Reform is always difficult...for any of us. Known rules, familiar relationships, predictable costs - all help create order in our lives, even if our lives are not as comfortable as they might be. Reform is everywhere difficult. In the US, the first instinct of members of Congress facing once-in-a-century economic and fiscal crises was to construct stimulus legislation that pads the known and the comfortable with money and protection against the crisis. In China, political and economic rigidities make adaptation to changing world markets a cause of political unrest. So Nadeem Ul Haque's worry (Reform or... published in The Nation, February 8, 2009) that Pakistan's privileged few resist needed reforms has a familiar tune. But in Pakistan the urgency of figuring out how to learn a new dance to that tune is even greater than in the US or China. The reasons are well known: violence and conflict mark the limits of state control in many parts of the country. At times, and despite extraordinary measures, the violence reaches into the heart of the capital. Coupled with the stifling, un-reformed rules that Ul Haque notes, this conflict's impact leaves Pakistan's millions even more vulnerable to the disruption brought on by the global economic tsunami. With its deficits of civil order, adaptive capacity or efficient government how is Pakistan to reform? On January 27, 2009 the New York Times economic reporter David Leonhardt explored the political and social opportunities embedded in crises. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/magazine/01 Economy-t.html?scp=8&sqdavid%20leonhardt&st=cse) Citing both President Obama's chief of staff and University of Maryland Professor Mancur Olson, Leonhardt explains that the US shouldn't "let a good crisis go to waste." For Olson, the equilibrium-upsetting crisis of losing a war explained post-war growth in Japan and Germany. By making possible reforms that cut away sclerotic policies, the crisis helped the benefits of public institutions and policies be distributed more widely. In Pakistan, such change would broaden the stake in society of currently excluded or marginalised citizens, building government effectiveness and legitimacy. If the crisis were an earthquake or an epidemic, it would be simple to see and agree on priorities. But Pakistan has layered crises that are difficult to untangle and cannot be addressed by simply delivering emergency food supplies or widely administering a vaccine. The accumulating burden of Pakistan's own dysfunctional policies is the first crisis and the global finance and economic contraction is a second. The challenge to the state's control of its territory is yet a third. Recognising a common plight is easier during a crisis. Crafting action is still difficult, especially when the roots of the challenge so thoroughly permeate government structures and processes. Yet, in Pakistan, three actions would pave the way for reform. Needed first are new uncomfortable facts about how current policies strangle opportunity for so many. This is the job of economists and others who need to look at who benefits from current rules and who pays - not just in corruption costs, but in inefficiencies and distorted operations of firms and entrepreneurs. Amid Pakistan's widely visible poverty and privilege, reform requires delving into some of the details. Who benefits from courts that enforce contracts so slowly and often corruptly? If local leaders cannot hold local teachers and doctors accountable for teaching children or caring for the ill, what is the cost in education deficits and health outcomes? If citizens lack timely, relevant information about the outcome of their politicians' decisions, are local elections going to motivate reform or reinforce the familiar? Pakistan's think tanks and universities need to be funded to conduct urgently needed research on the wide range of economic and political economy issues. The consulting for donor projects that too often passes for analysis isn't enough. The large issue is not the performance of donor programmes, (though that is a very serious issue) but the performance of Pakistan's policies and programmes. They constitute a too-often hidden tax on all Pakistanis. The second needed effort is clear leadership and direction so that the many details of uncomfortable facts and sorting out of useful, Pakistan-specific reforms can take place in a coherent context. Current political party organisation diminishes policy differences and emphasises personal and network loyalty. When proximity to leadership is key to access to power, privilege and benefit, we should expect no less. But if the supply of needed leadership is low, then the demand for more informed political debate can be increased by citizens, press, civil society and international donors. These are actors who can ask the needed questions. Do the proposals of one party or another stack up against common sense or experience elsewhere (see item first, above)? While there is plenty of debate already in Pakistan, it will benefit from leavening with longer term and more economically-grounded direction from political leaders. The third way forward is to target the incentives of officials and politicians. If members of the Provincial Assembly or a union council are mainly judged by whether they can obtain material rewards for particular supporters, (examine how these politicians spend their time compared to those in other countries), then the main output of government will be just that. This is why it is easier to build schools than to staff them consistently. Construction contracts are more efficiently passed out by politicians than is oversight or teacher motivation. Current steps by provinces to better align the responsibility and authority of local and provincial politicians and administrators offer an opportunity to move in a fruitful direction. The likelihood that each province may do so a little differently offers a chance to experiment and learn. But such efforts will succeed only if they target more than the question of who controls which budgets. How do the reforms better align political responsibility with revenue raising, budget choices and implementation responsibility? Such opportunities abound in Pakistan. Control of the police is one of them. None of these three steps is a one-shot effort, and none can take place easily amid terror and armed conflict. While it is widely recognised that the battle against extremist elements cannot succeed without a parallel effort to better deliver basic services and economic opportunities, how has not been so clear. The framework offered here requires asking of each policy or reform: Who benefits and who pays for the status quo? Does the reform proposed deliver benefits widely across Pakistani society? Does the change alter the incentives of officials and politicians? Nadeem Ul Haque's lament puts a face on a huge burden Pakistan bears. But it remains to others to not let this crisis go to waste. The writer is director of the Centre on International Development and Governance at the Urban Institute, Washington DC