Governance in Pakistan – 2

I had intended to wait a while to get some feedback from readers on William Dalrymple’s analysis of the situation in Pakistan (Governance in Pakistan – 1) before starting a discussion on the reasons for its poor predictive power.

My plan was to follow that up with some samples of analysis by Pakistani commentators to reiterate the reasons that, in my view, contributed to the weakness of the analyses. 

I changed my mind when I immediately came across one such analysis in the March/April 2009 issue of the Boston Review. This review is by a member of the crème de la crème of Pakistani society, educated in the best institutions, a journalist by profession, and with the benefit of living abroad in a vibrant intellectual environment. The analysis provides a good parallel to Dalrymple’s piece. While Dalrymple brings an outsider’s excusably incomplete perspective, the contributor to the Boston Review is a well-connected insider very familiar with the history of events in Pakistan.

Consider a few examples from the analysis and see whether you agree if they provide a good basis for predicting the future.

The opening optimism is based more or less exactly on the same reasoning as Dalrymple’s:

Though outraged by General Musharraf’s strong–arm tactics, Pakistanis were not despondent. The economy was strong and foreign investors looked favorably upon Pakistan as an emerging market. A national election was in the offing, and Benazir Bhutto, emerging from years of exile the leader of Pakistan’s largest and most popular political party, had returned to contest it. Though religious extremists had dug into the Tribal Areas in the north, Benazir vowed to flush them out and, with American backing, end their reign of terror. Relations with India were calmer and more open than even before. There was everything to play for.

And the verdict a year later is also the same as Dalrymple’s:

Today that optimism has vanished.

But once again, there is no explanation why the analyst was deceived and why her optimism was so misplaced.

Let us look at the article for some clues:

Here are the author’s observations on the elections after the death of Zia ul Haq:

Soon after, Pakistan held elections, and I was glued to the television as results trickled in through the night. The first time Benazir Bhutto—so young, so beautiful, so full of promise—appeared on the screen, I wept.

The basis for the author’s hope was the fact that Benazir Bhutto was ‘so young, so beautiful, so full of promise.’ There was little anxiety that Benazir Bhutto had no training for the job, no prior experience in governance, and no demonstrated competence in managing a complex enterprise.

Are you surprised at the sentence that follows?

But my euphoria was short–lived.

Did the author learn anything from this episode? Here are the author’s responses to the entry of Pervez Musharraf:

I was one of many who expressed quiet relief when Musharraf seized power in 1999…. From my home in London, I anxiously watched the Pakistani news reports. Though relieved to see the back of Sharif, I was initially wary of the new general. By then I knew what military rule could mean. But my worst fears were dispelled when I saw him pose for his first staged photos in the lush lawns of Army House with a fluffy dog under each arm. Since mullahs consider dogs unclean, I took his choice of props as a clear sign of his secular leanings. His talk of accountability endeared him further to a nation sickened by the rampant corruption of its civilian leaders. And when he promised to promote enlightened moderation and economic development, the ghost of General Zia was finally exorcised from my mind.

Once again, there was no apprehension that this was the mastermind of Kargil, a man whose competence in his own field of specialization was so woefully exposed, a man who derailed the peace process with India, a man who overthrew a democratically elected government, and a man with no experience in political governance.

It seems the fluffy dogs and a few promises were enough to dispel all the fears and the apprehensions. That does make it pretty easy for any charlatan to pull the wool over the eyes of Pakistan’s crème de la crème, doesn’t it?

With analysis like that does it surprise you when the author discovers eight years later that:

Musharraf’s doublespeak about “enlightened moderation” was not confined to appeasing Americans alone.

And so on to Asif Zardari:

Whether President Zardari—working against a history of corruption allegations to win the trust of the people—is up to the job remains to be seen.

What is your prediction about what you are likely to see?

You have some clues to work on here. Read the article and decide for yourself if it is possible to make good predictions with this kind of analysis that is so gullible, that falls so easily for youth and good looks and fluffy dogs and empty promises.

Is this analysis or wishful thinking? How would you go about improving on the analysis?

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10 Responses to “Governance in Pakistan – 2”

  1. Anil Kala Says:

    I don’t know how our mind works. We arrive at a conclusion in a split second and then it becomes an ego issue; all our energy goes into finding arguments to justify that conclusion. Mostly!

  2. Maria Rashid Says:

    Gullible or just plain desperate. I think the dearth of good leaderhsip makes us clutch at straws or in this case ‘youth’, ‘fluffy dogs’ and ‘looks’ or Dalrymple’s ‘green fields’…we as human beings are optimists looking for new beginnings where unfortunately there lies only darkness. I know that you mean well when you speak of the need to take off the blinders but I think without hope life would be sad indeed!

  3. SouthAsian Says:

    Maria, When I say we need to take off the blinders I do not mean we should give up hope. What I am saying is we need to keep the analysis and the hope separate – otherwise we are doomed to ensure that the darkness you lament never lifts.

    Let me try and explain with an example. Suppose you engage me as a consultant or an analyst to advise you on your business. Would you want me to tell you:

    1. What I think?
    2. What I hope?
    3. What you hope?
    4. What you want to hear?

    What I am recommending is that an analyst should say what he or she reads in the analysis and the trends using the best evidence available. All of us can hope whatever we wish and pray fervently that the hopes are fulfilled. But we will be hurting ourselves if we mix up the analysis with the hopes.

