Episode 68      18 min 57 sec
Pakistan: A State for Devolution

Dr Nadeem Malik ponders the question of why stable and robust democratic institutions have eluded Pakistan. Since its formation in 1947, military rule has been a recurrent theme for Pakistan, and true devolution of power to the local level is still a quest. With host Jacky Angus.

"The military has big economic stakes and that is why they always tend to grab power and have never been ready to lose their grip over the political or economic discourse." - Dr Nadeem Malik




           



Dr Nadeem Malik
Dr Nadeem Malik

Dr Nadeem Malik is Lecturer in Development Studies in the School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry. Nadeem's major areas of specialization are: Development studies, anthropology of development, political anthropology, anthropology of the state, development and social theory, globalization, civil society, governance, political economy, gender, public policy, art and development, theatre and development, program and project management, monitoring and evaluation of development projects.

Prior to doing his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2007, Dr Malik worked as a development researcher and a trainer, in South Asia for more than 14 years.

Dr Malik is also an accomplished artist having graduated with honours from the National College of Arts Lahore in Pakistan. Nadeem is also a virtuoso tabla player. He has performed on the tabla at several musical shows organized by the Indian as well as Australian musicians in Melbourne.

Credits

Host: Jacky Angus
Producers: Kelvin Param, Miles Brown and Jacky Angus
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Miles Brown
Theme Music: Performed by Dr Nadeem Malik and recorded, mixed and mastered on site by Miles Brown
Voiceover: Paul Richiardi
Transcription: Andy Fuller

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Pakistan: State For Devolution

VOICEOVER
Welcome to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia.  Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  That’s upclose.unimelb.edu.au.

JACKY ANGUS
Hello and welcome to Up Close, coming to you from the University of Melbourne, Australia. I’m Jacky Angus. Today we look at Pakistan, a nation that appears to be in turmoil. Life in Pakistan in 2009 continues to be shaped by resurgent Islamism. It's political culture still dominated by the ambivalence of its military towards the encroaching Tehreek-e-Taliban, and democratisation seems to have stalled. Yet nearly a decade ago, the then President Musharraf launched his Devolution Plan 2000. The aim of this was to decentralise political power by devolving governance at the local level. This, it was hoped would encourage political participation at the grass roots and eventually result in democritisation. So, what happened to devolution? We'll with me in the studio is Dr Nadeem Malik, lecturer in Development Studies in the School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry, here at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Dr.Malik himself, originally from Pakistan, recently conducted research in the Punjab. And as an anthropologist he focused on devolution from the point of view of the villagers targeted by the plan. Welcome to Up Close, Dr. Malik.

NADEEM MALIK
Thank you very much.

JACKY ANGUS
Before we discuss your research, can we unpack this idea of devolution? What did the Musharraf government have in mind in 2000?

NADEEM MALIK
Well, originally this was a kind of initiative, which was part of a worldwide trend towards decentralisation of governance under the banner of [the] neo-liberal economic paradigm. The Musharraf government adopted this right after coming into power with the rationale that previous governments did not introduce true grassroots democracy in Pakistan. And Musharraf claimed that for the first time he will be the one who would be introducing a true grassroots democracy.

JACKY ANGUS
And why was this so necessary in 2000?

NADEEM MALIK
Again, first of all, because it was a part of the aid conditionality by the World Bank and IMF, according to which this was introduced as part of a good governance paradigm. Now, good governance encompasses the activities of the government but it also includes non-state channels through which policies are pursued and implemented. Now this is an important aspect of good governance that non-state stakeholders like [the] market and civil society are equal partners in policymaking. And this eventually means that the trend is towards lean government. Lean state. Less government. More decentralised forms of government where political authority is being devolved at the local level.

JACKY ANGUS
Pakistan as a nation, it is still virtually a feudal state, isn’t it?

NADEEM MALIK
Yeah.

JACKY ANGUS
Now, what does that mean? It means that most people are agrarian still, working on the land?

