“In a country well-governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of”—Confucius
Pakistan is presently caught in a vicious economic depression, thanks to the imprudent actions of its politico-civil-judicial-military complex that has not only entwined the country in a vicious debt trap, but has played havoc with the country’s physical resources. Above all, it has stripped the nation of the character that is vital for recovering from any setback. As one entity we are unwilling to sacrifice our luxurious lives. We are not trying to revive our sick industries or making the best of available resources. Patriotism seems to have taken a back seat. The educated are finding solace in distant lands leaving the nation’s ship in choppy waters of crisis upon crisis. Political in-fighting and mud-slinging is given preference over efforts to redressing the problems faced by those living in sub-human conditions.
We are so overwhelmed by our woes that instead of ameliorating our sufferings we tend to lean towards learned helplessness in the hope that a messiah would rid us of all ailments. The many self-proclaimed saviours, despite tall claims have practically proved useless in rescuing this sinking economy. Self-help is nowhere visible, self-sacrifice is a lost idea and reliance on foreign aid knows no limits. White elephants in the form of public sector enterprises are devouring our meager resources.
Nation-building is at the mercy of either self-centered ‘religious’ or self-serving leaders while educational institutions are merely churning out degree holders without the necessary skills or ethics. With curb on import of raw materials, industries are running dry and so are resultantly, exports. Sly bureaucrats are dissuading the public from pursuing what is needed: economic growth and prudence, perhaps the only path to attaining self-actualization and financial stability. Consequently a gloomy mood prevails over the country as panic engulfs the ruling elite. Amid political uncertainty no one is willing to step forward to salvage the situation.
An historical extract from Paisa Akhbar (dated 24th April 1948) shows a nascent Pakistan economy exporting 220 million worth of products while its import bill was merely 9 million depicting a most congenial and satisfactory economic position, overturning then prevailing skepticism about the economic viability of this nation state. Honestly speaking, it has not taken too long to convert aspirations into apprehensions. The Pakistani rupee that was destined to be one of the strongest currencies in the world has become worthless today. The remaining mess is before our eyes. Our naïve economic managers have spiraled us down to a situation that has left us in a quagmire, especially so for a population of 230 million that was just 32.5 million (West Pakistan) in 1948.
Whenever a crisis strikes, instead of resorting to hysteria, it is always best to contain one’s alarm and immediately go for emergency measures to ward off the initial threat. This can be illustrated by a person suffering a heart attack in which case the doctors would first attend to easing his pain and then go for surgery, if needed. It rarely happens that a patient complaining of chest pains is immediately rushed to the operation theatre. In the same way Pakistan, that is going through a phase of political uncertainty should be stabilized by holding elections in order for controls to be exercised by a government of the people’s choice. Once this objective is achieved then it would not be difficult for the nation to gear itself to face hardships in the event of difficult decisions.
Right now, it would be arduous for the people to accept any proposal by the present government that was until a few months back, sitting in the opposition after having lost the 2018 elections for whatever reasons. Rather than forcing the country to confront with the possibility of a civil war, those in power must realize that in such an event (God forbid) their own survival would be at stake. If, like the Sri Lankans, Pakistanis get frustrated and react strongly to undesired pressures like abominable increase in taxes and prices of staples or their non-availability, then the doomsday scenario would become inevitable. In order to avert this type of a predicament the best approach would be to first introduce political stability together with good governance.
Political parties do harp these tunes and claim to impose rule of law but when they get power they blatantly cross all lines of morality what to talk of establishing law’s upper hand and meeting the norms of competent leadership. The instances of these acts of defiance are so many that volumes can be written about how Pakistani leaders’ balance sheets have improved manifold over the last 50 years while that of the country reduced to rubbles. These stories of loot and plunder have snatched the vibrancy of this beautiful land and deprived its people of their due rights as denizens of the state.
Times have proved that this resilient nation has survived many uncanny situations in the past from which it has emerged with greater intensity than before and which is its redeeming characteristic. This time too and despite the grey political and economic atmosphere created predominantly by bad policies and partly by natural calamities, the country will flourish like never before. As depicted by the famous dialogue from Walt Disney’s Mulan: “The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all”.
Pessimism during this morbid period will not lead us anywhere. There is a dire need to keep the nation’s spirits high but simultaneously we, as Pakistanis must face the stark reality that for the survival of our country we would all have to tighten our belts, keep our sanity and make the best use of our voting power to bring in the much needed permanence of unity, discipline, peace and prosperity.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)