States mature and grow — develop — because governments put in place policies that enable them to. Pakistan would be further down the development road if successive governments had done that consistently, and with all the weight of political and social will power that they had at their disposal. Today, Pakistan stands again at the portals of failure — this time the failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). A conference organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) titled “Pathways to sustainable development” concluded on December 11 and ended on a bleak note. It is not only Pakistan that has failed, it is the countries of the region collectively that have failed to follow a path of inclusive growth. The economy of Pakistan could be strengthened by connecting with other states via roads, power grids and trade, but South Asia is the least-integrated grouping regionally and falls below its considerable potential — a reality recognised by the recent Saarc conference.
The SDPI conference — the seventeenth such event — told us little that is not already known. Inflation is now at 12 per cent, food prices are rising, and poverty is increasing by about three million a year — though still not effectively measured because of political sensitivities. The national census that is an essential forward planning tool is still nowhere near being held, again for purely political reasons. A pitiful 700,000 fill in their tax forms, down by 300,000 four years ago. Tax exemptions are granted to the value of Rs900 billion — a sum that would revolutionise the education system were it recouped and spent wisely. Yet again Pakistan is shown to be its own worst enemy. Failure to invest in social capital — children, health services and education — has now ensured that Pakistan will be in a morass of second-best for generations to come. The policy shift demanded by the conference will receive cosmetic lip service, when what is needed is a wholesale revision of the way Pakistan as a state goes about its business. It is not a failed state but an ailing state, moreover one that refuses to heed the advice of its doctors.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2014.