As the crisis aggravates…

The lethal economic crisis is ruining the foundation of the country followed by the deepening political polarisation

Dr Moonis Ahmar August 07, 2022
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Science, University of Karachi and can be reached at [email protected]

Poor crisis management skills coupled with a non-serious state and society aggravate the crisis. The East Pakistan crisis of 1971 is a classic example of the leadership’s mismanagement, which led to the disintegration of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Currently, Pakistan is engulfed by a conglomeration of crises. The lethal economic crisis is ruining the foundation of the country followed by the deepening political polarisation. The Election Commission of Pakistan’s recent verdict on PTI has further compounded the political tussle. Torrential rains and subsequent floodings have displaced thousands across the country along with damaging infrastructure further adding to the problems.

One cannot help but wonder why prevention measures were not taken earlier despite the warnings of a looming economic crisis, growing political schism since regime change and the Meteorological department’s warnings about the increased likelihood of climate-related weather events. The disparity between early warning and early response resulted in the aggravation of crises, which exposed the incapability of different institutions responsible for managing crises effectively.

Although there are societies that lack the vision and capability to deal with a crisis, there are countries wherein institutional arrangements are made at the grassroots level to analyse situations and prevent a larger crisis. In developed countries, the state and corporate sector support educational institutes and research organisations specialising in crisis management to take timely and appropriate decisions for dealing with critical situations. This is exemplified by the large number of crisis management institutes and think tanks located in developed countries. This shows that developing countries including Pakistan lack a proper environment and mindset where crisis is taken seriously to adopt a professional approach to curb a dangerous situation.

Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous country and the only Muslim nuclear state for now. However, neither the economy nor the leadership can deal with a crisis. Resultantly, when a crisis emerges, those who are responsible for tackling the crisis fail to understand the dynamics of the crisis and take timely measures to address it.

The main crisis in Pakistan is the deteriorating economic conditions, which are now indicating a potential default with a widening trade gap, depleting forex reserves, and rampant inflation. The political situation is also in dire straits with increased polarisation and the absence of governance and rule of law. The poor educational system, ethnic and sectarian divide, and religious extremism have worsened the situation. Our policymakers have also disregarded the emerging challenges from climate change and global warming. All this is brewing anger, antagonism, frustration, intolerance, and violence among the people.

Three measures will need to be taken at the state and societal levels to address the aggravating crisis. First, crisis and crisis management will remain a daunting challenge for Pakistan until and unless there are vibrant institutions composed of professionals who understand the gravity of economic, political, environmental, and societal crises. These institutions must take policy-oriented research seriously and those at the helm of affairs must ensure rigorous implementation. To improve knowledge and expertise in crisis and crisis management, courses must be introduced at the grassroots level i.e., school, college, and university.

Although there are institutions like National Disaster Management Authority and crisis management cells in different ministries, one cannot expect any changes in dealing with national crises unless adequate human and financial resources are available that can help form an effective response.

Second, a professional approach must be followed to deal with issues that can transform into a crisis. When people in positions of power lack the acumen, conceptual and theoretical understanding of crisis management, the outcome is confusion and loss of control over things. The East Pakistan crisis presents a vivid example of this because those wielding power had adopted an unprofessional approach and failed to take early warnings seriously, which increased resentment among the Bengalese population. Presently, the government and other stakeholders are claiming that they will manage the economic crisis, but the reality may differ.

The current economic crisis cannot be underestimated because if a country’s financial and economic matters are destabilised, it also affects politics, foreign policy, governance, and the rule of law. The federal finance minister and governor of the State Bank of Pakistan have claimed that once the IMF releases the $1.2 billion instalment, the economy will be revived. However, it is wishful thinking because the structural crises are deep-rooted and cannot be managed by just relying on foreign borrowing.

Third, without taking firm and bold measures to pull the economy from the brink of an economic crisis, the federal government and other stakeholders cannot prevent the subsequent political and governance issues. Prevention measures must include adherence to the policy of self-reliance; maximising exports; slashing imports; reducing non-development expenditures; eradicating corruption; nepotism, enforcing the culture of merit and ensuring national cohesion based on social justice.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2022.

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