By Arshad Abbasi
Quality of government depends on the quality of servants at its disposal rightly said by an expert on the subject. In Pakistan, there are areas which have seen no or very little trace of governance. Some of them are entirely outside the jurisdiction of government be it central or provincial one. And few are those which experience partial government presence and oversight.
The natural corollary of this state of affairs is that these parts of the country are left on their own. At best they have informal social governing and guiding structures which regulate life accordingly. Jirga and Panchayat stand out in this regard. But these informal institutions lack the resources to fill the gap left open by the absence of governance. They can mediate in disputes and crises resulting from tribal vendettas and other feuds. But provision and regulation of basic and long term infrastructure development encompassing literacy, employment, health facilities and other basics of life fall beyond their capacity.
Population pressure and frustratingly disappointing conditions have eroded these social institutions over a period of time. It is on this account that sometimes these informal mechanisms deliver injustice to the victim and let the victimizer go scot free.
Neglected parts of Pakistan are the outcome of negligence by the governments of the day. The overarching bureaucratic machinery is concentrated around major towns and cities thus depriving the small districts and their outskirts of the basic functions of the state.
In the absence of formal governance, these areas are left to feed on the crumbs hanging on as a tail end to the state. The result of this neglect on the part of the state is that such spaces in South Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan are suffering from abject poverty, illiteracy, gender discrimination, law-in-order crisis, poor hygiene, feudal exploitation, poor health facilities and excesses against minorities.
The situation has taken such a turn that when government attempts to stamp its writ on these parts of the country, there is resistance from local influentials who are the beneficiaries of the absence of governing institutions. Consequently, there is an unstated and informal understanding between these local bigwigs and government to let things remain as they are.
When a responsible and conscientious government official responding to the call of his conscience tries to set things in order in these areas he has to face local resistance coupled with a lack of support from the echelons of government. Aware of prevailing conditions in these poverty-ridden far-flung districts the officers belonging to Pakistan Administrative Service-PAS Police Service of Pakistan-PSP, Inland Revenue Service-IRS to be in particular and, other departments in general, avoid placement here.
They know that if they go by the book in fulfilling their duties, then they will be in a catch twenty-two situation. On one hand, they will end up causing anger in the local power-wielders and on the other hand they would be left defenseless by the state authorities. So the best course of action for them is to live comfortable lives in the metropolitan areas and their vicinities.
These officers have no safety valve in times of trouble so they have to survive on their own. When they have to serve in these places, in the first place they try to cut short their stint. In any case, if they stay, then they have to reach a working understanding with the key members of community including politicians
So in this manner status quo continues and the suffering of the common people of the under-developed parts becomes their fate. They resign to this fate hence government without governance goes on.
Civil servants have been given incentives and there are even some compulsions to serve in the stations which lag behind the rest of the country. For PAS officers it has been mandatory to serve at least for three years in what is termed “hard areas” for promotion to grade 19.
There are monetary incentives to the police service officers serving at these places. But these incentives need to be backed up with resources at the disposal of these state functionaries.
Here again the role of government is critical as the mere appointment of officials without vesting them with the adequate resources will do little good. They are given power in good measure but the judicious exercise of power requires tactful enforcement which is in short measure.
Pakistan has incurred a heavy responsibility in partnership with China to take CPEC to the successful conclusion. The bulk of CPEC passes through these peripheral belts of Pakistan where governance crisis is at its worst.
Therefore, governance in these places is not only a domestic issue; rather it is now a regional concern. That is why China is keenly following developments in Pakistan in this regard. Chinese Foreign Ministry has officially backed Operation Radd ul Fasaad recently launched in the whole country demonstrating a keen interest in governance issues of Pakistan.
If Pakistan has to prosper in a holistic manner, then government and governance have to go hand in hand to remove the widening gap between the poor and relatively well-off parts of the country.