Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS, Lahore, since 2002 and author of several books including Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan. This interview is part of a series for the January Issue of Global Village Space magazine looking at the next decade for Pakistan – its strategic challenges and opportunities (2021-30).
GVS: Where do you see Pakistan’s politics in the next 10 years.
Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais: You have basically raised a question with a big scope; I can make an assessment of what is likely to be the developments in the next 10 years.
One is that this remarkable democratic continuity with the peaceful transfer of power and regular elections. Four transfers of powers peacefully from one party to another rooted Pakistani democracy pretty firmly. Pakistan has crossed the transitional line to become a genuine democracy. I think genuine in a sense that reversal to dictatorship becomes quite unlikely after four peaceful transfers of power. Three is generally the limit.
Second, I think what we need to look at is the social forces that support democracy have been spanning in Pakistan for the last 20 years or so. I count these forces as an expansion of the middle classes, which is roughly about 50% of Pakistan’s population.
The third is urbanization, cities in Pakistan like Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, and almost every city are expanding very rapidly and there is rural-urban migration and interprovincial migration as well, so urbanization means a lot for a more democratic and meaningful politics because people in the city can organize political action and they become unhinged from the traditional conventional forces that matter for casting a vote and also their identities and political affiliations.
Fourth, I think, a hopeful sign is that citizens in Pakistan are much more conscious about three-four things that really matter in democratic politics; corruption, accountability, rule of law, equality, freedom, and governance. These are some of the issues I believe are defining the political behaviour and attitudes of Pakistani citizens and I think we will see a rise in the curve of expectations of citizens on these counts.
Another thing that I can see is the role of the media, which appears to be very chaotic but I think it will settle much finer and better as the adjustments and the balance among institutions and within the media continues to settle. We will see further growth in capacity and influence of all forms of media platforms to influence public opinion, so I see many hopeful signs, but at the same time, I also fear.
I think the rise of Imran Khan and Tehreek-e-Insaf is in my view a great political development; great in a sense that the dynastic political parties have failed to prevent this from happening. In my view, these dynastic political parties with a lot of baggage of corruption have not been able to persuade the people about what they have been doing and about their assets, properties, and their role in governance.
So, I think that more politicians like Imran Khan are likely to emerge. He has been a kind of a pathfinder and trailblazer. I believe that he has paved the way for the emergence of new politicians who come from professional middle classes. I also see the development of more urban-based political parties and protest movements as well.
GVS: What do you think are the changes and the policies that we need in our political system to deliver to its people?
Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais: I think three-four things about deliverables. One is improving governance and the problem is that old-fashioned bureaucratic structures are incapable of delivering in a more complex society and in a more complex economy.
This government is bringing about civil services reforms, let’s see what happens, but I believe that the first thing is the administrative reforms that will make delivery and governance in the rural far better.
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Second is the use of technology in making the functioning of the government more transparent as well as accessible to the people. The third is local governments. They have been absent and I think that is the most important tier of building democracy, so these three things.
The other is that reforms in the judicial branch of the government. There are too many delays and too many cases. I also think what is hampering Pakistan’s growth and development is the laws, which are too old fashioned and where there is a delay of settling cases. Also important is the offloading of these public entities that are consuming more than a trillion rupees a year.
I think if these reforms are done, the quicker the better, but I believe that if this government is unable to do it the next government will have to do it, and unless these issues I have raised are settled, I don’t think you will see growth stability and certainty in the country.
As per GVS policy, the transcript has minor editing, done by GVS Desk for reading clarity.
Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS, Lahore, since 2002. He previously served at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad and was associated with the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, for more than two decades. Dr Rais has a PhD in Political Science from University of California, Santa Barbara. He is author of several books including Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan and has published widely in professional journals and newspapers on political and security issues concerning South Asia, Indian Ocean and Afghanistan.