If and when in a fix, our political parties barely plan beyond a day to the extent that at times they are left counting down hours. This takes one back to the days of the dharna — the faces of the scions of the sitting government, which has a two-third majority in parliament, had gone pale. But what does this tendency of our ruling classes to not plan ahead mean for the voters? Pakistan has had several transformational moments yet it has always fallen short of taking a leap of faith. It appears that for the political leadership, it is incredibly difficult to disassociate itself from a distant past or even the present, and plan ahead. Pakistan is subjected to internal policy uncertainties and therefore there is a lack of an institutional decision-making process. The world is always second-guessing Pakistan, and expecting the worst. We cannot blame the world for this. We need to realise that while the elite can get away with bad governance and institutional decay, the cost of this is borne by the ordinary Pakistani.
However, with the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, one is somewhat reassured that the state is at least willing to root out terrorism. The question here is: once the beast is killed who would scrape off the remnants of extremism that stem from within? One recent flicker of hope is the resurrection of Nacta’s website. We also need to remember that the National Action Plan is more than just a unit of measuring the state of security within the country. It places great responsibility on our already frail political wisdom to carve out a society that has the ability to look beyond the scheduling of its life around regular power outages and gas shortages amongst several other mundane issues. However, what we see instead is that plans that can help us achieve this, like Vision Pakistan 2025, haven’t moved beyond the Ministry of Planning, Reforms and Development. The message has not been passed on to the people who can realise Ahsan Iqbal’s dream of a better Pakistan.
There is this lingering fear that Pakistan will remain poor and the writ of the state will continue to shrink. It is quite possible that this country will still be considered amongst the least developed nations in the near future. Balochistan is still economically fragmented and socially isolated. Sindh is still starving. The political party that produced and implemented the 18th Amendment has yet to be seen benefiting people in the province it rules. We are caught between the challenges of acquiring fiscal space and pursuing a robust economic growth strategy. Only a handful of individuals and businesses benefit from our current dynamics while the vast majority remains under-developed. We are constantly terming the CPEC to be a game-changer for us. That might be true, but we still haven’t really heard in concrete terms how Pakistani businesses and people will gain from the project and whether or not the country has the intellectual resource and institutional capacity to gain from this extraordinary regional economic integration. While we witness tectonic shifts in global power, one wonders if our policymakers have evaluated how all development opportunities that will consequently emerge, will tie in with the country’s foreign policy.
On the technological front, more than two billion of the world population uses social media with another three billion using the internet, exploiting the digital space rather than the physical one. This is a key trend that is impacting the growth potential of economies the world over. According to not-so-recent data, last updated on October 2014 by the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan, we have an estimated 25 million internet users, with 15 million accessing it using mobile services. Pakistan’s teledensity, as reported by the Pakistan Telecom Authority, has reached 62.79 per cent. The financial sector has gained from these technological advancements, however, the public sector has yet to automate and think digital. If this continues, there will come a point when government systems will become irrelevant and obsolete.
According to Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, the world has entered the fourth industrial revolution, which is fundamentally about the blurring of physical, digital and biological entities. This revolution will change methods of production, management and governance. The breakthroughs in emerging technologies like nanotechnology, robotics, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, brain science and quantum computing are unprecedented. Have our policymakers tried to evaluate how all this will impact us in the future?
Will we be able to negotiate through all these uncertainties and opportunities that stare us in the face and adapt according to rapidly changing realities? Pakistan has yet to make significant advancements in human capital investment, which is something it really needs to focus on and plan for the future. Without this much-needed focus on planning for the future, Pakistan will continue to wallow as an economic and intellectual backwater. That must not be allowed to happen.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2016.