No Time for Knee-Jerk Solutions


*Originally published in The Daily Times.

It has become a routine affair to read and hear headlines announcing the impending or ordered suspensions and dismissals of officers as an answer to lapses of security, administration or general mismanagement these days. More or less the decisions held within them have come to be recognized as an instrument of redress and governance. After the recent incident involving Sikander in Islamabad, the Interior minister also announced that he had ordered the concerned authorities to suspend all those police officials who allowed Zamarud Khan to take such a foolhardy chance and breach the cordon.

But it needs to be asked, are these instant suspensions and dismissals the solution to problems?

The public acceptance of this sort of management of affairs can be attributed to a handful of reasons a prime one being the sentimentality of the Pakistani nation which gives in quicker to emotions of rage, excitement, incitement than to ceding ground to thought and reasoning.
Such decisions in wake of unpleasant occurrences sate public agitation rather rapidly, seeming to be severe deserving penalties, on the face of it, that shall act as preventions of replications in the future.

Similarly, this serves the politicians well too. By ordering such actions and in the context of the public reaction as mentioned above, elected representatives emerge as leaders with a stringent and prompt fashion for imposing discipline and negligence at the expense of the people.
The sensational wrapping of these measures as news by the media only adds to their hollow luster.
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However, a degree of public acceptance of such measures must not blur its nature from being recognized which is but a knee-jerk phenomenon part of the larger system of governance in Pakistan that resorts to cosmetic fixes when confronted with the need to deal with deep-rooted troubles.

Immediate dismissals, suspensions of officials upon notice of a tragedy; dereliction of duties or a  miscarriage of administration is in itself, a miscarriage of governance and administration.                                                               
In his article titled ‘PML-N vs. The Channels of Non-Delivery’ in The News on July 10th 2013, Mosharraf Zaidi excellently highlighted the direction the government needs to adopt if it hopes to succeed in the resolution of the country’s difficulties:

‘If the PML-N is serious about sustaining democracy, it has to deliver sustainable change. To do so, it needs to invest heavily not just in the big-ticket outcomes it needs for re-election, but crucially in the procedural coherence and integrity of government.

5-21-2013_22991_l_TDramatic reforms in the civil service, in local governments, and in public financial management are essential to the outcomes politicians seek.
Without such reforms, any outcomes Pakistani democrats achieve will be difficult to come by – they will be temporary, and they will be unsustainable. In the medium- and long-term, failure to reform Pakistan’s channels of delivery is the single most dangerous threat to Pakistani democracy.’ 

It is therefore, evident and imperative that the problems and shortcomings within Pakistan’s system must be addressed rather than quick fixes to the problems that are their spill-over; structural reforms are needed now more than ever. The recurrence of unfortunate occurrences, either in the shape of the recent collision of a rickshaw with a train or security lapses, all are part of the larger system of structural defects and failures in Pakistan that continue unabated.

The knee-jerk reactions of governance and redressing can act has hasty bandaging of seepages of the system’s weaknesses and loopholes but only perpetuate the cycle that abets it.

The 17 young lives that perished in the school bus tragedy in Gujrat can not be brought back or done justice to by the mere arrest of the driver or the suspension of his license to drive but other lives can be protected from being lost with greater legislation against gas cylinders in vehicles and its effective implementation along with safety regulations.

What is needed instead of or beyond numerous instant dismissals and suspensions is a tightly-timetabled, impartial thorough examination and investigation – even if it shall lead to the same end as the suspensions and dismissals – of the incidents; with a complete account of the contexts of circumstances, people and causes involved. Not only will this course of action aid swift retribution of those found to be responsible but also provide for introspection of the system itself, identification of its faults and options for correction, it shall pave path for sustainable prevention and reform.              

Prevailing structural inertia and incompetence that sprout regrettable and ill-fated incidents can only be dealt with immediate reforms instead of immediate, perennial short-term measures to compensate for these sporadic occurrences that only cause them to appear somewhere else again, and again. And only then can Pakistan be alleviated from the morass it remains bogged down in.

 – Hafsa Khawaja

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