destroys incentives, and  innovation, and that fails to adjust and change itself as per the new demands of the age; and compromises on justice and equal opportunity to all; such people get marked for total destruction. Dictatorial democracies; family/dynasty rule; elitism and cronyism constitute such governments. Countries fail when institutions become dysfunctional. Good effective government has no substitute; economic reforms without   good politics are meaningless.

North Korea remained poor while South Korea prospered just because of people’s deprivation of property rights, and lack of participation in the government. Uzbekistan remained poor due to forced labor. Slavery and serfdom got replaced by forced labor.

From Ancient Rome to the U S South, one cause that has kept these areas and places technologically less developed was the practice of forced labor. Millions in Pakistan and India are bonded laborers, and are victims of forced labor even in the 21st century. The Uzbek society has been the biggest loser due to its 2.7 million children and teachers during the cotton season who, instead of leaning knowledge, are sent to the cotton fields to pick cotton. Main beneficiaries of the cotton remain the President Islam Karimov and his cronies. South Africa remained a titled playing field even after its independence, because its rulers introduced a “caste system for jobs”. Native people remained marked good for mining and digging and ploughing only; the rulers stayed good for managing, and for the skilled jobs. Egypt and Pakistan remained in the grip of greedy and selfish elites. All sugar mills; cement factories and chemical and fertilizer plants belong to the current or former ruling class of politicians. Banks and foreign loans, all work for this elite class. They being rulers protect the system and watch over their interest. Sometimes, even the good intentions produce unintended consequences. Military created its own foundations, and joined the rat-race of exploitation.

Somalia and Columbia became stateless states just due to lack of law and order. Pakistan is fast toeing the foot-steps of Somalia. An effective centralized State whose power is felt by those who violate its laws is so utterly essential that there can be hoped no order and stability  in a country where it is absent. Basic public good; effective system of laws; mechanisms for resolving disputes and dispensing justice, all become meaningless  if the Central government loses its teeth.

The biggest tragedy in Pakistan like that of the above mentioned countries is that they begin to take failure as a work of their fate. Experiments show that even animals after repeated failures just give up making any efforts.

Such failures, like the one Pakistan is facing is by design; it is an engineered one. There is a method in it. It is a well-calculated, and well calibrated. It cannot be uprooted by the hollow, meaningless harangues. New leadership is not in sight. The country is not short of good people.