Negligence, the biggest disaster in Pakistan

18 September 2014

As if the ongoing political crisis was not enough, we are in the middle of a natural disaster, once again. As before, the state appears to be woefully unprepared. More than 23 districts in Punjab, 10 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and five in Gilgit-Baltistan have been affected by the September rains killing more than 270 and affecting 2.4 million people. The federal government says that nearly 45,000 houses have been damaged and 1,544,653 acres of irrigated lands have been inundated thereby impacting livelihoods.

Taken by surprise, the federal and provincial governments are running around undertaking rescue work with plenty of photo-op sessions. The Pakistan Army remains the most resourceful arm of the government and has rescued thousands of stranded people. Once again, the detractors of democratic governance — many of whom are assembled on the streets of Islamabad — view this calamity as another sign of failed ‘fake democracy’.

If media reports are true then the current government, despite briefings, did not accord disaster risk reduction the priority it needed. If anything, the disturbing scenes of a submerged Lahore made a mockery of the Metro Bus glory that was achieved only a year ago. Without a local government, proper drainage and early warning systems, Lahore’s development meant nothing for all those who suffered in the rains. (more…)

Exodus from Pakistan’s troubled north presents risks, opportunities

27 June 2014

By Raza Rumi, Special to CNN



Pakistan’s much-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan was launched more than a week ago, and followed an attack on Karachi airport that left at least 36 people dead.

Due to the strategic calculations of the Pakistani state, North Waziristan has steadily fallen into the hands of motley militant networks, and has become a mountainous zone for the Pakistani Taliban to recruit, regroup and launch attacks against the country.

The Pakistani Army conducted a similar operation in the Swat Valley in 2009, not too far from the tribal areas, that has been a relative success in reclaiming territory. It is unclear which direction the latest operation will go. But a major humanitarian crisis is brewing in the wake of the new offensive.

As of Wednesday, the government had registered over 450,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who have been fleeing the area in view of the aerial bombardments and warnings by military authorities. There are fears the figures could be much higher. (more…)

Nawaz Sharif, a veteran of Pakistan’s political tumult

13 June 2013

CNN’s Jethro Mullen weighs in on Nawaz Sharif

The strongest contender to become the next Pakistani prime minister is hardly a newcomer to the country’s political stage.

Nawaz Sharif, 63, has had a long and rocky career that includes two stints as prime minister during the 1990s, ordering Pakistan’s first nuclear tests, a showdown with the nation’s powerful military, time in jail and years of exile.

After spending the past several years in opposition to the governing Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) — which has struggled to tackle the country’s crippling problems of militant violence, chronic power shortages and a flagging economy — Sharif now has a shot at another stint in office.

But observers say his positions on key issues such as Islamic extremists and relations with the United States remain vague, raising uncertainty about what kind of approach he would take if his Pakistani Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) were to succeed in forming a government in the national assembly following general elections this weekend.


Civil service reform for state capacity

24 November 2012

Only a meaningful civil service reforms can improve  the state capacity to perform better

By Raza Rumi

Pakistan’s inability to provide security and justice to its citizens; and deliver basic services is a common theme in our political discourse. Political parties, which are in power, make tall claims of doing this and that but in effect their reliance on a state apparatus which is unable to deliver is a known reality. During the last four years, other than taking very cosmetic steps the way our executive branch of the state is organised has remained unchanged.

Whereas a beginning has been made to shift the power from centre to provinces, the provincial administrations continue to work according to structures that were established nearly 160 years ago. Much has been said and written about a long pending civil service reform but nothing has been achieved except the partial reform in the 1970s.

Pakistan is a populous country now and its problems have grown manifold in the past few decades. Yet the inability of the state to respond to the challenges is spectacular. Also, the word ‘reform’ is a joke now for every time it is mentioned the transformationists make fun of it and the agents of the status quo start citing the failed experiments of the past.

What impedes reform then? Working on various projects with federal and provincial government departments and agencies teaches you that structures are overwhelming when it comes to arguing for even minor changes. (more…)

Disasters, dengue and local government

15 October 2011

By Raza Rumi:

In the past few weeks, the intractable crisis of governance has once again exposed the dysfunctional nature of the Pakistani state, and its inability to grapple with basic issues of citizenship. After all, the guaranteeing of people’s rights and entitlements is the responsibility of the state, which it simply cannot abdicate. In Sindh, 5.3 million people have been affected by flash floods, out of which 250,000 are now homeless. The floods had been predicted earlier but the provincial and federal authorities were shamefully ill-prepared like last year. In Punjab, over 5,000 people are battling against the dengue epidemic and there are indications that it may spread to other parts of the country.

The killings in Karachi have momentarily halted but as hundreds of citizens were butchered for no fault of their own, the politicians indulged in a macabre game of accusing each other of breaking up Pakistan. Pity that the discourse on Karachi came down to Zulfiqar Mirza versus the MQM and seldom did anyone debate the fundamental causes of ethnic conflict, social breakdown and the governance vacuum. The killings have been followed by the inundation of the megalopolis by heavy rains. The civic failures of Karachi and Lahore on drainage and public health have exposed how cities cannot function without effective, accountable local governments. (more…)

‘Reforming’ the education system

30 April 2011

By Raza Rumi

Pakistani students sit inside and on top of a rickshaw heading to their schools in Muzaffargarh in Punjab province, Pakistan, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. AP Photo

The recent debates on education have also highlighted how the education sector is not receiving its due compared to say defence, infrastructure and other expenditures made by the government. However, the discussion has yet to move to the most important area i.e. quality of schools and what sort of learning are they providing?

The task of reforming the education system is huge, complex and some would say next to impossible. However, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution has opened the doors to avenues for change. Firstly, education is a provincial subject and the transfer of budgets (with increased allocations through the National Finance Commission Awards) implies that there is now more flexibility and autonomy with the provinces in matters of policy and operations. Secondly, the inclusion of right to education in the fundamental rights also ensures that this is now a justiciable right as well as a paramount priority of the state. (more…)

Devolution in Pakistan: Unpacking the HEC debate

12 April 2011

An amended, rationalised HEC needs to stay in place

By Raza Rumi

The 18th Amendment approved by the Parliament in 2010 signified a new era in Pakistan’s troubled federalism. Given our turbulent constitutional history, the new governance arrangements approved by all parties and federating units settled for a leaner centre and addressed long-standing demands of provincial autonomy. But the implementation of this amendment has been slower than expected, largely for reasons of capacity both at the federal and provincial levels. Despite the constraints, the Implementation Commission has delivered fairly well. Thus far, ten ministries have been devolved. Five ministries — local government, special initiatives, zakat & ushr, population welfare and youth affairs — were devolved in late December 2010. The recent batch of the federal ministries includes: ministries of education, social welfare and special education, Tourism, livestock and dairy and culture.

Media rants:

In recent days, a new controversy on the devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has plagued the implementation process with respect to the 18th Amendment. Television channels have aired the views of technical experts as well as the usual suspects who rant on every talk show on almost every subject under the sun, be it defence, culture, or cricket. The move towards the devolution of the HEC’s powers and functions to provinces has been construed as another move by the semi-literate and ‘corrupt’ politicians to thwart the degree validation process, which has been part of our pseudo political discourse. Such an argument is pretty lame, as the rule to have a degree to be eligible for an election has been done away with. The Musharraf scheme of a grand HEC, BA-holding legislators and ‘controlled democracy’ obviously failed in 2008 when the electorate rejected his party and sent representatives who sent him home. (more…)

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