Izhar Hunzai and Ashabullah Baig
The ideals of egalitarianism are based on principles of participation and justice that govern the basic structure of the society—its social, political and economic arrangements. It also reflects the historical struggle for equality rooted in the aspirations of the people that have greatly influenced the content of our culture. In a rapidly changing and transforming world, GB needs a political ideology to create a hopeful future for our children and their children as well as to assume a new identity in an increasingly uncertain world. An ideological framework inspired by ideals of egalitarianism is relevant and binding, as GB’s natural environment, culture and history, support such as a vision, making its realization entirely possible within a generation.
After 18th Amendment, provinces are free to craft their own local government system. GB has an opportunity to create a local government system that nurtures harmony and interdependence among its diverse groups. Like all mountain areas, GB has a difficult geography and high natural and social diversity. Historically, GB was governed as a collection of independent states, thus there are strong identities, which need recognizing in a devolved, democratic, and laterally integrated local government system.
GB’s inherent diversity can be turned into a tremendous opportunity by building an inclusive and pluralistic political system, in which all citizens and groups have common stakes. Until now, this diversity has been mismanaged and it has now turned into a complex problem further compounded by growing sectarian identities. Meanwhile, GB’s development gains have been distributed unevenly and skewed in favor of more accessible urbanizing areas, not remote and isolated valleys and villages. Despite an aggregate improvement in people’s lives, social gap, inequality and marginalization are on the rise. This troubling trend is a major impediment for future peace, harmony and development in the region. The enormous resource development potential of GB is attracting national and international investments that will disproportionately benefit the ‘haves’ more than the ‘have-nots’. This dismaying phenomenon will further aggravate the problem spelling a social disaster for GB.
GB is standing at the crossroad at this point in time in history. It will have to make judicious choices to bring its socio-economic life back on the track. Its natural, human and geo-economic advantages, give it all the ingredients necessary to re-build itself as a democratic, peaceful and prosperous place, guaranteeing all its citizens equal access to opportunity, freedom and security to live in harmony with their natural and human diversity. The opposite scenario is a costly one, but equally possible, leading to discord and conflict and economic marginalization, possibly worse than what can be seen in Balochistan today.
Relevant Political Models
There are many good political models around the world that can offer relevant policy guidance, experience, and desired outcomes. For instance, Singapore offers a political model that is based on merit. Hong Kong has a high degree of economic autonomy from the center. Switzerland provides an example of a highly devolved political system. Switzerland is essentially a federation of former mountain states.
Many elements from these political systems can be adapted to GB’s conditions. The basic challenge is to design a political system that fundamentally reorganizes society. The current ‘winner take all’ political system practiced in Pakistan, and by extension in GB, is highly elitist and divisive.
Social scientists accept political elitism as unavoidable and even necessary, as governing requires highly trained and experienced leaders. An effective government needs leaders who are able to make good policy and quick and fair decisions to allocate resources to implement enabling social and economic policies. These organizational demands of government encourage the development of a political class. These leaders find their elitist position quite rewarding, both in terms of personal gain and power and prestige. Problems arise when this group of ruling elites becomes a monopoly, sometimes keeping political leadership in the family.
The solution is to break the monopoly and recycle this leadership class with infusion of new blood and ideas through long-term investments in education, skills and human and intellectual capital. Singapore is a small city-state with no natural resources, but it has attained the status of a developed, meritocratic and egalitarian society by focusing on education. So, education in its holistic meaning can be an effective tool for building a merit-based political system.
While educational system in the wider country has declined in quality and equity, GB has managed to make significant progress in the field of education for both men and women, surpassing the national averages by a good margin. This edge in education should be taken as the most important driver for GB’s equitable and sustainable development and for building an enlightened, inclusive and pluralistic political system.
This makes sense because despite its recently enhanced powers, GB does not have sufficient leverage with the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan to negotiate a better deal. Political development through electoral process alone will not be sufficient to promote good governance. Therefore, focusing on education as a strategy for political, economic and cultural autonomy and transformation will be a winner.
Improving Governance through Education
Pakistani society has become a victim of poor governance which is manifesting in infinite number of problems. These problems are well known and include unemployment, inflation, corruption, tribalism, sectarianism, and political instability. If we have a hard look at them, the root cause of all these problems is lack of education. Lack of an effective educational system has been a major cause of the failure of the state. Education can have many positive effects on the politics of the country, and GB stands a good chance to make it happen.
The following steps can help in creating an egalitarian political system in GB.
Fiscal and policy autonomy for education
GB is linked to an outdated and unimaginative public education system in the mainland Pakistan, which erodes rather than enhances human capability. The decline in educational provision and quality has hurt lower strata of the Pakistani society the most, and the results have been particularly disastrous for the marginalized provinces, poor and rural people. Despite being meted with severe marginalization, GB has remained educationally progressive. The service gap would be abysmally wide if it was not filled by other providers, such as AKES, PDCN, Army run public schools, private schools, community schools and religious madaris. GB has avoided the worst effects of decline in human capital in Pakistan, such as those being felt in Balochistan, FATA, Southern Punjab and interior Sind.
