Independent policy research is direly needed

My interview published in the Business Recorder, Pakistan:

Raza Ahmed, popularly known by his pen name, Raza Rumi, is a policy adviser and development practitioner. His columns are published regularly in various English newspapers. Previously, he has worked with various multilateral institutions and prominent local NGOs.

BR Research: What role Jinnah Institute does perform in policy making? Tell us about some of the recent publications.

Raza Rumi: Jinnah Institute is a relatively young think tank. Predominantly we look into the strategy and security in which we articulate independent foreign- and defense-policy proposals to the Government and to regional stakeholders.

Within this realm, we have a very strong emphasis on Track-Two diplomacy between India and Pakistan. We recently concluded our Islamabad dialogue in pursuance of this aim. We also work closely with media organisations to promote interaction and communication between the two nations. This leads to another area of concentration for us, which is finding ways to bring the discourse from Track-Two to Track-One or official correspondence between India and Pakistan.

The Jinnah Institute also presented a report on Afghanistan’s End Game in which we looked at the perceptions of foreign policy elite. This report summed up what the powerful policy actors in the international arena are planning. So we intend to follow up on this with successive publications.

The other part that we are now going to work on is about water, particularly how to effect collaboration between India and Pakistan on water use. Some quarters in this country are painting the debate as if India were stealing Pakistan’s water. There may be some truth to this as India has worked a lot on its water storage capacity, particularly in the last decade or so. But having said that the two countries have signed a treaty regarding the sharing of water resources and it would be in the interest of both states to use similar arrangements to strategically manage this scarce resource.

We also have to consider how much water do we have, how it is being managed and what inefficiencies exist in its distribution and usage. Then, we have to consider the likely impact of global climate change. Water management is not simply a bilateral issue anymore, it is regional and global. We need shared think tanks, researches; we need inter-collaborated dialogue to address this issue effectively.

Coming back to the security side, we have a regular feature called Extremism Watch where do we track incidents of extremism and how is extremism being ruled out in the public, legal and societal arenas. Last year we focused on sectarianism, while the year before that we focused on minorities.

BR Research: What do you consider to be the hallmark of the Institute?

RR: Economic policy discourse is plagued in Pakistan, by the fact that you don’t have a corpus, or a critical mass of young, mid-level economic experts. There is a dire need for independent policy research for domestic and foreign policy orientation that is genuinely driven by the needs of this country.

We aim to fill this void and move towards developing consensus on key areas including, forging political consensus of economic policy. Our political elite have shown great maturity in restructuring the State. Through the 18th, 19th and 20th Constitutional Amendments they have transformed the governance trajectory in the country.

But, when we draw attention to the economic policies, consensus is weak and fleeting. Consider the attempted implementation of RGST; where the agreement among political parties, especially those with a mentionable presence in the Parliament, emerged and then evaporated in the face of pressure. What was and is needed, is the documentation of the economy; that’s the first step. So, through this Institute, our purpose is generating debate on policy alternatives, conducting research and advising sound strategic decisions that are in the interest of the people of Pakistan.

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