Noman Akhter

The key to progress in this day and age is education. The former Prime Minister of United Kingdom Mr.Tony Blair was once asked what were the top three priorities of his government. He instantly replied “education, education, and education”. In this day and age countries with strong knowledge economies have surged forward on the basis of  innovations and entrepreneurship. The real global competition is an economic one — in the field of high tech products, ranging from pharmaceuticals to engineering goods, from biomedical devices to laptop computers, from sophisticated defense equipment to automobiles and aircraft, from software to solar cells. To be leading in this race of socio-economic development the four key pillars are(1) education, (2) science & technology, (3)  innovation & entrepreneurship and (4) good governance requiring an eminent, honest leadership.

Pakistan was created in 1947 after hundreds of thousands sacrificed their lives for a separate homeland, free from oppression. Today, 66 years later, we find that we are sinking fast due to massive corruption at the highest levels, defiance of the Supreme Court, feudal strangle hold over governance systems and rampant illiteracy that breeds poverty, intolerance and terrorism. The Federal and Provincial Parliaments have a large number of Parliamentarians with forged degrees — some 300 at least, and the Supreme Court has failed to evict them from these bodies in spite of its initial decisions directing the Election Commission to identify and act against such fraudsters.

Our aspirations to rid of ourselves of poverty and hunger remain an illusion largely because of two closely inter-connected factors — feudalism and illiteracy. A feudal dominated Parliament just cannot support education as it threatens the very existence of the feudal system. Pakistan is the only country in the world today where the feudal system has survived in its present form. It was abolished through land reforms in India by Jawaharlal Nehru soon after partition, and also in Bangladesh soon after it came into existence after breaking off from Pakistan. This laid the foundations of genuine democratic systems to be established and to evolve. In Pakistan the feudal dominated parliaments refused to take any such actions or to frame laws against their interests so that true democratic systems could not be established. This has had a devastating impact on the state of education in Pakistan and consequently on socio-economic development. Pakistan today is ranked among the bottom 7 countries of the world with an expenditure of 1.7% of its GDP on education. The lack of education and skills have led to massive unemployment and increasing frustrations and bitterness. With some 90 million below the age of 19, about 56% of our population is in this sizeable “demographic bulge” , a huge opportunity for development through their empowerment is being lost.

The repeated failure of the present democratic system has often been attributed to military interventions. It is claimed that democracy was never given a proper chance to “evolve”. In fact the military was forced to repeatedly intervene to stop the loot and plunder that became the norm each time the ‘feudal dominated democracy’ (“feudocracy” — a term coined by me to describe the prevailing demonic version of democracy found in Pakistan) was allowed to function. A clear break from the present  is needed . The salient features of such a system are presented here.

(1) Pakistan should establish a Presidential system of democracy so that the people have the opportunity to elect one person who they consider has the needed qualities of integrity, competence and leadership to lead the nation. That person should then choose his team of Cabinet Ministers and Government secretaries from the best technocrats that are available with the necessary skill sets. (2) A “Judicial Council of Elders” should be established from retired judges of the Supreme and High Courts which should be self-sustaining and elect any replacements without government involvement. This Council of Elders should be responsible for carefully screening and approving all persons who have been nominated to be elected to the post of the President of Pakistan as well as to the Parliament, Senate and heads of major public organisations. The approval should only be given to persons with spotless character, outstanding capabilities and a track record of excellence and outstanding accomplishments. (3) The role of the Parliament should be confined to law making and oversight. To be able to make laws the Parliamentarians and Senators should have the needed education background and competence. These should be defined and only those persons with the requisite competence be elected into the Parliament. (4) All  public sector organisations (PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan Railways, WAPDA, PTCL etc.) should have eminent governing boards ( approved after screening by Judicial Council of Elders). They should NOT be appointed by the government. Their heads should be internally elected. (5) It should be made mandatory to invest at least 7% of GDP in education through necessary constitutional changes. (6) To curb corruption the heads and senior persons in NAB, FIA and other anti-corruption agencies should be appointed by the Judicial Council of Elders and not by the government. (7) Major reforms in the judicial system and appointment of thousands of additional judges so that justice could be delivered with a mandatory deadline of 3 months.

Now comes the million dollar question. Who will bring in such reforms? Obviously the feudal dominated Parliament would not want to amend the constitution in this manner as it would undermine strong vested interests. The change in constitution to bring in a different Presidential form of democracy will therefore need to be done by an interim technocrat government with the blessings of the judiciary and the military. It is hoped that within the political parties there would be some visionary persons with national interests at heart who will be able to support such a constitutional change, in spite of the strong opposition expected from many of their feudal colleagues.  

We do not need to look far to see the ongoing transformation of many Asian countries into economic giants. Lee Kwan Yew took charge as Prime Minister of Singapore in June 1959, and within three decades Singapore became an economic giant. It has a population of only five million but a GDP of about $ 250 billion, much greater than that of Pakistan which has a population of 180 billion. A similar situation is seen in Malaysia. Due to the visionary policies of Mahathir Mohammed, Malaysia today contributes 86.5% of all high tech exports from the Islamic world and its GDP has jumped from only $ 26 billion in 1980 to about $300 billion! General Park Chung-hee was the architect of the Korean economy. From a poor country with a per capita income of only US$ 72 in 1961, Korea today is an economic giant with the per capita income at a stunning $30,200 and a GDP of above $1.2 trillion.

We too can do it. However some visionary leaders, the Supreme Court and the military must come together before it is too late so that Pakistan too can rise from its ashes and establish a new Presidential form of democracy as outlined above.

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The author is former Federal Minister of Science & Technology and former Chairman Higher Education Commission

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