By now, even the dumbest dunderheads know what ails Pakistan’s economy. And why won’t they? They have been listening to the same old nauseating economic narrative from every ‘economic’ Tom, Dick and Harry, as well as from economically illiterate politicians of all shades and colour plus the official ‘non-economic’ economic managers — both the civil and military types — since long. And, for the same reason, they also know how to go about getting rid of the ailment. If only the ruling elite had allowed them a shot at policymaking and implementation, they would have succeeded in no time where the former had failed so miserably even after having remained in the saddle since the very inception of Pakistan.
For those who grabbed the gravy train immediately after the country achieved its independence, it has been one long, unending golden voyage. Very early in the day they had learnt the mantra of ‘trickle-down’. And a little later, they also discovered the self-serving magic in the market. Feudal aristocracy was the first to snatch a cosy compartment on this train of the ruling elite. They were joined immediately by the top cats of civil and military bureaucracy, including some from the judiciary and the police, followed by big business and the media tycoons. They did continuously differ on the issue of captaincy (a running dispute which was won more often than not by the military bureaucracy) but religiously respected each other’s vested economic interests. And the political parties served as the handmaiden of the captain of the day. During the first 10 years of independence, except for the early couple of years, it was the civil service which ruled Pakistan. Next, it was the military bureaucracy. Then the feudal aristocracy and big business alternated. Currently, it is the big business which is calling the shots.
Since each one on the gravy train, in its own self-interest, is obliged not to infringe on the vested economic interests of the other passengers, no matter what political party is in the saddle, the economic policies of the government of the day remain the same. Even the ultraconservative regime of Ziaul Haq, or that of the pseudo-enlightened Musharraf, followed almost the same economic policies. That is why there has never been any change in the lot of the country’s downtrodden, no matter who was ruling the country. The rich continued to become richer and the poor poorer. The narrative of the ruling elite would remain unchanged: the tax-to-GDP ratio needs to be improved from the current low level to, at least, 15-16 per cent of GDP. But while proposing budgetary measures, they would all try their best to promote their own respective fiscal benefits and leave it to the masses to tighten their belts so as to, at least, maintain the tax-to-GDP ratio at the current level. They would all express their desire to improve investment-to-GDP ratio from the current low levels to at least 24-25 per cent of GDP. But while framing the budget, they would leave the gaps to be filled by dole rather than contribute a part of their unearned incomes for the purpose. They would insist that they would break the begging bowl but gladly accept all kinds of conditional handouts when offered.
The declared motto of all of them is ever higher allocation for education and health. But they would let these allocations slip through as they would try to pocket for themselves as much revenue as they could while stretching the shrinking resources to cover, for obvious reasons, non-targeted subsidies. When confronted with debt repayment problems, they would sell the family silver for a song to friends and family. They would park their loot in offshore companies and claim all kinds of tax breaks in Pakistan. They would talk of good governance but would only rule — not govern. They would promise to establish a welfare society in Pakistan but would bend backwards to sustain and nurture Pakistan as a security state. Every country owns an elite class but Pakistan is one unique country that is owned by its own elite class. These elite live a sheltered existence protected by high walls around their palatial adobes surrounded on all sides by guards armed to the teeth.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2013.