Focus on political and economic realism

A rather puzzling matter of concern is the deliberate snub by Biden who is not making any verbal contact with PM Imran


Talat Masood November 10, 2021
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Our people are no strangers to experiencing chaotic and precarious conditions as the greater part of our history bears witness to it. But the country today, even by its own standards, is facing a potent combination of complex security and economic challenges not faced before.

The irony is that in these circumstances the leadership, instead of trying to address these, is further aggravating it by their highly confrontational politics. This in turn is accentuating the existing uneasy relationship between the ruled and the ruling with serious consequences. The PDM leadership, sensing the rising discontent among people as they are finding it extremely difficult for the two ends to meet due to galloping inflation, is fully capitalising on it. Their anti-government drive, whether it will be able to remove the government or not, is certainly making the task of governance very arduous by bringing masses on the streets.

Moreover, the extreme hostility of India and changing character of the state that even our worst scenario projections would not have predicted gives another dimension to the threat. Instability in Afghanistan and the security situation getting more complex with IS-K terrorist attacks on the rise — its fallout will reverberate in Pakistan. A rather puzzling matter of concern is the deliberate snub by President Biden who is not making any verbal contact with PM Imran Khan. This is a clear message that for the US, Pakistan has only peripheral value. Although, it is highly doubtful that this assumption is credible and could be sustained over time. Nonetheless, it certainly has negative ramifications that would have an effect on the security and economy of the country and could influence relations with the West and push Pakistan more toward China.

Pakistan despite all its resources has regrettably failed to develop a functioning and thriving economy. Political and military leaders due to pressing compulsions or lack of foresight have never given the economy the priority and importance it deserves, although it plays a critical role in providing financial autonomy and is a major element of national power.

It hurts national prestige and undermines freedom when we have to rely frequently on IMF and international donor agencies for economic support. And as Dr Hafiz Pasha mentioned during the launch of his book that IMF policies are ruthless and its agenda of programmed reforms are extremely tough. The question-and-answer session was equally informative with participants making valid observations as how the country’s power structure has adversely affected the economy.

The role of the security establishment in real estate business, the construction of public projects, has been growing. According to reliable estimates given in Dr Nazeer Mahar’s recent book, the “combined value of the companies’ assets was Rs443 billion in 2017, and growing 13 % per year…. The annual value of Frontier Works Organization (FWO) is 230 billion”. Several reputed economists of our country have been persistent in drawing attention on the state of the national economy and suggesting viable options for improving it. Overall inefficiencies and lack of sensitivity for the people’s wellbeing are contributing factors for the present state of the economy. It is a paradox that Pakistan being a nuclear power and the second most populous Muslim country in the world has failed to establish economic independence.

It is crucial that the leadership gives high priority to improving the economy. Ever since the inception of Pakistan, successive governments have relied heavily on foreign assistance to keep the economy afloat. Initially, in the first decade of its existence the country had to virtually start from scratch and was burdened with such enormous security and financial challenges that it had perforce to rely on foreign assistance. Settling millions of refugees, establishing a functional government infrastructure and facing an extremely hostile India required maintaining a highly professional military. All these developments placed additional burden on our economy. As India’s threat was real, Pakistan leaders found it expedient to be a part of the US-led Western security alliances — Cento, SEATO and Bagdad Pact. Later in the eighties, Pakistan played a key role in facilitating the US in supporting the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation. The alliance came at a heavy cost as it invited the hostility of the erstwhile Soviet Union. But the redeeming feature was that it kept the US and the international donor agencies supporting us and providing substantive financial assistance which kept the country afloat. These measures, however, were no substitute for building a self-sustaining economy. In essence those were compulsions of the time that later became a national habit. There are limits to how much a nation can leverage itself on the premise of its geo-strategic position, especially in a changing global dynamic. The exponential development of technology has given rise to weapon systems that have transformed many aspects of warfare and reduced reliance on bases. 

There were expectations that the PTI government will give high priority to the economy, instead its leadership has been harking on the past failures of political opponents as the centerpiece of its strategy. What is of concern is that the real per capita income in the last three years has fallen in real terms and the government is finding it difficult to pay back the loans. The loss-making state enterprises continue to bleed heavily and the government has not been able to privatise these due to political expediency. Human development has been another weak area of civilian and military governments with few exceptions.

By now the PTI leadership must have realised that criticism of past governments only goes that far, adds to people’s frustrations and is a weak substitute for good governance. The manipulations and wrongdoings in the recent Daska bye-elections have soiled the party’s image and claims of standing on the moral high ground.

The image that the PTI has initially been projecting of being a party of change and a standard bearer of proclivity, that description too does not seem to hold.

Hopefully, the leadership would realise the overriding necessity of focusing on creating a self-sustaining economy and developing a functional political culture.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2021.

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