NADEEM MALIK
Exactly. 64% of the population lives in rural areas, which is largely controlled by local landowners and feudal lords and in some provinces, tribal leaders. So, this policy was implemented by Musharraf, but eventually it was subverted.

JACKY ANGUS
Now, before we get to the subversion, I just want to say, 64% of what? What is the population in Pakistan?

NADEEM MALIK
It is around 160 million people.

JACKY ANGUS
That’s a lot of people on the land, isn’t it?

NADEEM MALIK
Yes.

JACKY ANGUS
And relying on the land and presumably the economic cycle doesn’t trickle down too much if it is controlled by the landlords.

NADEEM MALIK
Of course it doesn’t. Primarily because there has never been a sincere attempt to bring land reforms in Pakistan, unlike India, which brought land reform right after the inception of India as an independent state from colonial rule. It was right after the partition of India and Pakistan.

JACKY ANGUS
Which is 1947?

Which is 1947. So, right after that, they somehow got rid of this feudal class which was created by the colonial powers for effective land reform which never happened in Pakistan.

JACKY ANGUS
Why didn’t it happen in Pakistan?

NADEEM MALIK
It didn’t happen because ... there are various historical reasons. First of all, the main political party that led Pakistan movement did not have roots in the areas which became Pakistan. They were actually rooted in central India, somehow. The only powerful class in areas which became Pakistan, was [the] feudal lords and until and up till [the] feudal class became [the] Muslim League which was the leading political party; unless and up till they became part of it, [the] Muslim League could never gain popularity within the Muslim majority areas which became Pakistan. So, [the] feudal lords were the ones who had the roots within these areas, not the mainstream political leadership.

JACKY ANGUS
And, what you are saying is that today, that feudal monopoly still pertains in Pakistan?

NADEEM MALIK
Yes, exactly.

JACKY ANGUS
Now, centralised government used to be thought of the best way to promote national development. So, why has this view shifted now to embrace decentralisation? Why is decentralisation better to improve democratisation?

NADEEM MALIK
In fact, the idea of decentralisation even existed during the period of centralised governance when [the] World Bank and other international financial institutions used to promote the idea of centralised government. But you have to see this, in the situation of [the] Cold War period, where there was a kind of conflict between two superpowers. And that conflict automatically led towards, at least politically, towards centralised forms of governance because they were in a kind of perpetual state of war.

JACKY ANGUS
That’s the socialist ideal, I suppose, to have a central, command economy.

NADEEM MALIK
I wouldn’t say it is mainly a socialist ideal, actually, because the centralised governments within the west and decentralise governments within the so-called socialist countries in terms of its nature were very different. Because during [the] command economy period in [the] Soviet Union, for example, there was no concept of [the] market. Whereas in the west, the centralised governance was based on the idea that states should regulate the markets.

JACKY ANGUS    
And what you are saying in this new devolution, presumably the aim is to link the village, what, with the global market more? Or, not go through the central state?

NADEEM MALIK
After [the] Soviet disintegration and the so-called triumph of [the] neo-liberal free market economy, there was a kind of transformation of capital within first world countries that somehow transcended the state, in terms of... it became transnational. So, transnational capital on one hand, had a kind of conflict with the nation state, especially in the developing countries, because they were transnational but they were operating within the boundaries of different nation states which were having different laws, different policies towards capital [and the] market. To cut it short, they devised a policy that on one hand they... through global institutions like World Bank and IMF, especially the WTO, they tried to influence local states policies. On the other hand, they sort of lobbied within these states to rectify those laws of global governance.

JACKY ANGUS
Hence, devolution.

NADEEM MALIK
Hence, the ultimate end was, or the goal was, to reduce the role of the state to regulate the market so that the governance would be devolved to such a level, which is a grassroot level, so that grassroot informal economic channels where capitalism has yet to be embedded could be linked with the mainstream global political economy.