Education system in GB is not immune to fallout from the national mess. Corruption, political influence, incompetency and paucity of resources are endemic problems. But there are also bright spots. For instance, GB society has become increasingly pro-education, and even in more socially conservative groups, children’s education is now broadly accepted. The trend of female education in GB is increasing at a faster pace than for men. Moreover, exposure to global good policies and practices in community and educational development through AKDN, and particularly social mobilization and capacity support on the ground, has contributed to creating awareness and demand for education. Therefore, GB has already traveled a good distance to start the next part of its journey.
Fiscal and policy autonomy is needed to free GB’s educational policy from unnecessary funding constraints and political hurdles. This is necessary if the people of GB want to make education and human development as their utmost priority and political ideology. GB can then follow on the footsteps of Singapore.
Fiscal autonomy can be ensured through a political consensus that puts human development at the very top of GB’s priorities. This collective will can then be translated into public policy by electing only those politicians who agree to a 20% allocation for education in the annual budget of GB government. The public must also be ready to pay a local tax, exclusively for education. Commitment to educational development must be backed by financial resources, and a 20% guaranteed share in the annual budget will provide the requisite fiscal autonomy to finance necessary reforms and up gradations in GB’s educational system.
Policy autonomy is the other pillar. The key requirement here is to depoliticize education, and free it from political influence and corruption. To deliver on this commitment, the next GBLA should pass a law, making sale of teachers’ jobs a crime against humanity and gross violation of children’s rights, as well as amounting to treason, with prosecution and punishment under relevant laws.
The government should focus on its legitimate responsibilities, such as defining standards and parameters for education, including balancing the needs for religious and regular education, and regulating institutions and service providers. The products and services and management of education should be left to parents, teachers, researchers and subject specialists.
The solution is to create a policy framework that harmonizes various philosophies and approaches to education in GB, and defines the role of different actors and specialized agencies. In practical terms, a Gilgit-Baltistan Education Authority (GBEA) can be created with a mandate for independent research, draft legislation, and investment decisions in education (including technical education) and for engaging with the wider society, including clergy and civil society in an educational dialogue, resolving differences in outlook and finding common goals. The GBEA should consist of sector experts and policy makers, education economists and ICT specialists, and community leaders, and it should be fully autonomous and empowered.
Cultural autonomy is a must for all religious denominations, and tribal, ethnic and linguistic groups who live in GB. It means complete individual and group freedom for all communities to follow their beliefs and way of life, without any perception of insecurity. The answer is participatory democracy and it implies a highly devolved local government system. This is where the example of Switzerland becomes relevant, where mountain tribes have evolved and transformed into a federation of democratic communities, while maintaining their cultural autonomy.
GB has no revenues of its own and is entirely dependent on the federation of constituent units of Pakistan, of which it is not a legal part. Islamabad is getting poorer, and it is asking GB to pay taxes to cater for its own needs, but without constitutional protection. The so-called disputed status has given India an effective veto on investment projects of multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank and ADB. Donor agencies think that Aga Khan is taking care of the development needs of GB, therefore, they should pay attention to urgent priorities in other parts of Pakistan, such as KPK and western border regions. Aga Khan thinks that government is primarily responsible for the development of its citizens and that he cannot subsidize public services forever. This is a candid assessment, it is true and it is also right. GB should be economically independent and its development should come from within and should be driven by smart policy.
GB has enormous resource potential. It has potential to generate 40,000 KW of low-cost hydropower, it has rich industrial minerals, its mountain ecology is a heaven for tourists and its proximity to China gives it a unique geo-economic advantage. The smart and wise way is to develop the most important of all these resources, and that is human capital. Only then GB can benefit from its wealth of material resources. Without education, these resources will either remain unutilized or utilized for the benefit of others.
Economic autonomy can come from smart and corruption-free policies for attracting investment to develop GB’s resources from minerals to hydropower and tourism and transit. In this regard, Hong Kong can be a model for GB to follow. Hong Kong is a special administrative area under the overall sovereignty of China. It enjoys a good degree of political autonomy from China, but more importantly, it is allowed to practice its free market economy, under Deng Xio Ping’s One China two Systems policy. The success of Hong King’s economic model is helped in no small measure by its proximity to China. GB has a similar geographic advantage, and can also aspire to build an economic model that is open, cross-border, and market based, but also ensures local ownership.
The bottom-line is that GB has all the necessary ingredients and can realistically build an egalitarian political model in the form of an enlightened local government system, adapting elements from Singapore, Switzerland and Hong Kong. It is possible! Elect only those people who are committed to the above agenda!