Too Many Misses

Spearhead Analysis – 28.08.2018

By Farrukh Karamat
Senior Research Coordinator, Spearhead Research

In an article in The News, Nadeem Ul Haque aptly summed up what ails Pakistan: “It is, indeed, surprising that our economists and policy thinkers don’t see the extremely high costs of running a 21st century state with a 19th century colonial extractive system. No wonder, the recommendations of our economists remain empty. We repeatedly hear about the need to increase productivity, growth and exports. That is tantamount to going to the moon on a bullock cart.”

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is unfortunately mired in a self-perpetuating system of incompetence that thrives on extracting maximum benefits with the least amount of effort. A bloated and inept bureaucracy has continued to bow before the whimsical commands of repeated opportunistic governments – a process that has bred corruption, nepotism, and cronyism. In the process the essence of governance has been all but lost; and the lofty ideals of Quaid-e-Azam all but forgotten.  Successive governments with strong mandates have missed the targets and failed to deliver on their pre-election sloganeering, and in the process Pakistan has always moved a step backwards.

After gaining independence on August 14, 1947, the country has been unable to really shed the shackles of slavery that bound it for hundreds of years. Pre-independence the looters came from across the borders; today they reside within the borders. Justice, Equality, Unity, and even Faith are on shaky ground, what to say about Ethics, Professionalism and Competence. Years of deliberate neglect within the different state institutions and the abject apathy towards developing governance structures through robust policy making and planning have taken their toll and in the process the people and the country have suffered immense damage.

The people have become so accustomed to hearing bad news, that they actually cheer on hearing some ‘lesser’ bad news. Just prior to the induction of the Imran Khan led government when the Chinese agreed to lend an additional US$2 Billion to bolster the meagre forex reserves, the markets and people uttered a sigh of relief. This was still a loan, which was being added to the already colossal debt burden of the country. Yet, the people cheered and the government made it out to be a huge positive. CPEC has been termed a game changer, and it very well could be if managed with transparency and accountability. Yet there is limited understanding about the costs and benefits associated with its implementation. The stark reality is that we have become attuned to living beyond our means on hand-outs, without realizing that in the process we are constraining our own ability to survive and our independence. 

Whether it is the Chinese, or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or the Islamic Bloc that come to rescue Pakistan this time around, the repercussions will be severe and the costs and constraints many. While the PTI-led government has made promises about creating an Islamic Welfare State, providing jobs, constructing millions of houses, and divesting state owned assets these are easier said than done, especially when the country would be borrowing to survive a potential fiscal crisis. The fact that over the past 71 years the country has been unable to institute land reforms, tax the agricultural sector, expand the tax base in a meaningful manner, or institute a policy for sustained industrialization speaks volumes about the inbuilt inefficiency in the governance structures. No government has ever made the effort to improve fiscal prudence or institute reforms, because of the vested interests and the fear of losing out their own privileges and benefits. A ranking of 147th out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI); and a Global Competiveness Index ranking of 115th out of 137 countries for Pakistan does not bode well for a burgeoning young population. For too long the human capital has been ignored and the issue of a growing population sidelined. There is a lot of talk about increasing the exports from Pakistan, but nothing has materialized over the past 10 years as the quantum of exports have continued to fall.

Real acquired knowledge, and an investigative and inquisitive mind-set is rapidly giving way to a belief in rumour mongering, where the social media news has become the guiding force not just for the common man, but the higher policy making state institutions and personnel. The value system has changed to an extent that corruption has become embedded and institutionalized; and those perpetuating this system are revered rather than shunned. This is a direct result of the failure of the governance structures where the State is unable to deliver or resolve the issues of the people, who then devise their own methods to survive and thrive within this convoluted system.

The PTI-led government has the opportunity to perhaps revive the sagging fortunes of Pakistan. It is a mammoth task that will require an iron-will, concerted efforts and a strong ability to strategize and deliver. They need to have a plan and one hopes they have a plan in place as time is of the essence. One also hopes that they would avoid frivolous diversions and controversies and focus on the core issues to improve the lot of Pakistan, which needs to be pushed into the next century, instead of being consigned to the fate of a mediaeval state. It is imperative to broaden the tax base of the country to enhance internal revenue generation. Education and Skill-based Training needs to be made widely available. The industry needs to be revived as an engine of growth. The competence and competitive levels need to be enhanced to attract investment. A culture of austerity and self-accountability needs to be inculcated among those meant to serve the people. The government needs to look inwards to improve the lot of the people rather than seeking additional funding that would create a higher debt burden. It is time that the elected representatives and the selected government “servants” realize that they are there to objectively serve the country and its people and not act as “masters”. The government needs to hit the Bulls-eye and move Pakistan into the next century away from the remnants of the colonial era – it has the opportunity and needs to develop the capacity and deliver. The problem with elected governments is that as soon as they come in they start thinking about the next election and how they can perpetuate their rule. PTI should focus on what needs to be done in the country’s interest regardless of the political consequences.