Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFFEE: Demystifying status quo and change. Daily Times, 24 Dec,11


OVER A COFFEE: Demystifying status quo and change —Dr Haider Shah

It does not matter through which party gates the Makhdooms, Kasuris and Legharis enter parliament. The only measure of success is whether Imran or any claimant is able to show the courage and sagacity to deal with the three basic constraints

Various buzzwords can serve as the chapter titles for narrating Pakistan’s turbulent history. Of late ‘status quo’ and ‘change’ have become the buzzwords in the political discourse of the country. Some more examples are ‘roti, kapra aur makaan’ (food, clothing and shelter) in Bhutto’s government, ‘Islamisation’ during Zia’s dictatorship and ‘accountability’ during the Musharraf regime. ‘Changing the status quo’ is the marketing gimmick of the new entrant on the political scene. Whether the new product is genuine or not, the fact is that sales are surging and the new enterprise is expanding its market share with aggressive mergers and acquisitions.

A new business enterprise always needs a well-coordinated marketing campaign to penetrate a saturated market. Imran Khan is lucky to enjoy the support of the two kingmakers in Pakistan. The men in khaki have always been instrumental in deciding who will sit on the throne but now they share this power with another powerful player: the electronic media magnates. On the country’s biggest private TV network, promotion of the new brand is being run like a cola company advertisement campaign as the network’s singers and caricaturists are busy round the clock popularising the new brand.

Investors in the new enterprise are of three types. First, those non-political aspirants who think it is a good opportunity to explore a political career at a time when the party is less crowded compared to the mainstream parties. Second, those stranded politicians who, like Robinson Crusoe, were waiting for a ship to rescue them. Third, those who always need nods from our spymasters to make such decisions. The weight of the electronic media, however, might prove the most crucial factor in getting Imran Khan enthroned. In one of my previous pieces I had stated that personally I like him but am fearful of some of the shades in his multi-coloured personality. Reassuringly, a gradual softening in his anti-US rhetoric is noticeable. His statements like ‘Khulfa-e-Rashida ka nizam’ (system of the Great Caliphate) can be ignored as a political gimmick because one can see many liberal women in his bandwagon who will not like to go back to that era in the 21st century nor would the religious minorities like to pay any jizya (Islamic tax). If Imran wants to lead us ahead into the modern 21st century, he better leave these phrases to the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam.

Whether it is a doctor examining a patient, or a mechanic inspecting a broken car or an organisational development consultant implementing a change management programme, one simple principle is common to all. You cannot fix and improve anything unless you know the source(s) of the problem. The times of divine interventions have long gone, says Faiz in one of his verses. Yes, charismatic leaders are always important for facilitating change but no leader can do this with a magic wand. First, the sources of the status quo must clearly be understood and only then can it be possible to measure the success of a leader in removing those sources and hence open the doors for change. So what are our main constraints? We can identify three. One, we have big ambitions with a small kitty. We wish to be a regional power like India and China without having the economic muscle of either. Second, there is no rule of law in the land. Due process of law is not only missing in day to day governance but its absence becomes even more conspicuous when disregard of law pertains to the military. Third, our weak budgetary position, as our income is always less than national expenditure, thus forcing us to seek expensive loans and foreign aid. ‘Changing the status quo’ thus means removing these three constraints that have held us back from performing to the optimal level.

Since both kingmakers are spearheading Imran’s campaign it is possible that the new enterprise soon grabs a major market share. But whether it is Junejo on the throne or Nawaz or Gilani or Imran, sooner or later all are confronted with these three interrelated constraints. Every incumbent prime minister discovers that in order to deliver the promised relief to the common people, megaprojects are urgently required. The projects in turn require heavy investments that put pressure on the fiscal budget, which in turn causes balance of payments (BOP) problems. In order to correct the BOP problem, exports need to be enhanced. If the last 10 years’ export data is examined, it can be seen that our biggest export partner is the US and up to 70 percent export trade is with the US, European Union (EU) and the Gulf states. When war hysteria defines our foreign relations we put this 70 percent export at risk, which then has a knock-on effect, resulting in a restraint on megaprojects.

