Ask anyone, from your corner paan wala to a TV anchor to the accountant who does your taxes — if you pay any — to the babus who run the bureaucracy to the leaders of political parties; everyone knows what ails Pakistan and they all have their versions of solutions to these problems. The trouble is that no one is willing to implement the solutions they talk about, be it the paan wala, the tax accountant, the bureaucrat or the politician sitting in the legislative assembly.
The list of problems is fairly well-known and well-discussed. It is the security and law and order situation, the dismal economic growth rate, the high unemployment rate, the non-payment of taxes, the energy crisis, the very high population growth rate and the lack of a decent agricultural policy to feed the ever-growing population.
These problems are not new and have been around for most of the country’s population’s lifetime. We know where they have sprung from and where we should start to address them but we still do not do anything about it.
Take the security situation, for example. After every other terrorist attack or target killing, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or other outfits like it, claim responsibility for the act but are never apprehended. The civilian government may make the right noises but the powerful establishment refrains from taking any decisive and long-lasting action against them because it considers some of them as ‘strategic’ assets, which might come in handy when dealing with enemy countries. Some mainstream political parties look to them for political support, votes and organised workers during elections; the courts and the judges fear for their security so not many verdicts are passed against such elements. We know of instances where murderers are let go off on grounds of insufficient evidence by the courts. When the institutions that are supposed to protect the people, end up protecting those who are killing the citizens, the problem is never going to get solved.
Everyone knows that our tax-to-GDP ratio is depressing and direct taxation is one of the lowest for an economy this size. To make up for the lack of direct taxes, the PPP government tried to introduce another indirect tax — the value added tax — a couple of years back but faced opposition from the PML-N and the MQM, the parties with urban voters. The PPP is not too keen on agrarian taxes because these affect its leadership and many do not pay income tax. The PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami talk about a reformed tax system which will remain irrelevant as long as they are not in parliament.
The country is a ticking time bomb with the highest population growth rate outside sub-Saharan Africa but no government seems to be interested in tackling this issue; our main concern remains things like Article 62 of the Constitution and the piety of the prospective election candidates. Even if the economic growth rate miraculously improves and the government starts spending on human development sectors, the population growth will wipe out any gains made unless this problem is addressed as a priority matter.
Some may say that all institutions of the state, including the armed forces, the civilian government, the bureaucracy and the judiciary seem to have priorities that apparently put their own interests above that of ordinary Pakistanis. That remains the biggest problem with the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2013.