JACKY ANGUS
You’re listening to Up Close, coming to you from the University of Melbourne, Australia. I’m Jacky Angus and I’m talking to Dr.Nadeem Malik. Well, Dr.Malik, devolution, you seem to be suggesting is not a successful operation in Pakistan. You were in the Punjab, I understand, and did some research there. Can you tell us a bit about that?

NADEEM MALIK
Yeah. It is very interesting that decentralisation experiments even before the recent wave of devolution have always been conducted, not by the civilian regimes but the military governments. And, the purpose has always been, first of all, and this has been the trajectory they have followed, that they would first of all abandon national and provincial assemblies and then would encourage local governance in order to create a new leadership, which would eventually favour military rule.

JACKY ANGUS
And the military is very important in Pakistan, isn’t it? What’s the budget of the military?

NADEEM MALIK
According to official sources, it is 22.7% of the GDP. But this is the direct budget or the resources that they gain. There are other heads within the budget document, which technically do not belong to [the] military but are consumed by the military. For example, all [the] resources of the atomic energy commission, all the resources, which are spent on rangers. Pakistan corporate sector is also dominated by the military. One of the largest banks, and one of the largest corporations are owned by the military directly. One of the prime land, agricultural land, is also owned by the military. So the military has big economic stakes and that is why they always tend to grab power and have never been ready to lose their grip over the political or economic discourse.

JACKY ANGUS
And how does the expenditure on the military or by the military compare with expenditure in other sectors? Health, for example.

NADEEM MALIK
Health, for example, is 0.4% of the GDP. It is almost negligible. Education is 1.4% of the GDP, which is nothing.

JACKY ANGUS
Well, why was devolution a failure in the Punjab? If we can actually look at your research.

NADEEM MALIK
I would argue that it is generally a failure all over Pakistan. Because it further strengthened the local landowners and tribal leaders. There was an assumption that power would be devolved and grassroot communities somehow would be empowered, but in the absence of effective land reforms, what happened was exactly the opposite because then the local power interest groups became even more powerful.

JACKY ANGUS
Weren’t the local people actually consulted in some sort of formal process to encourage democratisation and to encourage local leadership?

NADEEM MALIK
They were, but then the power structure is the same. When you don’t reform the local power structure what happens is that, again, the most powerful people at the local level become more powerful and they form the local leadership.

JACKY ANGUS
And this is, for example, the mayor and the local notables, I imagine.

NADEEM MALIK
Exactly, exactly.

JACKY ANGUS
So, what was your role there, as a researcher? Did you sit in on discussions? Were you welcomed? Were you resented?

NADEEM MALIK
In fact it was not easy as an outsider. It took a little time to gain peoples’ confidence and to make them speak. But I did more than nine months ethnographic study where I lived in these villages, where I  used to plough with them also. For example, in the morning I used to sit in the mayor’s office, [I] used to observe the day-to-day proceedings; the way the mayor’s office was governing on day-to-day basis. Because my major research questions were, that I wanted to study, how [the] Pakistani state, through local governments manifest itself in [the] villagers' day-to-day life and how they negotiate with the state through local government officials and their interaction and encounter with those officials.

JACKY ANGUS
And what were your findings?

NADEEM MALIK
There were two major findings, one that they still negotiate with local government institutions through their local leaders who are mayors or even those who are not mayor, they are powerful landowners. So, somehow there is an absence of direct interaction in many cases. Especially in cases related to the provision of justice, cases related to the provision of agricultural irrigation water, and land disputes, and other disputes – conflicts and disputes. And then in cases where they have direct interaction, the whole interaction is based through the discourse of corruption. And corruption, [as] has been noted by famous the anthropologist Akhil Gupta, becomes a discourse through which the villagers construct the very image of the state in their mind. Corruption becomes a discourse through which they imagine what [the] state is.

JACKY ANGUS
Can you give me an example of this actually at the local level? I’m thinking actually, if you were a woman in a village and you really had some ideas and you were actually interested in leading...

