Elements of instability By Dr Akmal Hussain

During the third round of the US Presidential debate a fortnight ago, Republican candidate Mitt Romney made a remark about Pakistan, with which not only President Barack Obama, but most governments in the world would concur
: encouraging Pakistan to move towards “a more stable government”. This is also an aim to which the government and people of Pakistan would aspire. The question is what is the nature of the current instability? In this context, what are the imperatives of achieving some semblance of stability?
There are five forms of instability that are now feeding off one another to push Pakistan into the vortex of a gathering storm. First, extremist militant organisations have acquired the ideological influence and military capability to threaten not only Pakistan’s fledgling democracy but the existence of the state itself.
Second, the financial fragility of the economy is symptomatic of key structural constraints to achieving a sustained, high GDP growth: a low domestic savings rate and failure to achieve export diversification that could enable growth of export earnings sufficient to finance the import requirements of a high GDP growth path. These structural problems lead to an unstable GDP growth; they induce continued aid dependence, recurrent balance of payments pressures and a serious lack of fiscal space.
At a more fundamental level, Pakistan’s poor economic performance is rooted in a rent-based institutional framework, which prevents both, a sustained as well as an equitable economic growth process. Consequently, there is persistent mass poverty and high levels of unemployment in a rapidly growing and young labour force. At the same time, the fiscal pressures and governance weaknesses render the government incapable of providing adequate electricity or the provision of the minimum basic services necessary for civilised human existence to a large proportion of the population. These deprivations, combined with widespread corruption and the endemic inequality of incomes, assets and economic opportunities, creates growing resentment amongst large sections of the population. The failure of the government to address these issues — and instead the proclivity for providing an opulent lifestyle for the upper crust of the state apparatus — fuels extremism.
Third, the military has historically played an important role in foreign policy, security policy, public sector resource allocation and has even influenced the political process as the recent Asghar Khan case disclosures have shown. This is divergent from the Constitution, which stipulates the subordination of the military to elected civilian authority. The predominance of the military in the actual practice of the government has been a major factor in instability, with recurrent coup d’etats and a constant nurturing of extremist groups as ‘strategic assets’ in the pursuit of national security.
Fourth, there are growing regional inequalities and the tendency to respond to the consequent political expression of grievances in the backward regions, with military force. This tends to place pressures on the federal structure and leads to the rise of regional nationalisms such as in Balochistan.
Fifth, there is a tendency in the elements of the state, as well as society, to use self-serving fantasies and conspiracy theories in assessing the domestic and international situation. There is lack of an objective evaluation of where national power is to be projected; the place of Pakistan in the world; the fragility of the economy; the magnitude of the threat posed by the extremists and the dangers of ambivalence towards them.
The path to stability involves understanding each of these five forms of instability and their dynamics in the domestic and international arenas. Achieving stability will require building a combination of forces in the social, political and state spheres that can seriously address the challenges that confront Pakistan.


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