Why can’t a nuclear state erect an industrial base?

The wonders in nuclear advancement, somehow, could not be spiraled down into building a viable socio-economic base


Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri May 30, 2024
The writer is a senior journalist and analyst. He can be reached at iamehkri@gmail.com

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National days invite the urge for introspection, and should drive the way for undertaking corrective measures. Youm-e-Takbeer on May 28 is a milestone in our, otherwise, chequered history and reminds us of the achievement of making the country’s defence impregnable. Pakistan today possesses nuclear weapons with full spectrum deterrence and has acquired tactical capability too. This laurel has offset the conventional forces’ asymmetry with India, and conveniently kept extra-territorial inimical forces at bay. A feather in the cap, and so far so good for peace and security.

Pakistan, nonetheless, is mired in severe problems when it comes to national cohesion and development. The wonders in nuclear advancement, somehow, could not be spiraled down into building a viable socio-economic base. We are perhaps the only nuclear state that lacks an industrial base, and could not set up manufacturing units that are export-oriented. The lacunae even 25 years after going nuclear have left us in a quagmire of debt and poverty. More than half the populace live below an income of $3 a day, and are devoid of basic civic amenities.

It is only through industrialisation that inclusive growth and wealth generation could be achieved, inevitably helping defeat poverty and parochialism. This will also undo pestering trade imbalance and overcome disastrous inflation. It is regrettable that Pakistan is classified as a semi-industrial, underdeveloped economy with an eroding fiat.

The statistics are baffling: manufacturing accounts for a mere 17% of GDP, as compared to a minimum of 51% in any nuclear state; agriculture 19% of GDP and even after employing 43% of workforce is still a grain-importing nation; an energy shortfall of above 7000MW despite producing region’s most expensive electricity leading to impediments in growth and competitiveness; and a soaring circular debt and an unending crisis of balance of payments.

We are an exceptional nation that borrows for debt-servicing, does not believe in austerity and is unwilling to scrap perks and privileges of the elite. Likewise, the taxation regime is hypocritical in essence and lacks the courage to go after sacred cows, and lamentably thrives at the altar of the salaried class. It is ironic that international lenders do not call for putting an end to this deceiving revenue-generation structure, and rather call for squeezing the middle class and small-scale businesses.

Why is that so? Why cannot the enterprise that was put in by the civil and military leadership to fortify a nuclear umbrella be replicated in erecting an industrial base on the premise of a sound economy? We are bestowed with minerals, strategic geography, rivers, plenty of raw material and industrious labour, coupled with more than 100 million tech-savvy youth. It shows there is something seriously wrong in our governance structure and, moreover, a psyche with which we deal among ourselves as a nation-state.

If Pakistan can go nuclear, zealously safeguard its arsenal from diplomatic encroachment and withstand sanctions, there is no reason why 240 million people should be stranded in the dark pit of recession and degeneration. This hints at a slumber that has set amidst us, and none but the ruling strata over the last seven decades is responsible for this sheer injustice.

This necessitates the desire for drawing parallels and looking around. India, which has enough on its sleeves in the form of rising communalism, is home to 3.3% of global manufacturing output and an ordained democratic edifice. Bangladesh, whom we looked down as pariahs, is one of the progressive Asian economies, and Iraq that bore the brunt of aggression, invasion and terrorism has settled its debt with IMF.

Our mess can only be addressed if we start behaving as a resilient nation, assert sovereignty in all national pride and stop being apologetic. We did that after the Buddha smiled at Pokhran in 1974, and we can do that again by overcoming the existing crisis of governance, which is rapidly turning into an existential threat. The society is in need of inculcating the irresistible ethos of equality for all and rule of law. There is no doubt we can triumph and rise as an industrialised progressive power.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2024.

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