Governance and equitable distribution of resources

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals

Dated

October 10, 2022

M Ali Siddiqi talks about a long-standing dilemma

One of the basic flaws in Pakistani governance system is pertains to the lack of equitable distributive mechanism of resources prevailing in the country. The matters of distribution within a state are of primary importance as in the ultimate analysis they decide the governance patters. The causes of this lacuna could be many but the most substantial could be the utter lack of proper orientation of governance orientation of the political class that inherited Pakistan as an independent country in 1947. The predominantly aristocratic Muslim League elite, dependent on large Muslim landholders in Punjab opposed to any economic redistribution not only failed to forge an alliance but also fell short of delivering on the promises of economic redistribution it made to Bengali peasant cultivators on whom it was equally dependent. This was an obviously unstable alliance because the interests of these two groups were antithetical to one another.

To the dominant ruling class in Pakistan it was lost that that the rise of the nation-state was due to the realisation that governance, as the primary distributive system, uniquely encompassing all aspects of human existence, cannot function without political parties because only they possess the capacity to channelise distribution of collective resources of a nation state. It is because of political parties that states became nation states. It was therefore natural that organized political parties transform themselves into vehicles of political power. With the passage of time their all pervasive presence has placed them at the top of institutional pyramid in a nation state. They are temperamentally different than any other congregational platform owing to their unique claim to pragmatism in a polity.

In this context it was widely accepted that that political parties and their organizations were more important in explaining democratic outcomes than the levels of per capita income of a country or the extent of inequality or a resource constraint because they preside over distributive mechanism. It is also becoming obvious that the relationship between class alliances and their link to political parties may well hold true in most countries. It is now quite manifest that stable class alliances in association with strong political understanding are pre-requisites to sustainable democratic process. This was and is an area of operations that has remained fatally weak in context of Pakistan and has caused tremendous harm to the country. Most of the times this aspect has been suppressed by military regimes to exercise their arbitrary power but otherwise it has been the lack of collective political will that has prevented the political parties to devise a sustained national narrative.

In this connection it is worthwhile to refer to the contemporary analysis delineating causes responsible for sustaining democratic governance in India and its failure in Pakistan. The differing trajectories of development in India and Pakistan were usually explained as the result of differential colonial inheritance, economic growth or income inequality, varying religious and ethnic factors and even international influences. But their empirical bases and explanatory efficacy are weak because the kinds of social classes leading each country’s independence movement and the strength of the dominant political party at independence were the most important causes of India’s and Pakistan’s divergent democratic trajectories.
It was the existence of stable class alliances and link with a strong political party that explains why India democratized while Pakistan did not. The class interests dominating each country’s independence movement critically impacted its post-independence regime type. These different social classes created political parties which varied in their strengths and this strength was the most important explanation for each country’s regime stability upon independence. Resultantly in

India the urban middle class made an alliance with the dominant peasantry, India’s rural middle class.
The crucial failure of Pakistani political class was exploited by military rulers who conveniently netted in corporate interests as well as land owning classes thereby depriving civilian political forces of the tools of resource distribution. Bereft of this essential ingredient of governance, political forces were easily marginalised and left with no recourse but to play second fiddle to military regimes or to agitate against them. In the process the military establishment carved out a corporate identity obtaining a powerful economic base to operate from.

Viewed in this backdrop the resurgence of democratic political activity in Pakistan saw middle-of-the-road political parties emerged as a dominant political force willing to accommodate the converging interests of the land owning elements and urban middle class that provided sustenance to its electoral appeal. Despite political engineering of military regimes altering the inherent representative landscape of Pakistan and shrouded by militaralistic perceptions of the polity. Such parties took root as dominant national political presence. These political elements contained a family brand that is the hallmark of organisational control in South Asian politics with its emphasis on well-knit close fraternal connections suited indigenous social gravitational practices. Moreover it provided for connection between politics and society through the intercession of family system so revered in South Asian societies.

The current political dispensation was pushed to challenge the established political parties and by implication the familial hold underpinning distributive mechanism inherent in political party’s raison d’être. This challenge is peripheral in essence because it cannot avoid compulsions of distributive mechanism as has been evident in PTI performance recorded up to now. By uprooting the political elements that were gradually maturing in their roles, the political spectrum has just removed the familial hold but the reality of political party as a distributive mechanism still holds ground. The earlier Pakistani political class realises the importance of this mechanism the better otherwise it will be cornered by fissiparous forces already challenging it. It can however be observed that the resistance against such political forces is taking long to dissipate but it may ultimately have to give in to the pulls of evolution.

It appears that the political elements in the country have realised the harms hidden in not keeping a united front as such divisions are easily and conveniently exploited by the arbitrary forces. The quiet unity shown during the last few months has clearly unnerved the arbitrary forces and they have lost their ability to create fissures in political ranks. The unity in ranks of the political elements is also bringing some rudimentary form of equitable distribution of resources as emerged out of the help rendered to the flood affectees that, though, far from being ideal, was partly able to alleviate their difficulties. It is becoming clear by the day that the distributive mechanism of resources is gradually coming into national focus and criticism about its haphazard handling is mounting.

The criticism is coming from all segments of national polity and it has become almost impossible to avoid its impact and ignore it further. Though it is not easy to suddenly bring equity into the long-manipulated distributive network as any effort to do so would face tremendous resistance yet delaying such efforts would be greatly harmful to national integration and the welfare of the people. Pakistan has again been brought to focus owing to the massive floods it faced with international community coming to its help, though rather half-heartedly, but the issue of equitable distribution would come into focus in this respect. TW

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