Every new premier soon finds out that in order to boost revenue, new taxation measures are needed. Both India and Bangladesh have adopted VAT but we are still reluctant on that. Another possibility to ease the pressure on the fiscal equation is to rationalise expenditure. The other day I was listening to Imran Khan and found his comments on cutting extravagant expenditure, including defence, reassuringly sensible. He did mention that the prime minister lives in a small house in the UK. He should have also mentioned that there is no tradition of maintaining a full brigade of servants for polishing the shoes of military personnel in the UK either. In the recent spending cuts, the British Secretary of Defence announced cuts in military spending and made thousands of sailors returning from war redundant. In Pakistan, one-third of national expenditure is on account of defence. No doubt some of this huge expenditure can be reduced by minimising waste under tougher parliamentary oversight. However, significant reduction in military expenditure can only be possible if the causes of threat perceptions are minimised. This in turn would require a new policy initiative with regards to India and Afghanistan. Again, here the prime minister, whoever he or she may be, will have to deal with the status quo of the GHQ-driven security paradigm.

It does not matter through which party gates the Makhdooms, Kasuris and Legharis enter parliament. The only measure of success is whether Imran or any claimant is able to show the courage and sagacity to deal with the three basic constraints. Only then can the much hyped ‘status quo’ be changed.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

2 thoughts on “OVER A COFFEE: Demystifying status quo and change. Daily Times, 24 Dec,11

  1. Wonderful Sir,

    A very balanced view indeed.

  2. Hello again Dr. Shah,
    I wont simply say “wonderful sir”. I have a couple of comments to make.
    One, the fact that everyone, including media, is campaigning for Imran Khan. Apparently, it may look like so, but in reality its different. Everyone, including the media, is fed up. Fed up of lawlessness and corruption. These two, lawlessness and corruption, are the root causes of ALL our problems today, including the 3 constraints that you mentioned which I am coming to next. I don’t need to list each and every problem that the people of Pakistan are facing at the moment but every single one of them is either because of lawlessness and corruption. Yes these two existed in Pakistan since the very first day but never as bad as they are today. As a result, every single institution is pushed to its limits, and beyond. Naturally, the response is to find a solution. And there comes the man who carries the ONLY hope of any change. No matter what anyone would say, everyone has to agree that Imran Khan is neither financially corrupt nor an individual who supports or advocates lawlessness. He queues up at the hospital he has built himself. He is the cleanest, most credible politician we have in Pakistan today, and most people recognize this fact. That is exactly why everyone is campaigning and hoping that it will be Imran Khan this time who will prevail in General Elections. I do agree that media apparently looks like it is an ally of PTI but all media is doing is exposing the corrupt politicians, which looks like a campaign for Imran Khan. It is NOT a conspiracy hatched by establishment or media. It is simply the one-ness of aims, which is to get rid of corruption and lawlessness.

    Status quo – is not simply because of the politicians who have been in business for so many years. It is mainly because of the leaders of the politicial parties and heads of governments. Do you think any leader of PPP has anything to do with any of the policies today in Pakistan except Zardari and Gillani? In fact, even Gillani does not have much say in the policies. Wether a political party or a government, the political culture in Pakistan is such that everyone else’s opinion apart from the Head is meaningless. Therefore, I will not blame Hashmi or Qureshi for the failure of the previous governments and I dont perceive them as a threat to PTI or symbols of status quo.

    Your 3 constraints are actually two. The first and third one are the same, and both of these are because of the second one you mentioned-no rule of law. The challenges seem very daunting, but they are daunting only for the corrupt. If you have nothing to hide, you will have no problem in giving institutions their autonomy and powers to carry out things according to the law of the land. That is why I am sure, If Imran Khan is able to form the government, there will be a visible change in the country within months.

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