Imran Khan’s dharnas and his well-attended rallies all over the country last year demanded good governance and a change for the better.

The government of Pakistan had to respond. In making policy decisions, it saw to it that people’s genuine demands were met, to some extent. After the tragedy at Army Public School in mid-December 2014, the dharnas were discontinued. The focus of the entire nation and of the government switched over to efforts to curb, control and eliminate terrorism. After the school tragedy, the military’s role became more proactive. The anti-terrorism operation could now be extended to other parts of the country. A 20 point National Plan of Action stood hammered out with the military’s participation. A positive relationship of cooperation between the military and the government has continued. Its further manifestation has been the setting up of Apex Committees in the provinces with senior military officers as its members. It also has resulted in a heightened concern to address the decades’ long lethal violence and disorder in Karachi. The recent Ranger’s action is indeed a demonstration of the resolve to bring the matter to its logical conclusion with a view to restoring order and normalcy in the country’s largest metropolitan city. The next few weeks will test how determined the ruling parties especially the PML-N are, to go the whole hog and avoid the temptation of resorting to political compromises.

Terrorism is of course the top national problem of Pakistan. However, there are so many other governance issues relating to people’s daily lives which need to be attended to as well. The media—both print and electronic—as well as civil society keeps raising these issues.

To meet public hue and cry, the government usually responds in an ad hoc manner, leaving much to be desired. The response is, in many cases partial and piecemeal. Seldom are steps taken on a long-term basis. Mostly, required empirical analysis is not done before the decisions are taken.

There is a persistent demand for well-founded and doable reforms. A stage has been reached that almost any initiative the government takes, is challenged and becomes controversial. Almost every other day, such cases are filed in the courts and the government is hard put to defend its actions. A recent example is the halting by the High Court of a huge infrastructure project in Lahore. In most such matters, the government is seen cutting a sorry figure because of moving head in an arbitrary manner, not having followed its own rules and procedures.

There is need for reform in almost all spheres of public administration. One may, here, refer to a few: civil service reforms, judicial reforms, health reforms, economic reforms, labour law reforms, the need for a review of the Hudood and Blasphemy laws, public administration reforms and above all, electoral reforms. Voices are also heard about such structurally complex matters as land reforms and for change in such foundational matters as the ideology of the country requiring a revision of the Constitution of Pakistan. A former foreign secretary of Pakistan speaking on a TV channel talk show, pleaded for a change in the political system. According to him, the parliamentary system is not suitable for Pakistan because it produces inept and corrupt leaders. For him, a presidential system will be better for the country. The question however is: will the proposed system work smoothly in Pakistan? Will the provinces which voted separately to accept the idea of Pakistan agree to this new dispensation? Will they, the federating units, concur to the concentration of power at the centre?

A school of thought is of the view that Pakistan is weak and failing today because of the hollowing out of its institutions. William Milam, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, presently a senior scholar at the Wilson Centre in Washington, attributes Pakistan’s plight (quoting the well known book, “Why Nations Fail”) to institutional decay. For him, this factor alone is responsible for deficient delivery of services and poor law and order. A former State Bank Governor is of the view that Pakistan is an elitist state and for Pakistan to change for the better, this elitist model will have to go. There are analysts who think that the basic cause for Pakistan’s ills and evils and poor performance is prevalent feudal culture. The mindset nurtured by this culture is at the root of Pakistan’s corrupt and incompetent leadership. One way of remedying this undesirable cultural disease is to bring in effective land reforms. It is the anti-merit, anti-law-and-order mentality that builds the particular mindset that causes institutional decay.

There is little hope that, given the present state of affairs, one will see the desired alteration in the mindset of our leaders. One looks up to Imran Khan, but given the strength of the existing political culture and with PTI embracing a number of stalwarts of the traditional leadership, one wonders if he can truly bring change.

One is therefore constrained to come to the suggestion that our independent media, the increasingly active civil society and the courts, will keep a critical watch on government’s doings and proactively initiate actions to hold the government to account.

In these circumstances, it will also be desirable that the government appoint a commission of experts from different fields including specialists in social sciences to prepare a feasible master plan of reforms in all major fields. These reform proposals should be long-term but accompanied with a short term agenda for urgent action. My personal preference for immediate initiatives will include electoral reforms, declaring of an education emergency and bringing the magistracy back into the districts. While Local Government is important for citizens’ direct involvement in decision-making for addressing local problems, to expect that corruption and misgovernance will disappear is mere wishful thinking. There has to be change in the political culture and that will not happen unless the mindset of the ruling elite at all levels undergoes real alteration.