Social development in our times is characterised by complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity and a messy process expressed through sophisticated verbiage - jargon.
Social development approaches have increasingly become the domain of experts who claim to have mastery over the processes of social change, accentuated through technical phrases. Critics argue that the essence of social transformation has been diffused because of over-technicality of the development discourse, which excludes those towards whom the development is aimed at - the poor and the marginalised.
An asymmetry between technical knowledge and local wisdom further aggravates the gap of communication between the expert and locale - the poor and marginalised with disempowering effects. In a nut- shell, the genesis of development discours is far removed from the local reality because it is tied with the agenda of international assistance. This sort of discourse is shaped by development experts who are miles away - geographically, socially and politically - from the area of development intervention. International development assistance in recent times, for instance, is tilted more towards political objectives shrouded in a disaster management discourse. The notion of disaster is in vogue these days both as a key development challenge and as a buzzword where donors would be happy to put in an obscene amount of money. Disaster management and preparedness, risk mitigation and reduction, climate-induced and anthropogenic disaster, complex emergencies - the phrase mongering goes on unabated.
Media savvy political leaders would reach out to earn political capital, highly paid disaster assessment consultants would give sophisticated analyses to make their presence felt - the show goes on and the value for money is established.
Cynics would term it disaster capitalism with some cogent explanation of what we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria with billions of dollars pouring in to benefit the reconstruction contractors, flamboyant consultants and proxies of belligerent capitalist powers without making any visible impact in bringing back the normalcy. The recurring phenomena of conflicts, wars and disasters have exterminated millions and one of the oldest human civilisations has been vandalised. This brutish act of homicide has become synonymous with the Holocaust in its scale and intensity. For a desirable but unfulfilled goal of peace, coexistence, democratic transition and development, humanity is being put to test, at times mutilated, in the name of that insensitive phrase 'collateral damage' - as if people are mere objects in a democratising mission. People in Middle East, South America, East Europe and Central Asia have had enough of this ominous act of democratic transition.
What we have seen more frequently than not, out of this democratising mission, is Balkanisation, a resurgence of parochial religious nationalism and a pattern of terrorist acts almost with predictable frequency. The only thing we could not attain is an inclusive and people-centric democratic dispensation. While military expeditions and a neo-liberal economic onslaught go hand in hand to impose an uncanny democratic system in the developing world, the spectre of neo-Nazism and ultra-right territorialism haunts Europe and the US. Bretix in Europe and the increasing popularity of that supremacist Donald Trump in the US tell us the whole story. The mission of civilising people does not stop here; with barrels of guns there come humanitarian aid, rehabilitation and post-conflict development - and the destroyer becomes the saviour. As they say, there are losers and winners of this phenomenon of political and economic globalisation that perpetuates intra and interstate disparities. We have seen the emergence of the South in the North and North in the South. The classical South/North divide - the divide between the developing and developed world is being replaced gradually by wealth concentration in pockets of riches both within the developed and the developing world. Parts of Mumbai, Lahore, Jakarta and other metropolises of the developing world are much better off than the suburbs of New York, London and Berlin and vice versa. Free flow of capital across national borders and its concentration within the pockets of opulence across the world has globalised disparities while democratic processes have witnessed setbacks simultaneously. The rise of anti-poor political and economic regimes across Europe, Americas and Asia tells the story of the failure to negotiate the fundamental contradiction between the economic liberalisation and political empowerment of people. This may seem an unpalatable extreme position for many of us but there is an element of truth in these arguments at least from the empirical knowledge of our political world as we know it today. This is, however, only one side of the whole story; the recipients of development money are not a homogenous group of people to be served with public money. In developing countries like Pakistan, development aid has served diametrically opposed objectives by helping dictatorial regimes consolidate power at the cost of democracy. PRSPs have had detrimental impacts on the evolution of national economic and political policy in Pakistan at the macro level with spill-over adverse impacts at the meso and micro levels. Pakistan is a basket case of international assistance which at times propped up dictatorships; and the mantra of poverty reduction, good governance and social inclusion never paid off under the shade of dictatorial regimes. Pakistan received most of development aid under the dictatorial regimes of General Zia and General Musharraf when political freedoms were restricted.