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“Governance” has become a hot topic in Pakistan, and many people consider it the magic cure for all ills. This raises the question: What is governance and how can one measure it?

The World Bank says “good governance means good government. The concept is related to the quality of the relationship between government and the citizens whom it exists to serve and protect.”

According to former Indian Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, who is famous for witty and blunt remarks, there is only one indicator of good governance: “If the standard of living of common people is rising, the governance is good; all else is fraud and burglary.”

Social injustice in Pakistan is increasing. Government educational institutions have collapsed, and private schools and colleges are beyond the reach of commoners. Hence, the route to power positions for low-income groups has been totally blocked.

There is widespread illiteracy, poor healthcare, unemployment and poverty. It is a vicious circle; one evil produces another and new trouble aggravates and worsens the first one. In Pakistan, the literacy rate stands at 58%, and it is sad to note that 22.6 million children are not in school. It is absolutely impossible for such people to break the cycle of poverty without the external help of the state, and the state is failing to help them.

As the World Bank stated, it is clear that good governance will be achieved through institutions that serve the people with merit and justice. And therefore, these institutions need to be built, supported and made stronger than individuals.

It is clear that good governance will be achieved through institutions that serve the people with merit and justice. And therefore, these institutions need to be built, supported and made stronger than individuals

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, little effort has been made to build institutions on a strong and stable footing. Since independence, individuals have taken precedence over institutions. Ad-hocism and improvisation were preferred over long-term policies. The military also ventured many times into politics and provided some temporary relief during constitutional standstills and deadlocks, but none attempted to build efficient institutions to serve the people on a long-term basis.

Mian Saqib Nisar, the chief justice of Pakistan, is also agitated over the current state of governance. He is making sincere efforts to change the style of governance. However, he is a lone actor who does not have full institutional support. The Pakistani courts continue to be understaffed and ill-reputed. To fix the problems of Pakistan, a coherent and thoughtful strategy is needed.

Pakistan faces numerous problems but to me, the crisis of good governance is at the top of the list. Weak institutions, lack of accountability and rampant corruption create political instability, frustration and a poor law-and-order situation. The poor quality of education and unemployment – interconnected evils – have damaged society over many decades. Consequently, about 29% of the people in Pakistan live below the poverty line.

Merit is essential for good governance, but in Pakistan, merit is the lowest priority. Nepotism is the order of the day. Misuse of entrusted power for private benefit is corruption. However, employing one’s own relatives in key appointments is blatant corruption.

Pakistan’s health sector needs to be fixed. Inadequate and/or completely absent medical facilities in remote areas coupled with fake drugs is a dreadful situation. The infant mortality rate is too high; 60 per thousand births. According to the Pakistan Medical Association, in 2012, the average male age in the country was only 45 years. That is probably because we are underfunding the health sector, Rs665   ($5.80) per person in FY 2016-17.

Many people in the world are unhappy in regard to the role of media in the provision of unbiased news. However,  in Pakistan, the media’s performance is very poor. It is serving the corrupt elites, diverting the attention of the masses from the real issues to non-issues. Many media houses have sold their prime time to foreign propagandists. They continuously create a negative worldview of Pakistan and bring Pakistani society into disrepute for easy money.

Good civil-military relations are a core interest of Pakistan. Well-organized and internally democratic political parties are an asset of Pakistan, and these must be valued and treasured. However, Pakistani politicians should also realize that the actual challenge is not to bridle the military. Rather, it is to reach out to the masses through good governance. The more good governance takes root, the less demand there will be for the military to play a role in public affairs.

More than half of the population of the country comprises young people below 25 years of age. Pakistan stands at a crossroads; 10 years down the line, it will either be enjoying the fruits of a youth dividend or suffering at the hands of a youth bulge. Pakistani youth are being exploited because of poor governance and lack of justice in society.

Jobless young men are a prime target of the militant gangsters (both foreign and locals) for their wicked purposes. Pakistan has lost more than 50,000 lives and the economy has seen more than US$118 billion in losses due – directly and indirectly – to the “war on terror” over the last 10 years.

Pakistan’s bureaucracy is not benefiting from modern technology in service of people. Instead of modernizing processes, the bureaucracy benefits from the cumbersome processes that earn them discretionary powers and some easy money.

We urgently need a smart and reliable system of information collection and sharing for transparency and timely decision-making, which is the need of any country in the 21st century.

The bureaucratic-political nexus in Pakistan has badly affected the quality of governance. The chief justice of Pakistan should direct legislation and the formulation of procedures to keep the bureaucracy apolitical and government institutions autonomous and independent.

Atta Rasool Malik hails from the semi-tribal areas of Pakistan. He holds an MPhil degree in International Relations from the National Defence University in Islamabad. Apart from horseback riding, his interests include reading and writing about the security of South Asia and the Middle East.

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