NADEEM MALIK
This is very interesting because, for the first time, according to this devolution plan, the Musharraf government had allocated 33% of seats for woman councillors and around 24 probably 25% of the seats were occupied by women councillors. But interestingly, these women councillors, in most cases do not sit in local councils. Instead, their brothers, husbands and fathers represent them in local council. And it is they who are actually representing their female members of the house who became councillors and take decisions on their behalf.

JACKY ANGUS
But I understand that the feminist movement is actually quite strong in Pakistan, or, certainly in the sub-continent. Surely some of these women object?

NADEEM MALIK
In fact, where these women's organisations have been active, there the situation is qualitatively very different. And they could empower some councillors to represent themselves instead of getting the male members to represent them. But there are limitations. Women's organisations cannot empower thousands and thousands of woman councillors, they do not have that kind of network, resources or outreach. So, their intervention somehow, can never be at that scale, because there are thousands and thousands of female councillors. They do not have enough resources to approach all of them.

JACKY ANGUS
In terms of social change, it is just not able to be shifted.

NADEEM MALIK
Of course.

JACKY ANGUS
So, what you are saying is that devolution is not successful in Pakistan, would you say it is successful anywhere, maybe in another province?

NADEEM MALIK
Some good examples can be quoted, for example, in the province of Sindh, in one district there was... and because of the fact that it was led by a female district mayor who has been part of the feminist movement and who has been part of the women’s empowerment movement in Pakistan, very enlightened. She used to be a leading journalist, also. A very educated person. In her district, the situation was relatively much better than other districts in Pakistan. So, we do have some good examples but those are rare.

JACKY ANGUS
What do you see now as the priorities in Pakistan for development and democratisation?

NADEEM MALIK
First of all in terms of devolution, the future of devolution is uncertain in Pakistan because, this very project or program could never become part of the constitution, so it was implemented just through a presidential order.

JACKY ANGUS
An edict.

NADEEM MALIK
Yeah. It is up to the next governments, whether they want to retain the same devolution plan or not. Because, by constitution they do not have any restriction.

JACKY ANGUS
They are not obliged to carry it out.

NADEEM MALIK
Exactly.

JACKY ANGUS
And are you optimistic given this government’s orientation?

NADEEM MALIK
One optimistic aspect of the whole devolution plan and its implementation has been that for the first time there are certain things which have been introduced and there is a certain awareness amongst people that if properly implemented this kind of devolution could bring some fruits in terms of empowerment of local community, in terms of accountability, in terms of economic development and in terms of better service delivery. So, there is a hope. People think that it could not be implemented, but there is one thing which has been introduced at least which was never introduced before.

JACKY ANGUS
Dr Malik, let's now talk about you. I know that you have a book forthcoming and you are a researcher here at the University of Melbourne. What's your current project?

NADEEM MALIK
I just completed a book which was based on my field research which I did in 1998 - 1999 with the help of 24 field researchers which were provided by different organisations in Pakistan, and we had interviewed around 800 people. So this book is a kind of analysis of people's voices vis-a-vis governance and civil society.

JACKY ANGUS
And the title of that book is "Citizens and Governance in Pakistan: An Analysis of People's Voices", published in Lahore by Sanj. And thank you Dr Malik. It's been very interesting talking to you.

NADEEM MALIK
Thank you very much.

JACKY ANGUS
You've been listening to Up Close from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Relevant links, a full transcript and more information on this episode can be found at our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au. You can leave a comment on any episode of Up Close by clicking at the link at the bottom of the page. Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division in association with Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param. This episode was produced by Kelvin Param and Miles Brown. Audio engineering by Miles Brown. Music for this episode was performed by Dr Nadeem Malik. Until next time, thank you for joining us on Up Close. Good bye.

VOICEOVER
You’ve been listening to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia.  Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  That’s upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Copyright 2009, University of Melbourne.


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