Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to listen to a Shiblee Kamal and hear him answer questions from the audience about the land he admires more than any other country, it seems, notably Norway. He is a senior Norwegian oil exploration engineer, born in Rawalpindi, but having moved up north with his wife from home and settled in so well in his new land that a participant at the breakfast seminar in Islamabad event thought he would do very well as a Norwegian ambassador. He spoke with passion about aspects of the ‘Norwegian model’, and the country which had from a relatively modest economy a few generations ago, to one of the world’s strongest one today – with high equity, great opportunities, free education and health services and more. According to semi-serious surveys, the Norwegians are the happiest people on earth, and they gladly pay the high, progressive tax the country has, up to some fifty-five per cent of the salary for those earning as well as Shiblee, that is well over a hundred thousand dollars a year.
Shiblee spoke about Norway. As much, he talked about Pakistan, I believe, and sometimes making comparisons with Pakistan – because, after all, he still loves his country of origin and indeed his and his wife’s relatives and friends here. But now they live in Stavanger, with their two daughters who are about to reach their teenage years, and later they will enjoy free high school, and also a free university education.
A participant said that he spoke with such great passion about Norway because he felt he had a gift that he wanted his people at home to receive; he wanted people ‘at home’ to learn and borrow from the ‘Norwegian model’. He said it humbly without the arrogance that we sometimes find when somebody from bigger countries speaks about their lands.
About Shiblee being an ambassador of Norway, the undersigned felt that he had to moderate some of his statements, jokingly saying that ambassadors cannot always be trusted when they speak about their land, the land where they serve, and the relations between the two. I said that because I also want every person on earth, including Pakistanis, to be proud of their land. To learn from others is important, but transfer experiences wholesale is not possible, and one must always understand development in a historical context and considering many other factors. In the end, progress is local and what others have done can mainly give inspiration and some advice, not be a blueprint. Unless development is indigenised and localised, it becomes artificial and outwardly, and may not achieve intended results. Development cannot be from the top-down, it must be from the bottom-up, with relevant government support and regulations, and indeed people’s support.
Shiblee agreed with all this. And then we are at the core of what is at people’s minds, notably ‘Naya Pakistan’, with PTI having won the general elections last week, and now holding talks with other politicians who are willing to join hands with it to create a government with a majority in parliament. Maybe the others can be independent women parliamentarians? They did well in the elections and should be rewarded for that and be willing to take responsibility and seek influence and power. Or it could be others who represent ordinary and lower class people, including religious minorities. They certainly need their say, and they do belong to PTI leader Imran Khan’s supporters. Let me insert a piece of information about Norway here, where the Prime Minister since 2013 is a woman from the centrist-conservative party, which she chairs; the two other party leaders in her coalition government she leads are also women. The economy of the country does well, but that is also to the credit of the private sector as much as the government. Let me mention, too, that women there are as keen on keeping up the defence budget as the men would be, sometimes even more. I think they could be less eager to show NATO how smart they are, but the PM seems to hold back somewhat the more hawkish women and men.
Obviously, we trust women as much as men. Well, all politicians, civil servants, public and private sector leaders, civil society organisations, institutional leaders, and so on, must always know that there is a watchful eye on them. The media and the public must monitor what goes on and pull them in when they do something wrong. Openness is always needed, and it even benefits the ones in power, who’d rather like to do things unchecked. That was the mistake of the Catholic Church, as we have recently seen – and indeed the users and administrators of the tax havens in Panama and elsewhere. Transparency is a democratic demand in everyone’s interest.
In ‘Naya Pakistan’ it will be essential to improve trust between rulers and administrators, including the upper segments of society at large, and the ordinary people who are otherwise exploited, but whose sweat and labour it is that we all benefit from. Trust can only be established and maintained with openness; that also goes for openness about opinions, foundations of them, and intentions and directions of the development path one chooses – and indeed about money and allocations. The Norwegians learnt this long ago, and Imran Khan’s PTI knows it, too.
‘Naya Pakistan’ starts out well with the best of intentions, and Imran Khan’s main mission is to make Pakistan less corrupt. That objective has made everyone optimistic and hopeful, and that is needed to get people behind the change processes, which will not always be pleasant since ‘cleaning up’ will hit some people hard while the majority will benefit. I am of the opinion that one should be lenient when dealing with people who were part of a culture where corruption was close to the order of the day. But I would naturally suggest that those who are found to have done wrong be kept away from power and posts in future. Maybe some kind of ‘truth and reconciliation hearings’ are needed, because to steal from the poor resembles what the whites did under apartheid in South Africa.
In several articles earlier, especially when I have written about education, children and youth, I have emphasised how important it is that people feel good about themselves, that they feel appreciated and that they are helping themselves and others on a course to betterment and success or at least a decent life and good relations with others. I believe that political leaders should be teachers and talk with ordinary people as being in the same boat. The leaders shall represent the interests of the poor, and the poor and downtrodden must be part of their own uplift and progress for all. Often, leaders don’t know how to do things; it is only in dialogue with the people they can find solutions and new ways ahead.
In Pakistan, it is essential that the leaders of ‘Naya Pakistan’ focus on what Imran Khan has spoken about for years, namely, honesty, trust, inclusiveness, and also independence from superpowers. To hammer out the plan for change is the touchstone. It is important that we all realise that development often brings a conflict of interests, not something all agrees on – but everyone can understand what is fair. Development is about reducing class differences, particularly in a country like Pakistan where the true nation-building process has not yet been implemented.
The work of changing many aspects of the political culture, and the selfish attitudes of the rich and wealthy, is a tall order. It will take more than six months to deliver results; some observers say they want to see the change that quickly. We all do, but we are also more than a bit unrealistic if we are in such a great hurry. We should be able to see the plans for the course of change soon.
I believe that the ‘Naya Pakistan’ leaders spend a lot of time discussing issues with the people a public discourse is needed, not only show concrete actions and quick fixes. Through a broad discourse, where the strengths and weaknesses of the situation and ways ahead are named, the people will feel more involved and become more optimistic and positive to change.
There are immediate problems, such as debt servicing, more regular electricity supply, expansion of education, better health services, strengthening of labour unions, and much more. How to do it all, I don’t know, or I cannot sweep over in a short newspaper column. But that is why we have politicians and administrators!
The government of ‘Naya Pakistan’ should be a leadership team, not a management team. There are many very good managers and doers in the country, who can do the work, and some overseas Pakistanis could also come home. The politicians’ urgent task is to create the new political and leadership culture – to include all; the civil service, the private sector, civil society organisations, and you and me.
I wish Pakistan the success that people have been waiting for. I too feel excited about ‘Naya Pakistan’, and I pinch my arm to believe that so many opportunities and change possibilities are now indeed open to the leaders and people. I believe we are at the dawn of a great time and the momentum for change and optimism must be nurtured. Learn from Norway and many other countries and experiences! Know that it is only Pakistanis who can implement the change and prosperity that is needed. I will watch and encourage with pleasure!
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.