Friday, October 23, 2020

Op-ed: Ishrat Husain’s new book provides logical answers to Pakistan’s governance dilemma

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Dr. Ishrat Husain, the former dean of IBA and ex-governor State Bank of Pakistan has contributed to the list of the books that tend to explain the flaws in governance in the Islamic Republic since its independence. He has the privilege to be the first economist to write on the theme. The book orbits around the political, social, and economic history of Pakistan in relation to the present circumstances and provides a way forward to rebuild civilian institutions and improve governance.

Read more: Pakistan Economy: History and Required Reforms 

All eighteen chapters are papers in themselves on every aspect. The main themes of the book are history, economy, polity, society, federal and provincial governments, the civil service, the judiciary, the military, extremism, jihadism, civil-military ties, militancy, state organs, and the private sector.

After independence, the first forty years of the new born state showed good statistics of economy and social indicators, placing it in the top ten developing countries.


Husain comments on each aspect based on meticulous research. He has covered all important dimensions of governance with present problems and recommendations for restructuring. The major portion of the excerpts revolves around economic factors and other non-economic parts are mentioned with references to different experts.

Husain explains the possible reasons behind the downsizing, the volatile and inequitable growth of the last twenty-five years, and hypothesizes the facts to be a consequence of the decay of institutions of governance, transparency, security, economic growth, and equity. It also takes pains to suggest ways out of the various problems plaguing us and deftly links disparate themes, weaving them together and connecting them to the one overarching theme that the book focuses on: governance.

Husain answers some significant questions in his book

In my opinion, there are certain questions that the book tends to answer in a very empirical and logical way. After independence, the first forty years of the newborn state showed good statistics of economy and social indicators, placing it in the top ten developing countries. But with time, in the 1990s era, the curve started declining especially in comparison to other South Asian states.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s Economy is fragile after 72 years?

What major elements curbed Pakistan’s stint as a top level performer? What made institutions to downsize? Who was actually responsible for bringing Pakistan to the current position as an ungovernable state? Why did the most important issues of the state lacked consensus of the ruling classes? What made Pakistan fall into the trap of corruption and nepotism among institutions? And what can bring Pakistan back to its historic state? How can the institutions be made inclusive and the human resource is procured through its policies?

Husain clears misconceptions about Pakistan’s downfall

There are many misconceptions in the society in general and in media and academia to be specific, that are being used as tools for hybrid warfare against the state. Husain has busted all such misconceptions in his book. For instance, there is a false hypothesis that the major reason for Pakistan’s downfall is the post 9/11 period including the war against terror (WAT). Husain rejected it with the fact that this decline started long before the WAT.

Read more: USA’s war on terror: bloodiest and longest in history

According to him, the 2002-2008 was the period of acute terrorism in Pakistan. The country recorded a remarkable turnaround. The growth rate touched 6 to 7 per cent on average. The investment/GDP ratio peaked at 23 percent and foreign direct investment (FDI) flows exceeded US$5 billion.

Another fallacy which claims, “generous foreign assistance has been the principal determinant of Pakistan’s economic success or failure”. Husain is of the view that it is governance and not foreign aid that is the greatest determinant of an economic turnaround because even in the periods of elected government, there was no boost in the economic and social indicators.

One more myth that Husain negated was the back of foreign powers with the military rulers at the cost of democracy. He contested it like, “the US suspended or curtailed economic and military assistance at crucial times in Pakistan’s history,” when the military was in power. “US aid was suspended soon after the 1965 war with India, the 1971 separation of East Pakistan, and under the Symington Amendment in the early period of Zia-ul-Haq’s rule. Sanctions were imposed when General Pervez Musharraf took over the reins of the government.”

Moreover, he has highlighted the role of US in facilitating Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan, after which Musharraf was ousted from the office.

‘Garrison State’ syndrome, that refers to the state shift towards defense, nuclear efficiency and security finances at the cost of education, health and human development. Husain explains, “the ratio of defense expenditure to GDP was consistently high in the first 40 years (when Pakistan was among the top performers) and is now 2.9 per cent of the GDP, almost one-half of what it was in the ’80s.” He argued that “In FY 2016, the budgetary allocation for education was 2.7 per cent. Combining health and education, the budgetary allocation is 3.7 per cent, higher than that of defense and internal security.”

Major factors that contributed to Pakistan’s decline

The author gives credit to the military for a better governance record than the elected representatives, on the flip side, he adds, “the actions of those who usurped power by removing elected governments and retarded democratic continuity cannot be condoned.” The author holds Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto responsible for systematically destroying institutions, particularly the civil service. The act of nationalization of institutions paved they ways for corruption and nepotism within the institutions. He explained, “Bhutto’s disdain for the civil service’s CSP cadre was reflected in the summary dismissal of 1,300 officers soon after he assumed power as Martial Law Administrator… The seeds of recourse to extra-constitutional measures were sown during this period.”

Interestingly, when General Zia came to power, he did not try to undo what Bhutto did to the institutions or go for a complete reversal on the economic front. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the ardent supporters of democracy came in the ’90s, during the tenures of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who “used the institutions of governance and civil servants to dispense favors and patronage, engaging in a dubious game of co-option or coercion of their opponents and excessive misuse of the discretionary powers of the office.”


The responsibilities of the bureaucrats were handed over to the politicians who couldn’t manage the decisions. Nawaz Sharif, however, pushed the privatization program and deregulation of the economy. In 1999, during the coup of President Pervaiz Musharraf, the reform process was launched with a fresh vigor. On the one hand, the local governments were empowered through reforms restructuring and reforms which has been explained by Husain as “the abolition of the offices of the deputy commissioner and assistant commissioners and their substitution by the elected nazims…was a step too much in advance of its time.”

Husain gives importance for institutions to stay in their respective bounds. He does not subscribe to the practice of seeking the military’s assistance on different matters at the drop of a hat.

Husain mentioned that for the first time in Pakistan’s history, one elected government completed its five-year term and the second is about to do the same, but as in the decade of the 1990s, this period too remained marred by political instability and economic and administrative mismanagement, amidst allegations of massive corruption.


Dr Ishrat’s discourse on the role of religion in public management is intriguing. The last 30 years of sectarianism has really brought a turnaround. He has also discussed the bane of extremism, militancy and the threat posed by jihadism. The malign in the state institutions has given rise to the extremism. There is a dire need to deny spaces to these elements so that we can break the supply chain of militancy.

Civil Service

The history of civil service is also very significant in the sphere of governance. According to him the modern management practices with checks and balances can improve efficiency and effectiveness of the state apparatus.

Read more: Politicization of Civil Services in Pakistan

Civil-military ties and judiciary

Husain gives importance for institutions to stay in their respective bounds. He does not subscribe to the practice of seeking the military’s assistance on different matters at the drop of a hat.

Karachi presents a vivid example of this phenomenon where dependence on the Rangers has now become a systemic necessity. This leads to failure of civil administration and the propaganda against the military to politicize the institution.

What needs to be done?

Husain has subscribed to the boost in economic and social sectors. He has largely emphasized on merit-based recruitment system to gain transparency, the devolution of power and a need for consistency in policymaking. The need of good governance and lack of it is the main trouble for the state.

According to the author, the geo-economic location and the youth bulge of Pakistan are its biggest strength. This potential now needs to be harnessed. All we need is balanced governance, right decisions and loyal rulers. The book is a crucial addition to the canon on Pakistan’s economy, politics and governance. The book lacks a proper reformatory system towards good governance, but it can serve many policy-makers and elites to shape the fate of the country by their wise moves and honest decisions.

The writer is a psychologist and analytical writer. She can be reached at

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