    You know that dictators and insecure leaders like to be told what they want to hear. And you know how much damage they end up doing to their countries. There is no shortage of sycophants who tailor their analyses to play to the hopes or dreams of their patrons. As Caesar said, ‘Such men are dangerous.’

    Analysis is analysis and hopes are hopes. Let us not mix up the two. It is better to know you are faced with a tiger than to be told or to hope it will morph into a mouse.

  4. Maria Rashid Says:

    I completely agree with you about the need to seperate the hope from the analysis and to clarify, my comment was more to ‘explain’ why we/ people tend to fall into this trap than to justify it.

    However, this discussion further underlines for me the need to hope with realism because when you hope without reason as some of us have over the years, the fall can be all the more painful and lead to cynicsim and bitterness which help no one.

    So my ‘analysis’: Gillani might morph into a tiger, though unlikely!

  5. Sohail Kizilbash Says:

    I think people believe what they want to believe and in a hopeless sitaution there is no choice but to hope for the better.

  6. SouthAsian Says:

    Sohail, I sympathize with what you are saying. What I find difficult to understand is why otherwise savvy people can become so wishy-washy in their thinking when it comes to politics. In no other sphere of their lives are they so sloppy.

    Let me copy here an exchange I had with a person who forwarded me the Dalrymple article to read. He is a very successful businessman who runs his own business with great sensibility without any intrusion of wishful thinking and employs the best international analysts to give him hardheaded advice. Call him BM (businessman):

    The exchange starts with my acknowledgement of the Dalrymple article:

    South Asian: Dalrymple, smart and well read as he is, does not fully grasp the realities of Pakistan. Anyone who became optimistic at the prospects of election is still scratching the surface; anyone who is surprised a year later is still generalizing from superficial impressions.

    BM: Elections were a hope for about 90% of the population, including myself, and our friends. May be all of us do not fully grasp the realities of Pakistan.

    South Asian: What was the basis for your hope?

    BM: Since there was no other basis of any thing else, this was the only base. Revolution? Not a chance. Gods will? May be. Elections? Right here. On the ground. You could see it, touch it, feel it. Feel the power of the people. But not every thing that does not work is baseless. Some things can go wrong.

    South Asian: What transpired had a very good base – you only had to search for it. How many times can things go wrong – this was not the first election?
 You are focused on looking for solutions – Revolution, God’s Will, Elections…. and putting your hope in the one that seems most plausible. That’s not the way you run your firm? You look at the trends and predict what the outcome would be in the do-nothing scenario. Then you predict alternative futures based on the actions you might take. As soon as you put your hopes and your emotions in this process you are likely to go wrong. Right? 
Seeing it is not enough. Seeing through it is needed. Please see the latest she’r on the Ghalib Project.

    BM: So what is YOUR solution? I give up.

    South Asian: Are you serious? How much are you willing to pay for someone to tell you what the solution is?


    Perhaps you can conclude that poor analysis in business has tangible costs. Poor analysis in politics has no real costs for the well-off. That’s why they can afford to be sloppy.

    Would you agree?

    Things can never get better (barring freak accidents) if analysis is so weak and hopes are so unrealistic.

  7. SouthAsian Says:

    Maria, I too hope Gillani morphs into a tiger but as you say the odds are low. I can’t help recalling that Gillani was picked for this position precisely because it was felt he didn’t have the potential to morph into a tiger.

    Still, miracles are possible. But what if he doesn’t? What’s the fall back plan of action?


    The people of Bhakkar district have elected a chief minister of Punjab and a prime minister of Pakistan in different elections. Although a goup of local leaders sponcer the occassion but basically the people of Bhakkar elected them and dream of a better Bhakkar. It’s requested to the concerning authorities to please consider upgrading Bhakkar as a divisional head quarter by appointing a commissioner to provide better governance facilities and security in the area. There are news that religious violence and drug smuggling is increased in the area recently.Bhakkar has been head quarters of divisional level organization of Thal Development Authority since 1952. TDA was abolish in 1971 on corruption charges against it’s high officials. Bhakkar is also a border district to Dera Ismail Khan and a capital city of Thal desert area-spread in six districts of Punjab. Thanking you, Khwaja Aftab Shah, USA

  9. amir mateen Says:

    I am not sure about your assertion that Moni Mohsin is “a well-connected insider very familiar with the history of events in Pakistan.” At best, her claim to be a journalist rests on a gossip column that she wrote for her sister’s magazine and on the two books based on their compilation. I would not take her opinion as the basis of a serious analysis.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Amir: I have three responses:

      1. There are some journalists who may be very perceptive but in terms of access to information are on the margins of the system. Others may be less perceptive but are ‘insiders’ in terms of being connected to people who are part of the action. The differential access to information makes a difference.
      2. A journalist might only be writing a gossip column but that does not make him or her unimportant. There could be large constituency whose understanding of events is shaped by such columns.
      3. This blog has a pedagogical objective. We take any piece of writing and dissect it to learn what is wrong or right with the logic of the argument. For this purpose, the opinion does not have to be of an eminent person. I suppose the best analogy would be a medical one. When medical students learn dissection, the cadaver can be of anyone – they do not learn more from the body of an eminent personality.

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