Why is crisis decision-making a daunting task? – 18 Sep 2022

The most dangerous crisis in Pakistan is how to deal with natural disaster in the shape of torrential rains & floods

Decision-making mechanism determines the strength and capability of a state to deal with a crisis situation. When the leadership lacks clarity and consistency and is myopic in its approach on vital issues, the outcome is faulty decision-making. Likewise, if a country is facing natural and man-made disaster, what is required of the leadership is timely, bold and courageous decisions. Also, if there is an economic, political or diplomatic crisis, timely decisions made to protect the country’s sovereignty, security, national interest and territorial integrity can make a difference.

Some of the fundamental characteristics of crisis decision-making are: courage, boldness, prudence, perseverance, risk taking, clarity and consistency. Societies where better education and pro-development approach is a priority, one can expect smooth sailing in crisis decision-making. Every crisis has an opportunity and it is up to the concerned stakeholder to make use of a situation and meet the challenge accordingly.

If viewed in the context of Pakistan, the country is unable to meet the challenge of crisis decision-making because those at the helm of affairs lack the skills, wisdom, prudence and capability to deal with a dangerous situation threatening the very survival of country. Currently, the most dangerous crisis which is a test case of decision-making is how to deal with natural disaster in the shape of torrential rains and floods. More than 35 million people are displaced; more than a thousand are dead; colossal damage to livestock has been caused; hundreds and thousands of homes have been destroyed; and serious damage has been done to infrastructure like roads, bridges and railway lines.

The pathetic shape of crisis decision-making in Pakistan is evident from the fact that in June, the Meteorological Department issued an early warning of above normal rains and possible melting of glaciers leading to super floods. An impending crisis warning in the shape of floods failed to alert those who were supposed to take precautionary measures and save the lives of millions of people. Non-serious and unprofessional behaviour led to the mother of natural disasters and caused a lethal man-made crisis. In the neighboring Indian state of Rajasthan, torrential rains failed to cause floods because adequate water storage arrangements were made. As a result unlike millions in Pakistan, only 4,000 people were displaced in Rajasthan. Decision-making mechanism in India to prevent floods despite torrential rains and melting of glaciers in the Himalayan mountains included constructions of hundreds of dams and water storage facilities. Timely decision-making in Pakistan to deal with floods and wastage of flood water would have required construction of small, medium and mega dams and other water storage facilities.

The challenge of crisis decision-making was not taken seriously by successive governments of Pakistan since its inception till today which led to the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971; loss of a major part of Siachen Glacier in 1984; failure to deal with the Indian absorption of Jammu & Kashmir by issuing Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act of August 5, 2019; imposition of martial law and military takeovers in 1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999. Furthermore, the grave challenge of economic crisis and the threat of country facing default reflected absence of crisis decision-making mechanism.

Timely decisions to seek political stability, economic vibrancy, good governance, rule of law and accountability would have made things better for Pakistan. When the successive governments, whether civilian or in uniform, showed neglect and non-professional behaviour to deal with a crisis situation, it reflected a mindset devoid of accepting ground realities. Had this not been the case, Pakistan wouldn’t have lost East Pakistan, Siachen, Kargil and J&K. Furthermore, the country wouldn’t have been on dole on foreign loans and aid.

Why crisis decision-making has remained a daunting task and how Pakistan can have sound decision-making mechanism would require two measures.

First, courses on decision-making and its mechanism must be offered in the universities of Pakistan and taught by professionals. Along with that, path breaking and innovative research on decision-making focusing on Pakistan’s internal and external issues needs to be done in research centres and think tanks so that policymakers are able to make use of investigative studies on domestic and foreign policy challenges. When a critical mass is created as a result of professional training, it will be possible to effectively deal with the challenge of crisis decision-making. Some of the requirements of crisis decision-making which needs to be taken seriously are: courage, risk taking capacity, control over events, patience, perseverance, prudence, clarity, visionary approach, ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity; proper coordination among those involved in decision-making process and time management.

When crisis decision-making becomes part of strategic culture and the concerned stakeholders are professionals in their approach, they can effectively and timely deal with early warning concerning floods; political schism leading to predictable violence; grave economic crisis jeopardising state and societal structures or serious security threats. The East Pakistan crisis of 1971 is a classic example of how fault lines in crisis decision-making led to the breakup of the country. Those who were responsible for managing the crisis mismanaged the events and failed to control the situation knowing that the postponement of national assembly session on March 3 in Dhaka will have grave consequences. The then governor and martial law administrator of East Pakistan had strongly suggested to Islamabad to seek a political solution of that crisis instead of resorting to military action.

Second, ad hocism in decision-making is a major challenge in Pakistan’s grave political, economic and security dynamics. The absence of a buffer in the form of towering personalities capable of influencing state policies particularly those dealing with government-PTI standoff on holding early elections; managing huge trade gap; depleting foreign exchange reserves and possible default tends to expose the absence of a mechanism essential for dealing with a crisis situation. Same is true about crisis decision-making, dealing with external challenges. When on August 5, 2019 India promulgated Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act and ended special status of J&K by revoking article 370, such a decision led to a grave crisis situation in Indo-Pak relations prompting a rupture in their relations marked by downgrading of diplomatic representation in Pakistan’s High Commission New Delhi, suspension of air, road, rail links and also trade with India.

The absence of crisis decision-making mechanism in Indo-Pak relations means a sustained level of hostility jeopardising the future of 2.5 billion people of South Asia. Not only is there a standoff in their bilateral ties but the SAARC process is also stalled. Comprehensive dialogue which was a way forward for the management and resolution of conflicts has been stuck for the last several years. A wholesome approach on crisis decision-making is the need of the hour for Pakistan in order to cope with daunting internal and external challenges.

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