Best outcome Pakistan can hope for from upcoming elections is democratisation.
Imagine a political party that, rather than pushing ‘policies’ in a haphazard, ill-informed and patronising manner, was instead only interested in creating a system that would allow ordinary citizens to collaboratively decide how they wished to be governed. What would the manifesto of such a collective, let’s call it X, look like?
1. Protected speech, assembly and association. Collectively, these function to foster the exchange of ideas and incubate a culture of debate, dissent and subversion — counteracting entrenched state power. Articles 16, 17 and 19 in Chapter 1 (Fundamental Rights) of Pakistan’s Constitution promise each but the polity has simply failed to uphold any. X must ensure all individuals have the freedom to speak their minds in an unadulterated manner and enter/exit political, cultural, religious, etc ventures at will. This will form the bedrock of an empowered civil society and broader system in which extremism is curtailed and information easily circulated: helping establish clarity about problems.
2. Empowered local government. In a country as heterogeneous as Pakistan, it is simply impossible for a federation to be functional with such a massive gulf between decision-makers and ‘end consumers’. Despite the 18th Amendment, provincial governments are simply unaware of the needs and grievances of their constituencies, let alone in the position to do anything about them. Article 140-A of the Constitution promises local governments that are ‘politically, financially and administratively’ empowered — none of which is true today. X must ensure the NFC Award is devolved to the level of districts, with transparent electoral cycles at regular intervals to determine governing authorities.
3. Land redistribution. Parliamentary assemblies are currently populated by ‘electables’, large landlords that possess coercive power over their respective communities. This results in consistently poor agricultural productivity, low inputs for the manufacturing sector and a polity that is controlled by opportunists leaching off of taxpayer funds in the pursuit of personal wealth. X must ensure that dormancy in land is curtailed by granting feudalists a window of opportunity, say 6 months, to demonstrate that their landholdings are being used productively — the failure of which would either mean seizure by the state or redistribution to local farmers and peasants. This will involve a radical restructuring of Provincial Boards of Revenue, with key performance indicators of government officers directly linked to the achievement of this end.
4. Unionisation. The interests of labour and capital are not only dissimilar, they are diametrically opposed to one another. For this reason, X must ensure collective bargaining mechanisms in industries and corporations (via trade unions), higher education institutions (via student unions) and the agricultural sector (via farmers’ associations) are entirely liberated. These will function to improve working conditions, pay structures, employee benefits, job securities, etc and curtail oppressive practices of administrative staff at universities whilst fostering an overall better experience for students in the form of financial accessibility, superior learning outcomes, better campus facilities and higher levels of safety and inclusivity. In rural communities, they will drive up wages, help landless peasants escape bonded labour and preserve humane working hours which are currently in the range of 12-14 hours daily.
5. Bureaucratic reform. Government employees, from the top down, enjoy an array of privileges, including furnished residences, free utilities, chauffeured vehicles, subsidised fuel and post-retirement plots. Membership in elite social clubs and access to a ‘General Provident’ with exceptionally high interest rates further add to these perks. Despite these privileges, competence and technical knowledge are lacking, with outdated, paper-intensive practices prevailing. The ‘servant’ in ‘civil servant’ must be underscored, halting the current lavish lifestyle financed by ordinary citizens. X must ensure comprehensive reform, focusing on performance-based evaluations, reducing the role of the PAS in governance, eliminating non-value-generating agencies and streamlining recruitment and training procedures for heightened efficiency.
6. Social protection. The vast majority of Pakistan’s populace is currently trapped in vicious cycles of poverty. The Benazir Income Support Programme, whilst laudable, is badly structured: with the need for ‘targeting’ used as justification for a bloated administrative apparatus, with authorities routinely capturing resources for their own use. X must replace this perverse modality with a universal basic income that allows anyone above the age of 21 to acquire a sum of cash (say, Rs5,000) every month — no questions asked. This will eliminate the need for constant oversight and can be largely automated using digitalised platforms. For distribution, the financial sector and services such as EasyPaisa and JazzCash can be explored as public-private partnerships.
7. Access to water, housing, healthcare, education, internet and urban transit. Pakistan must realise that it is the 21st century, in which basic amenities cannot be exclusively outsourced to predatory private businesses that see the citizenry as ‘customers’ in a ceaseless quest for profit maximization. X must ensure that taxpayer funds are redirected from wasteful domains such as non-combat, non-development defence expenditures, pointless ‘projects’ under the public sector development programme and unnecessary road infrastructure that leads to polluted and elite-centric cities. This can be made possible by diversifying the tax net and incorporating wealth, land, property and inheritance into the mix so that the affluent pay their fair share. Furthermore, government ministries and agencies responsible for the delivery of these services have to be overhauled: with internal managerial processes, incentive structures and organisational visions revised to streamline operations.
8. Foreign policy that restores national sovereignty. Climate change and associated consequences loom large. The energy sector is structured to favour the interests of international power producers and the global oil/gas industry. Trade relations are heavily tilted towards larger economic powers. Multilateral donors have captured the policymaking domain to peddle the geopolitical interests of their most dominant shareholders in the Western bloc. X must ensure that these three domains are granted the utmost importance in terms of engagement with the international community: putting a foot down and establishing a system of reparations, the nationalisation of the energy sector, revival of lucrative fuel agreements with non-Gulf countries, movement towards a well thought-out industrial policy and careful scrutinisation of all ‘projects’ with foreign donors to minimise agreements entailing further indebtedness.
The best outcome Pakistan can hope for from the upcoming elections is democratisation: the imposition of mechanisms that promote transparency, accountability and participatory governance. If the aforementioned objectives are pursued with the determination they deserve, progress is inevitable.