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Public Institutions And Individual Power: 1990s
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, October 10, 2002


At the end of the Zia regime a new triumvirate of power emerged that came to be known as the "Troika". This was an essentially informal arrangement of power sharing in the actual as opposed to formal conduct of governance, between the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff. The democratic dispensation was granted by the army not under pressure of a popular movement, but the death of Zia ul Haq. Consequently the Prime Minister would have been given a relatively weak position within the power structure in any case. Ms. Benazir Bhutto elected Prime Minister in 1990, was weakened further by the fact that she did not have an absolute majority in the Parliament. Her freedom vis a vis President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the Army Chief, General Aslam Baig, was even less than that implied by the formal structures of governance. Benazir Bhutto came to a tacit agreement to be guided by Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Aslam Baig in some of the key areas of government policy.

A fundamental feature of the "Troika" was that precisely because the power sharing arrangement was informal, the contention for increasing the relative share of power by each protagonist was inherent to its functioning: without precisely specified domains of decision making, or even the confidence that each protagonist would pursue a shared perception of "National Interest", periodic breakdown of the arrangement amongst a given set of members was a predictable feature. This is in fact what happened, so that between 1988 to 1999 an elected Prime Minister was dismissed on four occasions, three Presidents were changed and one Chief of Army Staff (General Jehangir Karamet) was pressurized into resignation. A second army chief (General Pervez Musharraf) faced dismissal following a desperate but abortive conspiracy by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to enhance his power vis a vis the army by dividing it from within. This was the final act in the dramatic conflict within the informal "Troika", that brought the curtain down on the formal democratic structure itself: General Musharraf took over power through a coup d'etat on 12th October 1999.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif together with his band of loyal friends, soon after assuming office began to manipulate some of the major institutions of state and civil society for personal power, with an ardor unrestrained by any compunction of propriety or the law. He was driven by a sense of insecurity that his continuing failure to revive the economy and contain sectarian strife, could trigger pressures from within the state structure or from the political system that could destabilize his regime. A systematic attempt was made to undermine and control institutions such as the Presidency, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the Press and (in the end) the Army, in order to lay the basis of authoritarian power within the democratic structure.

In the case of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto the corruption was conducted in collaboration with her husband and a close coterie of politicians, bureaucrats and bankers. They siphoned off large amounts of funds from public sector banks, insurance companies and investment institutions such as the National Investment Trust (NIT) and the Investment Corporation of Pakistan (ICP). The evidence was found in the non-performing loans which the state controlled financial institutions were forced to give to the friends of the regime, in most cases without collateral. During the Bhutto period the NIT and ICP were forced to lend to patently unviable projects which were then quickly liquidated. The purpose of such lending apparently was not to initiate projects but to transfer state resources into private hands. Shahid Javed Burki cites the case of an oil refinery in Karachi and a cement plant in Chakwal as examples of infeasible projects funded by the NIT on the instructions of the Prime Minister's secretariat, and both projects declaring bankruptcy.

According to an estimate by Hafiz Pasha and S.J. Burki, the cost of such corruption to the banking sector alone was 10 to 15 percent of the GDP in 1996-97. They have estimated that the overall cost to the country of corruption at the highest level of government, during the second tenure of the Bhutto government, was 20% to 25% of the GDP in 1996-97, or approximately US $ 15 billion. Their estimate includes the losses incurred due to corruption in public sector corporations such as the Pakistan International Airlines, Sui Northern Gas, Pakistan State Oil, Pakistan Steel, Heavy Mechanical Complex, the Water and Power Development Authority, and the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation. The losses of these public sector corporations had to be borne by the government and constituted a significant element in the growing budget deficits.

The regime of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif like the earlier regime of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had a rare opportunity to strengthen democracy in Pakistan and improve the economic conditions of the people.

Tragically in both cases, the leaders sought to pursue personal power and wealth instead of building institutions and empowering the people.

Socrates in his dialogue with Glaucon suggests that the political system would decline when it is ruled by an individual who is dominated by a craving for wealth and authority for himself. Socrates concludes by asking about such a ruler:

"……… is it true to say that he was a pseudo-ruler, and that in reality he didn't rule over the community or serve it in any capacity, but merely consumed whatever he could lay his hands on?"

The truth of Socrates' logical formulation made in 399 B.C., echoes through Pakistan's history in the 1990s. Both the democratically elected leaders were driven by a craving for wealth and power into self serving actions that brought the State and economy to the verge of collapse. The nation is now placed in the ironic position of expecting a military government to reconstruct a "restructured" democratic edifice on the site of its ruins.

In this series of articles we have seen how the military regimes of Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq laid the structural basis for the deterioration in both the polity and economy of Pakistan. We have also seen that the democratically elected regimes in various periods not only sought authoritarian forms of power within formally democratic structures, but also accelerated the process of economic decline. The national crisis therefore is located as much in the deterioration of institutions and the economy, as it is in the failure of individual leaders to pursue public interest rather than their own.

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