A Balance Sheet for May 28

By Pervez Hoodbhoy
May 29 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

On this very day, exactly 18 years ago, riotous celebration erupted after Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons. Just 17 days earlier, India had experienced a similar moment. Then, one year later, Pakistan once again saw mass jubilation during the officially sponsored Youm-i-Takbir. But, in sharp contrast, today`s nuclear celebrations are barely audible. One hopes that this signals increased national maturity and sobriety.

From Pakistan`s perspective, its nuclear weapons have already delivered by reducing India`s willingness and ability to use its superior conventional military capability. Indian restraint during the 1999 Kargil war, the subsequent failure of Indian efforts at coercive diplomacy in 2001-02, and the caution exercised after the 2008 Mumbai attack attest to the central lesson of the nuclear age it is not worth going to war against a nuclear-armed adversary on anything of less than national life-or-death importance.

That`s the success part. What of the rest? As readers will surely recall, there were many expectations that went well beyond matching India`s bombs. Lest they be forgotten, let`s recall what they were and review the report card.

First, the bomb was supposed to ensure Pakistan`s security. Post Chagai, it was common to claim that `none may now dare look at Pakistan with evil eye`.

But this was shallow rhetoric. In 2016, Pakistan is threatened not so much by India as by a multitude of Islamist militant groups that are waging bloody war against our state and society. In the last decade, the Pakistan army has lost more soldiers to terrorism than in all four wars against India. Nuclear bombs are useless against terrorists.

The bombs proved equally useless in stopping the drone that took out Mullah Mansour a few days ago, or the team of SEALs that hunted down Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Apart from issuing sullen remarks about the violation of its sovereignty, Pakistan could do nothing to challenge American power.

Second, ever since the first bomb was ready (1987), it was hoped that the bomb would resolve the Kashmir dispute in Pakistan`s favour. Protected by nuclear weapons, Pakistan could support militant groups to wage a low-cost war against Indian forces based inKashmir, raising the cost of Indian occupation.

For fear of triggering nuclear confrontation, India would be deterred from launching cross-border retaliatory raids. The term `nuclear flashpoint` for Kashmir reverberated in the international press.

The hope here was that Western intermediaries would step in and force India to the bargaining table.

It didn`t work. After an initial period of worry, international interest in intervening in the Kashmir dispute waned. The UN no longer pays any attention to the matter. Today, the wisest option for Pakistan would be to stick to its officially declared policy of providing moral and diplomatic support but no clandestine military support to those Kashmiris who bravely resist Indian occupation. Else, how can it reasonably protest Indian support to Baloch separatists? Condemn Kulbhushan Jadhav and his associates? Third, the euphoria created by the nuclear tests was expected to create a new national spirit. The euphoric press compared this historical moment with the birth of Pakistan in 1947. TV programmes of that time show Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulating cheering citizens. To bear the pain of Western sanctions, he promised strict personal and public austerity. Henceforth grand public buildings including the prime minister`s house would be converted into schools and women`s universities.

Long before Panama, this became unbelievable.

The fact is that such euphoric moments are strictly temporary. Once the excitement of the blast fades, harsh realities inevitably set in. May 28 did not end Pakistan`s struggle to discover an identity and national purpose or help it overcome deep provincial, religious, ethnic, and linguistic divisions.

Beyond hoping for Chinese largesse, it does not have a programme for economic growth to meet the needs of an exploding population.

Fourth, now a country that was both nuclear and Muslim, Pakistan hoped to emerge as a leader among Islamic countries, standing tall alongside the much older, more established, and much richer Muslim nations. It also sought to become their defender.

The notion of creating a common defence for the ummah was vigorously promoted by numerousIslamist parties in Pakistan, most notably the Jamaat-i-Islami. Carrying cardboard replicas of the Shaheen and Ghauri missiles through the streets, they claimed the bomb was for Islam rather than just Pakistan. Much of the media was also enthusiastic about expanding the appeal of the bomb.

Indeed, Muslim nations as diverse as Iran and Saudi Arabia were delighted at Pakistan`s success.

Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharazi flew over to congratulate Pakistan. Saudi Arabia went further; it provided Pakistan with 50,000 barrels per day of free oil to help it cope with the international sanctions triggered by nuclear tests.

But those moments have long passed. The notion of the ummah has evaporated as Muslims fight Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey and Libya.

Nothing suggests that this is temporary. Iran and Saudi Arabia are at daggers drawn, and the Pakistan-Iran relationship simmers with hostility.

Today, Israel and Saudi Arabia are virtual allies with Pakistan drawing ever closer to the latter. The notion that Pakistan`s bomb could be directed against Israel has become unbelievable.

