Discourse Vol 3, Issue 3
No Confidence in no confidence
Publication Year : 2022
Author: Abbas Moosvi

As mainstream political parties gear up to advance what they believe will  be curtains for  Prime  Minister  lmran  Khan  – once,  of  course, the OIC  Conference is  over –it is  worth  reflecting upon  Pakistan’s political  trajectory,  or lack  thereof.  Islamabad  seems to  be bracing for  impact  in  what  promises  to  be  an  eventful,  and  potentially turbulent   end  to   the   month   of  March  as  momentum   builds towards the No Confidence Motion. Despite all the hullabaloo, however,   a   cursory  look   underneath   the  surface   suggests   little to  no  fundamental  changes.  An  entire  political  ‘moment’  in  the works  with  virtually  no participation  from  ordinary folks …  is  this a ‘movement’  or mere theatrics from the  powers that be?

Pakistan’s  history  has  been  mired  by  a   wide  array of  problems, but perhaps most significantly by the phenomenon  known as  elite capture.  Defined as,  “actors  who  have disproportionate  influence on  the  development  process  as   a   result  of their  superior  social, political or economic status,” elite capture can be seen as the prime symptom of a  deeper, more pathological problem: that of perverse incentives  within  the  country’s  major  institutions  – which  have largely remained unchanged from  colonial times. This is  important because the  governance  mechanisms which  defined  that  period were designed for two primary purposes: control  and extraction.

The power  elite  within  Pakistan,  including  feudalists,  big corporations, exporters,  high  net worth  individuals, and top-brass within  the  military,  are all responsible for  losses  of approximately Rs. 2.7  trillion to  the  economy on an annual  basis according  to  a report by the UNDP. This is achieved through  three primary means: favourable  prices,  low  rates  of taxation  (particularly  on  income), and preferential  access  to  spaces,  people,  and resources  in  order to  ‘get  things  done’  – largely  in  pursuit  of  personal  objectives. Even when it comes to  government  expenditures in  areas such  as social services, economic services, subsidies, social protection, etc., benefits  largely  accrue to the most affluent,  i.e.  the 5th  quintile  in terms  of income – signalling  widespread  capture  of the  state  by propertied  classes.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s political parties seem to have operated throughout the country’s history in a  myopic, opportunistic manner

– looking  to  maximize their  hold  over power while  ensuring  little to no accountability to voters. Since 2002, for instance, the Pakistan People’s  Party  has won  229  out  of  1081   seats  in  the  National Assembly- approximately 22 percent. The Pakistan Muslim League N,  on the other hand, has  held approximately 25 percent. In  more recent years,  the  Pakistan  Tehreek e  lnsaaf  has entered  the  fold, winning about 27 percent of total seats over the previous two electoral  cycles.

What  is  interesting  to  note  here is  that  despite  this  dominance, each of these parties have had to resort to forming  coalition governments  in  alliance with  smaller  parties  -thus  resulting  in having to dilute their ideologies and overarching principles in order to accommodate new friends, something that naturally slows down the decision making  process and leaving the playing field  ripe for corruption, petty gamesmanship, and little incentive for service delivery-  external  meddling  notwithstanding.

Rather than delving into these fundamental questions -of democratic representation, institutional reform, rule of law, inclusive cities,  national  sovereignty,  etc.  – Pakistan’s  parties  are more than content with the current status quo. One scathing example of the perverse nature of governance in  Pakistan is the constant emphasis on ‘national  security’  – for which the government  recently  put  out a  ‘National  Security  Policy  2022-26’ outlining its  allegedly  unconventional,  multipronged  approach to tackling external  as well as internal  threats.  However,  perhaps  the most glaring  danger of all – that of indebtedness  to  international  financial  institutions,  which have played a  leading  role in formulating  the  country’s  economic  policy since the first structural  adjustment  program  under General Zia – was left  out of the discussion entirely.

As things  currently  stand,  entrenched  political  elites  have little  incentive  to  pursue radical  structural  reform  at  any level  -• largely because even when  out of power, they remain connected to the  corridors  in  some capacity, serving  an assigned purpose and constantly  posturing  for attention  from  the  king maker.  If this  were not the case,  simple  political  moves such as pursuing empowered  local government, ensuring frequent intra party elections, and maintaining transparency in terms of financial flows, to name but a few, would  have been non-controversial issues with unanimous backing. Not so, unfortunately. Instead,  parties  spend  months  (and  inordinate  amounts  of  resources) on policies  such  as the  mandatory  use of electronic voting  machines  in polling  stations  – something  rare even in the  most developed  parts  of the  world  due to the possibility of gamification.

While mainstream parties engage in lining their pockets, ordinary citizens are left to fend for themselves, everybody from women, religious minorities, and the poor are constantly under threat from patriarchal norms, religious fundamentalism, and an economic system designed to divide and marginalize.  In the words of academic and political activist  Dr. Ammar Ali Jan in his book,  Rule by Fear,  “…  it would be fair to say that [the elites]  are heading the most successful  ‘separatist movement’ in the country, a  movement that seeks to insulate itself from the squalor and abandonment reflected in the experience of millions of Pakistanis.”

In a seminal  paper by Dr. Daron Acemoglu titled, ‘Institutions as the Fundamental Cause of Long-run Growth,’ he states the following. “Economic institutions encouraging economic growth emerge when political institutions allocate power to groups with interests in broad-based property  rights enforcement, when they create effective constraints on power-holders, and when there are relatively few rents to be captured by power-holders.” In other words, societies cannot possibly progress unless the incentive structures that govern its primary institutions are geared to promoting efficiency, cooperation, and inclusivity. In  Pakistan, our setup is  ripe for  rent-seeking, elite capture, corrupt  practices, and vulnerabilities to external influences loaded with political intent.

Regardless of what comes to pass over the next couple of weeks, the struggle for the strengthening of civil society must continue. Faces occupying  important government offices are constantly in flux. Real  lasting change can only come when those  in  power are aware that underperformance  will  mean its  ouster:  which only true democracy can ensure.  Without the right to speech, to assembly, to trade, and to association, no number of policy prescriptions will suffice to help propel Pakistan forward. Source:

Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A. (2005). Institutions as a fundamental cause of long-run growth.
Handbook of
economic growth, 1, 385-472.

Pakistan National Human Development Report 2020.

Shafqat, S., Jones, P., Khan, T. M., Naqvi, T., Malik, A., Chacko, J., … & Waseem, M. (2020).
Pakistan’s Political Parties:
Surviving Between Dictatorship and Democracy.
Georgetown University Press.
Jan, A. A. (2022).
Rule by Fear by Ammar Ali Jan. Folio Books