Pakistan’s Governance and Security Challenges

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By Muhammad Waqar Anwar

In the present-day world, security has become increasingly important to define the interests of the state. The definition of security has broadened and has crossed the limits of the bifurcation of traditional and non-traditional security. Nowadays social, economic, environmental, and institutional security is very much a part of the security architecture of states in the global community.

The onslaught of COVID-19 and the emergence of populist tendencies across the globe have generated new debates around security. The COVID-19 pandemic altogether changed the global security landscape, with even the developed states struggling to tackle this new threat, their health system being in shambles.

Against this backdrop, developing countries are facing new kinds of challenges, related to good governance, human development, health, poverty; socioeconomic, environmental, institutional security, and so on. Pakistan being a developing country is no exception, and is facing a multitude of challenges. The country is bearing the brunt of climate change, in the form of the recent floods resulting in loss of life, destruction of agricultural lands, pandemics, along with loss of infrastructure and property.

The floods have exposed the governance loopholes in the system, and the international community is seemingly reluctant to give aid to the government institutions, due to the track record of the utilization of development funds, speaking volumes about the weak governance and institutional structure in the country.

However, the challenges the country is facing right not unique, as is the case with most of the colonized countries. The countries getting independence from the British were not able to get themselves out completely of the clutches of colonization, due to various reasons. They were unable to develop their system of governance, laws, education system, bureaucracy, and so on.

 The same is the case with Pakistan; after the colonial period was over the country wasn’t able to stand on its own feet, except for the initial few years of good performance in various sectors and good governance. The democratic set received a huge blow just a few years after the independence with the military taking controlling the reigns. Despite all of this the economic indicators were quite well till the 1970s and 1980s.

At that time articles and analyses published in the leading dailies as the Washington Post and New York Times painted Pakistan’s economic development as one of the fastest in the Asian region. However, this was not to stay for long, with the changing geopolitical environment, the onslaught of the Afghan war due to the Soviet invasion, and so on. Pakistan was left in the abyss, after the conclusion of the war to quote Hillary Clinton, and the repercussion was not so good for the country, with increasing insecurity in the form of terrorist incidents and economic downturn. The attack on the twin towers and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan opened a new Pandora’s Box, with not-so-rosy implications for the body politic. Economic impacts notwithstanding, Pakistan had to pay a huge price for the so-called war on terror, with a loss of 70,000 lives including both civilian and military personnel.

Geopolitical and geostrategic events and their repercussions notwithstanding, Pakistan is also facing internal governance and democratic crisis, with detrimental impacts on the economic growth of the country. The economic and political indicators do not present a rosy picture. Bad governance, corruption, political rivalries, and malpractices in the economic domain have brought the country to the brink of disaster.

The bureaucratic system still follows the recruitment structure of the British imperial era, with a handful of civil servants selected after a rigorous examination process, without necessarily having the background education and skills where they have to serve. The competitive examination is a replica of the Indian Administrative Services exam held during the British raj in England, for recruiting bureaucrats. Along the same lines, the judicial and legal system of the country also is designed on the colonial era legal system, with a major chunk of laws coming from British Indian law. Pertinent to mention is the police act formulated in the 1860s and 70s.

The governance and security crisis, as evident from the above discussion appears to be self-made, and the remedy also lies with the ruling and governance elite. Instead of regretting past mistakes, studies have to be conducted to learn from them and move forward and in this case, think tanks can play an important role.

As the saying goes, ‘history is not a place of residence but of reference; hence there needs to be a sincere effort to learn from it. A governance crisis can be resolved only through dialogue and understanding the narratives and discourses of various communities within the country, and this model can be expanded by substantial research in the policy domain.

The governance system of Islam also needs to be studied and incorporated into the overall governance structure of the country through research and for this purpose, a group of experts can be assigned responsibility. It is only when the interests of the society and state are on the same page; the country can get out of the present governance and security crisis, and prove to be a role model for other developing countries.  

Muhammad Waqar Anwar is a recent graduate in Defence and Security Studies from Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.