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Sat. July 20, 2024
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Patronage-based politics and barriers on access in Pakistan
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Pakistan has long struggled with governance issues, but reform impetus has not materialized. Regular power outages have hampered manufacturing and sparked protests, but energy reform has been difficult to implement. Pakistan has not been motivated to increase tax receipts above one of the lowest rates in the world, less than 10% of GDP, despite an unsustainable budget deficit and a lack of resources for basic service provision. Throughout its history, the nation has alternated between military and civilian control, but these transitions have barely altered the character of governance. A small elite that forms weak coalitions based on patronage rather than ideology has controlled politics under both types of regimes. Elites have combined broad pledges of greater living standards with specific commitments to particular politicians, families, and districts in order to assert their authority. But because the state lacks the means and ability to follow through on these commitments, authority has a tendency to ebb and flow, rendering any system of government unstable.

Military and civilian elites have prioritized defending their own interests or those of their followers at the expense of fellow people since they are dependent on appeasing various parties through patronage. As Nazim Haji, a Karachi businessman, says: “We’re not a poor country. We’re a poorly managed country.” The ability to use violence is a key factor in deciding political results in Pakistan, as it does in other nations with limited access orders (LAO). For a long time, extremists have used violence to both deter influential institutions from interfering with their activities and to force them to adopt their philosophy, assassinating politicians in the process. The LAO model sheds light on how politics are conducted in Pakistan and explains why change is so tough. In many senses, the military and political parties are just vehicles that provide different elites access to state resources. Transferring ring control to anybody outside of the immediate family would undoubtedly result in the dissolution of the major parties in Pakistan, which depend on personal relationships to maintain their coherence and durability.

Poor (and corrupt) Governance:

Poor public services are the result of limited capability combined with insufficient finance.  Governmental institutions now function quite differently for different people due to the weak and corrupt state that has caused this condition. The elite nature of society is a contributing factor to the problem. Ordinary people, especially those from lower socioeconomic classes, are frequently dismissed by officials. Institutions that should defend equitable and fair government instead serve the elites in charge of them, in addition to these attitudes. Despite recent efforts to increase the freedom of the judiciary at the highest levels, courts and the police have remained subservient to powerful interests, severely hindering the ability of the average person to access justice, receive a prompt resolution of grievances, and have contracts and property rights enforced. In fact, unfairness against poor people, women, and minorities is still pervasive in the delivery of public services, including the legal system, particularly in less developed areas. According to some estimates, almost 40% of Pakistan's population is significantly excluded from politics, society, and the economy because of their identity—such as their geography, gender, or kinship group—or because of their circumstances. These groups are unable to participate in political life, access resources, assert their rights, or have an impact on the institutions that define their lives as a result of their multifaceted disadvantage. State institutions continue these exclusionary behaviours, which have strong ties to Pakistan's historical nepotism and power structures.

Pakistan is not the only country where patronage in politics exists.  As long as politics have existed, patronage in politics has played a role in it.

The lowest and least innovative kind of corruption is allegedly nepotism. The biggest abuse of power is providing family members the best jobs even though they are not deserving of them. Isn't selecting a person based on relationships and contacts with others unfair and unjustified? How would it feel to be passed over for advancement while providing devoted, honest service and putting forth a lot of effort? Does a relationship trump merit?

In my opinion reform that gives the general public more freedom to pursue their interests won't happen soon or easily. Rapid change may actually be stabilising since it threatens the inter-elite bonds that keep the state intact while preventing the emergence of stronger institutional arrangements. The goal should be a sequence of small advancements that support one another to progressively alter power dynamics. Pakistan could move towards a more stable, fair, and open rules-based political order by gradually improving stability by eliminating the need to threaten violence, bolstering the state's ability to ensure that the law applies more fairly (especially when dealing with organisations) and embracing economic reforms that encourage individuals to support change.

Mohsin Fareed Shah is an undergraduate student of Government and Public Policy at National Defence University, Islamabad.

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