We were barely a few months into the current government and the chatter started. People were not happy, the economy was shot, inflation was rising, power shortages were acute, industry was shutting down and jobs were scarce. The litany of complaints was endless. The suggested panacea, unlikely even then, was alternatively the return of the military and a national government. Today, when things are sliding even more rapidly and have never been so bad, we seem to be finally confronting the horrible reality that is extremism. Extremism, which seeks to destroy all state institutions, including the military, has Pakistan in free fall. We have spent years in denial and while we continue in a state of denial the realisation that neither the military nor a national government, nor a combination, are the panacea seems to be sinking in. The talk now is not about the possibility of the colonel’s coup. No one wants to take on something they have absolutely no idea what to do with. Today, it’s about the rapid slide, how will it be arrested and who will arrest it?
Resistance, not in the positive or constructive sense, seems to be something we are good at. We resist until we are eventually compelled to do what should have been done in the first place. This resistance, delaying of the inevitable, has cost us dearly. Can we afford to continue to resist? To procrastinate, putting off for tomorrow or until after the next election what should have been done at the outset but must be done today. And there is much that needs doing. The to-do list gets longer each day and, as it does, it looks more and more impossible.
So instead of creating more points of conflict, let us start the process to if not reverse the damage, at least arrest it. The economy is in shambles; some in government are calling for immediate reform. The situation is so dire that if the problem is not taken care of now we will cross the point of no return. Others argue that yes, the situation is dire, but there is no way our allies will allow us to fall below rock bottom. The bailouts will come because they cannot afford to let us go. They agree that reform is required, that it is inevitable, but in the time-honoured tradition of Pakistani politics they seek to delay the inevitable. At the very least, until after the next election. This logic resonates with the political side of government, which knows that unpopular measures, no matter how critical, do not win you elections. And it is all about staying in office. No one agrees that the need for reform is dire enough to merit losing an election.
Sometimes one wonders what it is that makes us think this way, why do we assume that we are indispensible and even more alarming is the notion that its perfectly alright to sell ourselves to whoever has the means to pay for us to stay afloat. Do we have no ambition to develop, to grow, to be a country that is viable and relevant, that looks after and provides for its citizens? Is it all about holding on to power? Do we not care that if we continue on our current path that we run the risk of a complete meltdown? It appears that we do not. Either that, or we are incredibly stupid.
Pakistan needs a reform agenda today. The plans and strategies for growth and development are in place. The economy has never been as discussed as it has in the past six months and, as a result, we are painfully aware of all that needs doing. We know what is needed to develop the rural economy, we know that we need to generate more power, we need to cut our fuel bills, we need to manufacture, produce and export more and import less. We need to build competitive capacity and to do that we need access to capital. We know what it is we need; the number crunchers tell us it is doable. Our issues aren’t commercial, they’re political; to survive we need to start making tough political choices. They are the only ones left.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2011.
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