This is in continuation of the three articles in which I had discussed Pakistan’s critical need for debt restructuring and transformational reforms (described as ‘creative destruction’) to reconstruct the country’s institutions of governance.
In the last article (‘Through creative destruction’, March 23), I discussed why it is essential to have effective and functioning houses of parliament, and how their effectiveness depends on well governed political parties. In this one, I’ll delve deeper into the desperately needed reforms that political parties must undertake to improve their internal governance. Ultimately, the progress of Parliamentary democracy is heavily reliant on the intellect and profundity of the political leadership, as they provide the people who run two of the three branches of the state – parliament and the executive.
It is no secret that our major political parties have serious shortcomings; either they are a one-man show or family enterprises. And they do not produce leaders with the foresight and ability to think strategically, develop policies and deliver desired results.
Going back into history, the All India Muslim League, which created the country, had remained focussed only on sole objective of protecting the rights of the Muslims of undivided India and creating a separate homeland. The party leadership thought that once this objective was achieved, everything would start functioning. Since Independence occurred abruptly after the end of World War II in 1945 and the founding party had not done any work on the basic issues of constitution and governance, it’s no wonder the new state remained directionless.
Mr Jinnah, the founder of the country and key pillar of the Muslim League died soon after independence, which created a huge vacuum in the leadership. Lack of adequate succession and infighting significantly impaired the party’s ability to provide necessary policy guidance on the critical issues affecting the country.
A major difference between India and Pakistan was the quality of leadership in the two founding parties. As Congress had a mature class of politicians besides their main leader M K Gandhi, India was able to frame its constitution in 1949 and hold its first general elections in 1951. In contrast, our first Constituent Assembly could not make the constitution until its controversial dissolution in 1954, and then the second one, which framed the 1956 constitution was illegitimate, as it was created by an order of the governor general in 1955. The inordinate delay in making the constitution, not holding elections, and the continuous infighting presented an opportunity to the military, leading to the imposition of the first martial law by General Ayub Khan in 1958.
The only major political party that was based on an ideology, vision and programme was the Pakistan People’s Party created by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1967, based on principles of socialism, democracy and empowerment of the poor. Consequently, we saw major nationalization of banks, industries and education which enhanced the role of the public sector disproportionately. In hindsight, this was a costly mistake, but it was primarily due to Mr Bhutto’s sagacious leadership that the country got the 1973 constitution with the consensus of all political parties.
Unfortunately, polarization and a fierce political divide during and post the 1977 elections again created an opportunity for the military coup and General Ziaul Haq lost no time in taking advantage. He imposed martial law in the country – the third one – thus removing and later unjustly executing the country’s most popular leader.
Frequent military takeovers and interventions remain one of the major reasons for continued political uncertainty and lack of maturity in our political system. However, it can also be argued that lack of maturity and poor governance within and by the political parties create the opportunities for such takeovers and interventions by the military. I think there is some element of truth in both views.
Even now, when the country is faced with the worst economic crisis, being on the verge of sovereign default, no foreign exchange reserves, inflation overshooting 35 per cent, unprecedented levels of poverty and unemployment, the coalition government and opposition are busy in point scoring but none of the political parties seem to be working on any roadmap to rescue the country from its abysmal state.
Political parties play a crucial role in the functioning of any democracy. It is an indisputable truth that the major reason that underpins our country’s lack of progress is the poor capacity of its major political parties since inception. Unfortunately, this issue has not received the attention it deserves. The only way to put the country on the path to progress is for our political parties to recognize this truth and undertake the necessary reforms to correct the serious weaknesses in their internal governance. For this, they must study and learn from mature democracies such as the UK, Canada, Australia and other developed and emerging economies.
Summarized below are some essential reforms that need to be implemented by our political parties to modernize themselves in an age of Artificial Intelligence.
One, invest in developing strong leadership and management. For this, they need to induct and promote experienced and mature leaders who can manage teams effectively, delegate responsibilities, make strategic decisions and promote innovation. It is essential to establish robust management systems and processes, including performance and risk management, taking advantage of latest technologies.
Second, focus on developing leaders of the future. One of the biggest issues in the country is that politics is considered a dirty business that keeps most good people away from politics. Consequently, political parties do not attract top talent. Therefore, the parties need programmes to attract and nurture young talent, providing them with opportunities to grow and develop their skills. Leadership development and mentorship programmes and other proposed reforms can bring a positive change to attract the talent required to produce the leaders of the future in politics, who can lead the country in the fast-changing world.
Third, establish a robust policy formulation process. This involves creating transparent and participatory mechanisms for engaging citizens and civil society organizations to develop plans and policies that address the country’s problems. They should invest in R&D to ensure that their policies are evidence-based and reflect the latest thinking in respective fields. More specifically, appropriate policies are required to resolve Pakistan’s most serious problems such as huge losses in the energy sector and state-owned entities, expeditious and effective privatization, curing the pathetic state of human development by reinventing governance of education, health and population planning etc.
Fourth, prioritize internal democracy and accountability. This requires conducting regular internal elections to select leaders and representatives, ensuring that decisions are made democratically, and creating mechanisms for members to hold their leaders accountable.
Fifth, embrace diversity and inclusivity, creating a welcoming environment for members from different backgrounds, women, minorities, and marginalized groups.
Sixth, develop a roadmap to revive Pakistan’s economy by addressing its perennial twin deficits (fiscal and external account) which require comprehensive strategies for improving productivity and competitiveness.
Seventh, identify people for the positions of prime minister, chief minister and other key portfolios. These people should have the required expertise and leadership skills rather than awarding such positions based on loyalty, accommodation and political expediency only.
Eight, ensure that they have robust accountability structures in place to provide reasonable assurance that they operate transparently and ethically. They should also invest in monitoring and evaluation systems to assess the impact of their policies and programmes and ensure that they are delivering on their promises. They should prepare regular financial statements duly audited by credible independent auditors and make them public to ensure transparency.
Ninth, create an environment that promotes a culture of intellectual curiosity and learning, where people are encouraged to raise questions, challenge long established opinions and existing norms seeking new ways to solve big problems of the country. This is in contrast to the existing culture where people do not dare to think but are only supposed to follow the top leader, who can do no wrong.
In conclusion, strengthening political parties and developing leaders of the future by implementing the aforementioned steps is the most fundamental reform Pakistan needs to achieve progress and prosperity and reverse its downward drift.
To be continued
The writer is a former managing partner of a leading professional services firm and has done extensive work on governance in the public and private sectors.
He tweets @Asad_Ashah