Why and how strategic planning matters

There was a time when planning in form of five-year plan led to ‘great leap forward’ in terms of economic development


Dr Moonis Ahmar June 04, 2024
The writer is Meritorious Professor International Relations and former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi. Email: amoonis@hotmail.com

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Strategic planning means a set of policies whereby state aims to achieve multiple objectives in a given period of time. When a leadership is bold, clear, honest and visionary, the pursuance of strategic planning becomes a core of its short and long term ambitions. But if the leadership is devoid of the mentioned qualities then that state is fragile, failing and failed.

One element common among the successful models of Bangladesh, China, India, ASEAN, Gulf States and core EU members is the consistent mode of strategic planning. There was a time in first 25 years of Pakistan when strategic planning in the form of five-year plan led to ‘great leap forward’ in terms of economic development, industrialisation and pursuance of work ethics which reflected the vision and perseverance of the leadership at that time. If the value of Pakistani rupee versus major international currencies was stable; per capita income; GDP and economic growth rate as compared to other South Asian countries was better, the reason was strategic planning. After the disintegration of Pakistan in December 1971, compromise in the culture of merit and work ethics also negatively impacted the performance of successive regimes which led to the erosion of purposeful planning.

When there is erosion and decline in almost all state institutions like PIA, Railways, WAPDA and Steel Mills, the fault lines in strategic planning must be taken into account. These fault lines are: time mismanagement; improper decision making; failure to meet targets; corruption; nepotism; and lack of accountability. If Pakistan falls below 144 on the human development index and its human security indicators are unimpressive, it means lawmakers, cabinet members, bureaucracy, judiciary and military as well as a segment of corporate sector lack strategic vision and planning.

If majority of the people lack access to clean drinking water, adequate medical facilities and quality education, it means there is something wrong with strategic planning. When 26 million children in the country are out of school and extremism is destabilising society, this points towards serious gaps in planning with improper decision-making. How and why erosion of strategic planning caused economic decline, political instability, bad governance, absence of rule of law and accountability needs to be examined in some detail.

It’s very easy to find scapegoats and involve in blame game as far as strategic failures of Pakistan are concerned but it is an uphill task to find plausible solutions that can put this country back on track. If state institutions are run by professionals with caliber, competence, intelligence and integrity, these qualities are reflected in planning and decision-making. When ignorance, greed, incompetence, corruption and nepotism become part of those at the helm, strategic planning cannot be prioritised. It was the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, that focused on strategic planning and pulled his country from poverty and backwardness. In his book, From Third to First, Lee discussed in detail how he was able to build a critical mass which transformed Singapore into a First World country in only four decades.

In August 1999, the then Federal Minister of Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, while speaking before the faculty of University of Karachi, talked about his Vision 2010 but within two months his government was toppled. In 2013 when he again became a Federal Minister for Planning and Development, he confidently talked about Vision 2025 but failed to transform it into a reality.

The strategic planning challenge in Pakistan needs to be analysed from three sides.

First, the Planning Commission of Pakistan — which has formulated 13 five-year plans in 76 years — is responsible for strategic decision-making and achieving results in a given period of time. Till 1971, five-year plans were quite regular but the momentum of such plans mitigated with the passage of time. Modernisation of infrastructure, education, agricultural and industrial development form the essence of five-year plans. When macroeconomic indicators — per capita income, GDP, foreign exchange reserves, exports and remittances — are not satisfactory, the Planning Commission is left with meager choices. Human security is the core of strategic planning. When there is a dearth of innovative minds in the Planning Commission and the priority is to secure privileges and perks, one cannot expect any economic breakthrough. Plans to control price hike can only yield results when those who at the helm of affairs in the Planning Commission, and elsewhere, are committed to improving the quality of life of the people.

Second, strategic economic planning also requires ensuring balance between income and expenditures. When 70% of the tax revenue is used to service debt and meet defence expenditures, there is hardly anything left to run provincial and federal governments and to fund developmental projects. As a result, Pakistan has to borrow from local banks, foreign lending agencies or foreign countries. Planning to bridge trade and budget deficits is the need of the hour but that is only possible when professionalism along with hardwork, intelligence, integrity form the strategic core of decision-making.

Third, learning from the success stories of the aforementioned countries in crossing the threshold of under-development can play a pivotal role in transforming Pakistan into a vibrant state. Planning to conserve resources, manage time and eradicate corruption and nepotism will go a long way in transforming the culture of Pakistan as productive, accountable and result-oriented. As Rome was not built in a day and Chairman Mao’s ‘great leap forward’ took decades to transform China from a lazy and opium-ridden country into the world’s second largest economy, it will be a hard task for Pakistan too because of stagnation of both state and society due to economic decline, political chaos and deep-rooted corruption.

When the state is not mindful of conserving time and resources and announces public holiday to celebrate nuclear tests even after 26 years, one can understand how opaque the mindset of ruling elites is. Can this country afford the luxury of periodic holidays?

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2024.

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