Keeping pace in a fast changing world

The present chaotic political situation is another drag undermining national power and prestige

Talat Masood June 05, 2024
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


Pakistan’s leadership cannot continue to remain blindfolded to the hardships the people are facing and the acute problems the country is faced with. They have to prioritise addressing the dire economic situation. It is not merely a question of navigating through the present acute economic crisis. As a self-respecting people and a country endowed with natural and human resources it is time the leadership took a long-term view of shedding the dependence on international donors and lending agencies.

Depending on international agencies or friendly countries like China and the Gulf states, should only be a recourse to preventing bankruptcy and keeping the system afloat, while pursuing policy that aims at regaining financial autonomy. This dependency, apart from being a burden on our allies, is certainly not a viable policy for a country of 240 million people, who certainly deserve better. Probably our leaders do not realise that the state of economy and political infighting have undermined our inherent strengths derived from our resilient people, geo-strategic location and as a strong conventional and nuclear power.

Clearly, the leadership’s high priority should be to plan and implement policies that break this dependence and achieve economic and political autonomy. The question arises: is the leadership capable of or even interested in achieving these benchmarks? In fact, there is no dearth of capable economist in the country both within the government and the private sector who have been soliciting valuable advice to steer the country toward higher and sustained economic growth. The current finance minister and the previous ones have a sound and international background and their recommendations should be given due weightage and incorporated where feasible with the focus on improving the plight of the masses.

The present chaotic political situation is another drag undermining national power and prestige. PTI is in tatters while Imran Khan languishes in prison. It has lowered the image of the country and created despondency among the masses. The other major political parties — PML-N and PPP — are too family-centric and are thus unable to actualise the full potential either in governance or as a dynamic political force. We are not functioning as a democratic country as the power structure is distorted and strayed away from what is permissible in the Constitution. The hybrid power structure that is presently in place, apart from being a serious constitutional diversion, undermines efficiency and conflates accountability. Experience has shown over the years that it is not working and yet we continue to adhere to it. Apart from our own experience, a quick glance at the plight of developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America — with distorted democratic structures and invariably weak economies — shows they are heavily dependent on foreign assistance, politically unstable and prone to external and internal violence.

In our case the situation on the Western border with Afghanistan has and continues to remain very vulnerable to attacks by TTP and other hostile groups. Apart from the patronage extended by the Taliban leadership to these groups in Afghanistan, it is the neglect and underdevelopment of the former tribal belt in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan over the years that has given rise to these hostile forces. The federal and the provincial government should seriously focus on expanding educational, health and infrastructural facilities for the betterment of people. This would also contribute to countering hostile elements and the integration of the area into the mainstream. We do not see any serious effort in this direction.

Pakistan leadership’s expectations that a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will be more cooperative and serve the interests of the two countries have been disappointing. Probably, it was difficult to visualise that Afghan leadership is essentially insecure and suffers from past wounds that do not easily go away. It is holding the country with a tight fist and the worst sufferers are women and the coming generations. The Chinese leadership, conscious of this reality and being more pragmatic, is dealing with it with tact that has won over the Taliban confidence.

There are still some significant positives that are being done by the government to navigate and address these challenges so that we do not remain bogged down in this quagmire.

Most significant, in the new budget the government is focusing on revenue generation both from internal means (like increasing taxation) as well as incentivising four key industries — information technology, mining, agriculture and textiles — to generate bulk of the exports. In this Pakistan does have expertise as well as resources to increase productivity and compete internationally.

In addition, policies are being formulated not to carry the burden of sick and inefficient public sector organisations and to take the impending decisions of restructuring them to sell off to foreign companies which will be an additional source of funds.

There is focus on digitisation and technology to bring about more efficiency and transparency. This will not only result in bringing efficiency and transparency in the government working but also lead to promoting and supporting industries. However, to bring about these changes effectively, the government should monitor the progress closely and render technical and managerial support if needed.

Another recent positive development has been in the space research and terrestrial communications fields. In the former, we are aiding the Chinese Chang’e-6 mission to grab samples from the Apollo crater on the far side of the moon and deliver them to Earth for analysis, while in the later, SUPARCO launched communication satellites with the assistance of China on 30th May 2024 in order to bring faster internet to the masses in Pakistan, enhance TV broadcasts and provide greater cellular connectivity and broadband services.

This clearly indicates there is no dearth of talent or resources in the country. It is ensuring correct national priorities, focusing on education compatible with the increasing demands of a fast-changing world; and encouraging talent and creating an amiable environment based on fair play and equal opportunities that can transform the country into an important player in the region and improve its standing in the international community.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2024.

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