Altering governance



May 3, 2023

Altering Governance

M Ali Siddiqi dwells upon an important matter

Altering Governance – Governance is a dynamic process and has strong tendency to mutate and evolve. It cannot be exercised in a straight line as its multiple shades require quick adjustments and require creating space for emerging situations that are often rated as untenable. Analysts and experts keep on defining the process of governance through different dimensions and present models of it that very soon become outcome mirroring the uncertainties hidden in the governance process. This point is specifically emphasised because Pakistan has now entered a phase in governance that is almost make-or-break moment and all eyes are fixed on the country’s governance process as it is coming on to a collision point and may have to face a dangerous breakdown of the entire governance structure. Though the dimensions of governance could easily produce a functionalist analysis of the roles of government in governance with all that entails in terms of static modeling but they cannot satisfactorily address the grey areas inherent in the process. In case of Pakistan it is earnestly anticipated that how the coalition government is going to resolve the current issues in a governance perspective that may ultimately yield a highly dynamic account of the role of the state since the core assumption in governance theory is that collective objectives are pursued in a variety of different concerted and collaborative process between state and society.

The political imbroglio that has badly dented the governance in Pakistan explicitly brings to fore the importance of political action and the degree to which political actors and institutions shape the governance process and ultimately determine much of how specific governance arrangements relate to the dimensions of governance. This distinction is always required to be kept in mind as governance is never static and its movement is extremely fluid. It is never easy to determine the causal factors driving motions of governance as they are the result of multiple urges and demands present in a societal setup and are required to be interpreted and analysed separately. This reality has resulted in a clash of elements actively engaged in the governance process in Pakistan testifying to the fact that their respective backgrounds and varied ambitions are required to be aligned as early as possible to avoid further complications.

It must also be borne in mind that keeping in view the leading role of the state in governance it is expected that its institutions enjoy a high degree of autonomy in relationship to societal actors and interests. Since those institutions have very little collaborative interaction with societal actors, there is little incentive for them to make concessions on policy. Taking the case of Pakistan it is very obvious that given the centrality of the state and its insistence on taking a solo flight with respect to policy implementation and service delivery, government institutions insist on having the administrative and financial resources required to play those roles though the current financial crunch experienced by the state of Pakistan it has become a problem to allocate sufficient funds. Another issue with this kind of governance is that during its course of operations it is likely to display a priority for national interests over local autonomy and this approach may not have the approval of the smaller units of the country. This dichotomy of interests is apparently at the root of the national conflict that is becoming difficult to resolve by the day.

The kind of state-centric governance practiced in Pakistan tries to hold on to the strictest notions of strong central government but in the process what has been witnessed is weak and fragmented provincial and local government systems. This is obviously a feature identified with state-centric governance as it stipulates that state-centric societies do not develop strong subnational government as that could create or exacerbate central–local conflict. State-centric governance easily translates into strong regulation of economy but most of the regulatory provisions are frequently ignored as the elites operating in the system are stronger than the state institutions. Moreover, such states have a path-dependent political and administrative behaviour according to which they rarely yield to the interests of societal actors. It is often viewed that in such states particularly Pakistan, the state apparatus define its interests and objectives and implements whatever regulation is required toward those ends. All these features of state-centric governance— strong, insulated institutions, central government control and tight regulation of fiscal and monetary policies become reflective of society as much as of the state but is sadly not consensual in nature and apt to be flouted by independent segments of the country.

It is very difficult to think of a democratic state ascending to such societal predominance without the consent and indeed expectation from society and this fact is now coming to haunt Pakistani governance system. It is acknowledged that while this is a governance system that may appear to be highly obtrusive and insensitive to societal actors but its perpetrators insist that coercive policy instruments are necessary for the state to control society but the difficulty is that societal actors anticipate the preferences of government and devise methods aimed at avoiding and adjusting to them in equal measure. Although national interests as defined by the state-centric governance structure have remained paramount through the history of Pakistan but they have been often sidelined by geostrategic exigencies. It is also noticed that in Pakistani governance makeup, central–local relationships have been predominantly hierarchical and the relationship between central and subnational government has been replete with ideological conflict.

It has become obvious that the paradox of state-centric governance is that although the state has all the instruments and resources necessary to impose a strict regime on society, it rarely succeeds in getting its way as societal actors hardly submit to more subtle forms of governing. Society expects the state to play a leading role in governance but when this not materialised then it becomes clear that despite more formal power bases that a state controls such forces remain ineffective. Pakistani governance system has employed in the country has proved that the though the state apparently remains strong but the sources of that strength have radically altered. The Pakistani governance system tried to legitimise its governance and prescribed long-term policy goals, defined overarching policy choices that continued to shape public policy for decades but their hollowness ultimately came home to roost.

This rather self-referential modus operandi known to be in vogue in Pakistan have already proved to be a significant problem in times of rapid external change such as when globalisation caught momentum, opening up society to new political, financial and cultural influences. These changes wrong-footed the governance apparatus with the result that a collision course is now staring the country having less chances of resolving them easily. What is urgently required to change course of governance giving way to system that enjoys extensive capabilities to impose its will on society but rarely has to use that leverage, instead relying on consensual methods. In this governance method the state has some political and institutional capabilities but the exercise of those power bases are open to more competition and institutes a good level of institutional autonomy and an institutional capacity that is more contextualised than in the previous model. The Weekender

M Ali Siddiqi is a writer who contributes to leading


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