Following APS tragedy, all stakeholders put their heads together, chalked out comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy.
We have somehow, and to a greater extent, come out of the scourge of terrorism but now we need to fight errorism — blunderism to be more candid — because the country cannot afford the accumulated effect of small errors and/or the fallout of a major one! These errors are both individual as well as institutional and have been callously made and later on persistently ignored. At the heart of all the mess we are in is the lack of a ‘broad consensus’ on governance model which fits into our peculiar circumstances.
A blueprint for this ‘broad consensus’ already exists in the form of National Action Plan (NAP) which, though not fully implemented, has steered the country out of marshland of ubiquitous terrorism in the country. Following the APS tragedy, all stakeholders put their heads together and chalked out a comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy with action plans for all concerned. The unity of direction and action led to unimaginable results in a very short period. Only God knows where we would be now if the pre-APS lack of direction and political will had persisted!
Building on the success story of fighting terrorism better than any other country in the world, the political leadership, across party lines, should come up with another National Action Plan to fix the governance problem. Although the 1973 Constitution provides a clear framework of power distribution and defines relationship between the state and society but it has to be supplemented with specific laws and actionable plans for reforms in different sectors. Governance, in essence, is the implementation of the constitution and, therefore, requires reconciling the conflicting interests of various stakeholders.
The key governance issue, where the country cannot afford ad hoc approach and haphazard plans, is managing the economy. Replacing one minister with another is no more than changing the batting order. How can a structural problem of team selection, coaching and motivation be solved with simply changing the order of players? Not only have we seen different faces running the show for the last seventy years but also different governance models without any sustained economic progress.
Besides many structural problems, the political leadership needs to build consensus on three fundamental issues which include the documentation of economy, broadening the tax net and across-the-board accountability. So far, no serious effort has been made to focus on these issues. During Musharraf’s regime, there was some lackluster plan for documentation but having legitimacy problem, he could not make it through under pressure from business elites and other mafias.
Failing to broaden the tax net has also been a pernicious problem. We have the lowest tax-to-GDP ratio and most of the tax revenue comes from salaried class, and indirect taxation in the form of GST. Agriculture is still outside the tax net and so are many services and sectors. Indirect taxes put burden on all citizens indiscriminately and constitute one of the main drivers of inflation. The tax system has to be fair, simple and transparent for people to pay taxes.
The accountability system is also deeply flawed. It is presumably selective, discretionary and largely counter-productive. The structure, process and function of NAB need to be revisited in light of the lessons learned since its inception. Ascendance of the West is due primarily to honest leadership and credible institutions. Free media, independent judiciary and powerful oversight parliamentary bodies make it impossible for anyone to misuse authority.
Mud-slinging and name calling inside and outside the parliament would not revive our economy. Blaming one another for failure of the system is also not very helpful. Throwing old ideas of presidential system versus parliamentary system are fanciful slogans aimed at deflating criticism for failure. Let the political leadership rise to the occasion and capitalise on the current economic crisis for building a counter-errorism strategy which focuses on all the fault lines of our governance system with the core goal of sustained economic growth. China and India, with different governance models, have realised this goal. We can do too.