Pakistan's crises of government

BAD MOVE? Teachers at a weapons training session in Peshawar on Tuesday. The authorities launched training sessions for teachers in the city after a Taleban attack killed at least 136 students last month.


    Jan 30, 2015

    Pakistan's crises of government

    THE federal government has been trying for weeks to convince the people that the central issue facing Pakistan is poor governance, but without offering any hope of redemption.


     The petrol crisis led to the government's indictment for somnolence, its incapacity to speak with one voice and its lack of expertise in crisis management. Then came another nationwide power failure. Both episodes exposed three serious weaknesses in the executive.

    First, there is a serious lack of communication between the ministries. It seems the Prime Minister's call for monthly reports by the ministries has been ignored or misunderstood. Perhaps the bureaucrats writing these reports recount only their achievements, when they should be focusing on problems they face and their plans to solve them. This way, they would profit from the Cabinet's collective wisdom.

    Had this been done, the government would have become aware of the problems faced by the cash-strapped Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and Petroleum Ministry much earlier than the appearance of queues at petrol pumps.

    In the case of the power failure, the explanation about attacks on transmission lines was meaningless. The transmission lines have been under attack for years. What everybody wanted to know was the strategy for reducing the impact of disruption of transmission lines.

    Second, the government's penchant for playing to the gallery is extremely irritating. Suspending public servants without an investigation used to be a tactic favoured by monarchs, and it does not behove an elected, responsible government to employ it.

    Third, the government's inability to collect its dues on time poses a threat to its orderly functioning. The circular debt in the energy sector is a permanent headache - PSO could not import oil because its clients had not cleared their bills, and electricity supply cannot be regularised because many privileged consumers do not pay their dues.

    No explanation can satisfy a common citizen - whose meter is disconnected if he does not pay his bills for two or three months - when he is told that government offices owe the electricity authorities billions of rupees.


    No less serious than the poor management of the energy crisis is the government's ham-fisted treatment of educational institutions' security needs. Some of the steps taken to make these institutions secure against terrorist attacks do not reveal maturity of thinking or even common sense.

    The schools have been told to raise their boundary walls and employ guards, and not to pass on the burden to students.

    Does anyone really believe in the adequacy of such simplistic answers to the threat from an enemy whose cunningness and ability to improvise are no secret?

    The question of whether the government can abdicate its duty to protect the lives of citizens or pass on its responsibility to them is quite serious and must be faced squarely. The idea that teachers (and students?) should be given arms is not only ridiculous, but dangerous as well.

    If the security forces cannot compete with terrorists in the acquisition of high-grade weapons, the people can hardly beat them off with small arms. Less resourceful parties are engaging incompetent and irresponsible guards, and there have already been accidents.

    Moreover, the government has overlooked the dangerous consequences of playing on the community's fears. That the attack on the Peshawar school should have alarmed teachers and parents is understandable but instead of frightening them further, the authorities should have tried to build their confidence in the government and the people's capacity to face all challenges.

    Now, little children see only the face of fear at home and at school, and pick up bits of conversation here and there that increase their fright and sense of insecurity. Of course it would be foolish to make the people, including children and their mothers, oblivious of the hard times we are facing, but complete reliance on the fear factor is equally bad.

    The extent to which the state is guilty of abdicating its duty can be gauged from the Punjab government's new ordinance for the protection of sensitive installations. This is supposed to be an "improvement" on the earlier law that obliged a few premises, such as banks and petrol pumps, to arrange for security according to official dictates.

    The list of sensitive installations has been vastly increased to include places of worship and other religious premises, government offices and offices of non-governmental organisations or foreign projects, hospitals, banks, money changers, financial institutions, companies, industrial units, educational institutions, public parks, private clinics, marriage halls, petrol pumps, compressed-natural-gas stations, jewellery shops, hotels and places of entertainment, commercial markets, shopping centres and public transport stands.

    The only sensitive places left out seem to be the secretariat, police lines and the residences of VIPs, which will continue to be guarded by the state.

    The owners of all the listed premises will be obliged to arrange for security at their own expense, in accordance with the orders of an official committee. Non-compliance could result in sealing of the property, trial and jail for up to six months.

    This amounts to making a mockery of governance.


    True, we are facing a grave situation, but we will not overcome it by losing our heads and the capacity for rational planning.

    The people should indeed shoulder some of the burden of security. But let this government-public partnership begin with joint surveys of the security needs of all institutions, especially schools that have no boundary walls and no money to hire guards, and the creation of police-citizen committees to organise comprehensive watch and ward.

    Halfway houses or immature exercises in the name of security will only increase the crises of governance.