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What is the cause of sustained scientific, technological and innovative development in the West? What makes the West so advanced socially and economically, and better from the rest of the world? Why Western societies are politically stable enough to ensure continuity of democratic regimes for the last many decades and even centuries? Why do disasters cause surprisingly low number of casualties in North American countries? How foreign policies of Western countries are designed that they are anticipatory enough to cater for the needs of decades to come? How did the US succeed to maintain its unchallengeable status of global power for seven decades? How did China transformed from an opium-addicted nation to a global economic giant within only four decades? What were the reasons when India and Bangladesh outpaced Pakistan in early 2000s in all economic and social indicators despite the fact that they were far below us in all annual GDP growth and human development indices during first four decades after partition and Fall of Dhaka? Why couldn’t we maintain the hard-earned annual GDP growth of six percent and above despite impressive economic performance up to the 1990s?

The most direct and straight answer to all these questions is: the institutions. Robust, dynamic, independent, de-politicized and responsive state institutions are the underlying factors that helped Europe, North America and China achieve a fast-paced growth and economic development. On the other hand, absence of such institutions is responsible for a plethora of social, economic and political challenges due to which countries like Pakistan are plunging into the abyss of stagnant economic growth and deteriorating social indicators.

Sociologically, an institution is an organized system of social relationships and embodies certain common values and procedures and meets certain basic needs of a given society. This definition dwells on two fundamental underpinnings: concept (notion, idea, doctrine and interests) and common procedure, that is, standardized behavioural patterns followed by a sociological group. Broadly speaking, there are five types of institutions: economic, religious, political, legal and recreational. Out of these, economic, political and legal institutions have a determinant role in increasing or decreasing the ability of a state in the areas of service-delivery, conflict-resolution, economic management, social advancement, law and order, rule of law, dispensation of justice and social integration. These institutions are vulnerable to state interference and, hence, demand continued inputs for better performance. Recreational and religious institutions, on the other hand, are somewhat resistant to deliberate reformative approach, and require internal, sustained and incessant informal efforts to be able to serve the needs of the people.

Institutional incapacities are causing heavy losses to the state and people of Pakistan. There are multiple factors that are responsible for long-festering institutional shortcomings. These include politicization of public-sector departments which has resulted into nepotism, favouritism and politically-biased and patronage-based service delivery; lack of continuity of democratic regimes and the bitter and grim legacy of military regimes that severely undermined the capability of civilian institutions to deliver; meagre revenue generation that has crippled the political and operational autonomy of these institutions leading them to dependency on budgetary allocations; and the criminal negligence on the part of the government to formulate well-thought-out reform package for public-sector institutions to enhance their capacity to enable them to tackle the challenges of the 21st-century and meet the aspirations of 207 million Pakistanis.

Currently, Pakistan is passing through the most tumultuous period of its history. We are facing unprecedented internal and external problems. The menace of climate change has further aggravated due to institutional mismanagement and has brought us to the brink of a water-scarcity-led disaster; the economy is crumbling under the burden of mounting debts, ever-widening deficits and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves; the hard-earned dividends from successful war on terror are at stake owing to increasing diplomatic isolation and non-acknowledgement of our huge sacrifices in the form of colossal losses in men and material – more than $120 billion and 70,000 lives; the infrastructure of basic amenities such as public health, education, transportation and information communication facilities is dilapidated and in dire need of restructuring; we are suffering from food, nutritional and energy insecurity that is causing profound economic, social and political consequences; the six parameters of good governance – government effectiveness, control of corruption, regulatory quality, political stability and absence of violence, ease of doing business and corruption perception – are being ranked constantly low in rankings maintained by the World Bank and other global institutions; not only are macroeconomic indicators suggesting the fragile health of the country’s economy, social indicators such as life expectancy, maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate, adult literacy, net enrolment ratio, access to clean drinking water, widespread endemic diseases and out-of-school children, too, are presenting picture of deteriorating potential of our human capital.

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About Aftab H. Wahla

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