Fifth, and finally, the bomb was supposed to transform Pakistan into a technologically and scientifically advanced country. Amazingly, both India and Pakistan forgot something basic making nuclear weapons many decades after they were first made is a highly unconvincing claim to technological prowess. Even poor North Korea, known for its cartoon-boy dictator but not for new science has conducted four nuclear tests and boasts of ICBM capability.

The atomic bomb was supposed to create a state of bliss. Unsurprisingly that didn`t happen. Indeed, Pakistan`s security problems cannot be solved by expanding its missile fleet, buying more F-16s, or developing tactical nuclear weapons. Instead, the way forward lies in building a sustainable and active democracy, an economy for peace rather than war, a federation in which provincial grievances can be effectively resolved, elimination of the feudal order, and creating a tolerant society that respects the rule oflaw.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

The Price of Non-Governmental Growth

By C. Rashaad Shabab
May 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It is well known that since the 1980s, Bangladesh has made astonishing progress on a wide variety of development indicators such as reducing the prevalence of extreme hunger and poverty, increasing primary education enrolment rates, and reducing child and maternal mortality. This progress has been mirrored by an impressive record of sustained GDP growth, spanning decades. In contrast to these successes, the quality of our democratic institutions has languished to the point where they now threaten to undermine all these hard-won gains. This article argues that the provision of public goods and services by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has not only contributed to these successes, but also to this failure.

Much, if not most, of Bangladesh’s development has happened outside the purview of its successive governments. The vibrant community of NGOs and civil society organisations working across the spectrum of development issues have been the principal drivers of progress, and undoubtedly, things like reduced infant mortality are progress. But by satisfying the immediate needs of Bangladesh’s citizens, the NGO movement has severed a critical link between us and our government. It has decoupled our access to services that would otherwise be provided by the state, and our ability to effectively demand these services from the state.

The delivery of public goods and services by non-state actors has crowded out not only the capacity of the state to serve its people, but also the capacity of the people to hold the state accountable. And whenever a people have failed to hold their government to account, state policy has followed a predictable trajectory. Unconstrained by the will of the people, the powers that be adopt policies that are designed to extract the nation’s wealth for their own enrichment.

It is not hard to list examples of extractive institutions in Bangladesh: overly complicated clearing and forwarding procedures at our ports, a lack of transparency in public procurement, bribes that must be paid before the receipt of most public services – the list is long, and growing. That is because over time, the extractive institutions tend to reinforce themselves. As the political elite divert more and more state’s resources under their control, they amass ever increasing means to consolidate their own power.

For the beneficiaries of an extractive system to continue enriching themselves without effective resistance, it becomes necessary for them to attack people’s freedom of speech and expression. This is because extractive policies cannot hope to stand up to the scrutiny of open, public debate.

The filling of key positions by loyalists rather than by the meritorious is also part of the process of extraction. This helps seal off institutions where we citizens might have sought redress from the influence of the will of the people, which becomes increasingly opposed to the incentives of their rulers. This gradual but deliberate erosion of the responsiveness of political institutions to the will of the people makes the prospect of organising any effective countervailing power within the existing system more and more grim.

So far, however, robust economic growth and the widespread provision of social services by NGOs meant that we, the people, were quite satisfied to pay the dues demanded of us by the extractive system, because we could still get on with the business of bettering our own lives. But robust economic growth and extractive institutions cannot coexist in the long term.

Institutions that are designed to extract wealth are very bad at creating it. At the most basic level, if anything of value can be expropriated by the state, nobody has an incentive to invest in creating anything valuable. If we continue on this path towards ever more extractive institutions, growth will stagnate.

Once this is understood, our right to free speech, our right to be free of state coercion, and our right to an independent judiciary cease to be the idealised luxuries that our leaders would have us believe. Rather, these things are the fundamental building blocks of sustainable economic growth. And without growth, none of the progress that Bangladesh has made in alleviating the human suffering that is symptomatic of poverty can be maintained.

The ability of citizens to effectively make demands of their government and to constrain the power of those who govern them is the key to long term growth and the sustainable eradication of poverty. The NGO movement in Bangladesh has temporarily circumvented, but ultimately failed to address this necessary condition for sustainable development. In the meantime, we the people, having our basic needs met, allowed the system to pervert the nation’s institutions; to silence all dissenting voices; and to coerce our fellow citizens who attempted to organise any countervailing power. Such is the price for decades of non-governmental growth.

The writer is a PhD. student in the Economics Department of the University of Sussex, UK.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh