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Pakistan at the crossroads

Pakistan is a land of opportunities with numerous openings in every sector where a lot of things can be done commercially and socially and above all people are super resilient. Pakistan is the only country in the world where Armed forces with the support of the people have successfully defeated terrorism. Now, it is important for the decision makers to revamp the entire social fabric and build a society and nourish a culture based on tolerance and acceptance of other people’s views. Reconciliation among the stakeholders is the only way forward. The current political intolerance is not good for the country.

Pakistan has seen numerous ups and downs in its 74 years of life. We hear a lot of fascinating stories of growth of sixties while not all were factual. So, what went wrong, why the growth and progress of sixties couldn’t be maintained and what took us here? Simple answer to this rather simple question is “greed of power”. Capturing more and more power and interference in other’s domain have brought us to this level.

The current state of affairs cannot be reviewed without considering the regional and global development affected or still affecting Pakistan. There was a Pakistan in 1960 and then there is an altogether different Pakistan post 1977, however, it is impossible to go back to the society we had in 60s’ or 70s’. Following are few of the key events, which have changed the track of Pakistan’s growth permanently;

  1. The founding fathers tried their best to normalize the affairs of the country in early years of the independence. No one had the prior experience of governance; settling over 20 million refugees was not an easy job that too without any financial support. The only thing that helped Pakistan in managing its affairs was its huge agriculture base. New born country earned foreign exchange by exporting agri products including cotton, wheat, fruits as there was hardly any industry in Pakistan in 1947 yet economy was successfully managed despite political and social unrest in the country. Political unrest in those years was driven by power greed. Politicians have a limited (4 to 5 years max) patience of remaining out of power, keeping them out of power forcefully or artificially for 10 odd years cannot be productive and the result was obvious.
  2. 1956 was the first turning point in Pakistan’s history, in which industrialization in the country started, which continued till 1970. East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh after the war between Pakistan and India in 1971 was the most significant turning point in the history of Pakistan. 1971 war changed the dynamics and landscape (be it political, economic, strategic, or social) of Pakistan permanently. Even today, Pakistan has not come out of the after effects of events of 1971. India conducted its first nuclear tests in 1974, which spread a sense of insecurity across the country. Building nuclear weapons, strengthening military power, nationalization of the industry and banks, more control over the political parties, and participation in the Afghan war in 1979 are few of the examples, which could have been done differently, if 1971 had not have happened. Pakistan took the decision to resist USSR in Afghanistan somewhere in 1975-76 and went openly into war after USSR’s attack on Afghanistan in 1979. It cannot be ignored that Pakistan took the decision to participate in the Afghan war in anticipation of USSR’s possible attack on Pakistan, and the fear to become a sandwich between India and USSR, which it had already experienced in 1971(and apprehension of getting overrun by both India and USSR) while knowing that India has nuclear weapons. The participation in Afghan war was more of a survival of Pakistan than in support of Afghanistan but it was presented and showcased as a Jihad, which was a blunder. Affairs in Pakistan could have been managed better during the 10 year war; consequently Pakistan slipped from a progressing nation to somewhat a hybrid country (somewhat progressive, somewhat Islamic). The society has now changed, we see growing intolerance and impatience and sometimes (often actually) people with less exposure overruled the facts. Moreover, post-1971 tragedy brought the idea of having handpicked political leadership so that sovereignty of the country and security matters remain somewhat uncompromised and those politicians could be managed as per convenience. It is a debatable point, if the country is now stronger than before due to this preemptive approach by the state of Pakistan.
  3. Due to various policies of the then government; we see an economic disparity between East and West Pakistan. As a matter of fact; it was the time when USA was stuck in Vietnam and capitalism was under criticism globally. The world started idealizing socialism (USSR and China) whereas Cuba and Latin American countries were spearheading movement against capitalism. Che Guevara was a symbol of resistance at that time and was captured and executed by the capitalists. The then government in Pakistan was supportive of capitalism thus the opposition opted to capitalize the sentiments of the general public against capitalism and their support towards socialism. The fallout of this romance for socialism had a catastrophic effect on Pakistan’s economy. Then, it was said that over 70 percent of the wealth of Pakistan was in the hands of 22 families. If there was any exploitation of labor then the relevant laws should have been made or amended rather than nationalizing the industry across Pakistan. The nationalization of 1971 had long lasting impact on the landscape of Pakistan’s economy whereas we still couldn’t come out of its affects. Successful industrialist should be supported and should be provided cheap loans and concessions so that they can build more industries and create more jobs in the country provided they are not taking money out of their businesses and from the country. Pakistan needs industrialization and one like it or not; only an established industrialist can venture into a new factory whereas a salaried person or an entrepreneur can only invest in small trading concern or a micro SME.
  4. With the ever changing economic situation of the country, Pakistan needed the private sector to participate in the economy like it participated in 60s’. Privatization in Pakistan started in 1990 with lots of appreciations. This was the beginning of a new era in Pakistan. Polices were formed to support the private sector, which were later replicated by the other counties. Some criticize the policies of 1990 today without considering the circumstances and background of that time. It was near impossible at that time to ensure private sector that their businesses would not be nationalized and their investments were secured. Politically, 90s’s was a dark decade but economically it was not too bad.
  5. The fifth turning point in Pakistan’s history came in 2001-02. The 911 not only changed USA, and the world but also impacted Pakistan. The war against terror was fought in the mainland Pakistan. Over 100,000 civilians and over 6,000 Army personnel have sacrificed their lives in defending the country. We hear countless stories of bravery and sacrifices of soldiers of Armed Forces. The monetary loss of war against terror is over USD 100 billion. The war against evil forces is not yet over, a lot of work is still required. Unfortunately, Pakistan couldn’t translate the huge challenge into an opportunity and missed the opportunity to industrialize the economy. 2001-06 was the period when the world was financially supporting Pakistan and we could have diverted the funds towards the manufacturing. But the decision makers preferred short term gains and opted trading over manufacturing. Virtually everything is being imported now. 2001-06 is remembered for opening up of the cellular and IT; CNG; and electronic media sectors whereas we also saw issuance of massive auto loans and credit cards in that period. Things would have been entirely different if manufacturing sector was supported in those years instead of encouraging import of cell phones, laptops and auto parts for car assembly. It is never too late, Pakistan should now form policies in support of manufacturing sector and encourage private sector to install manufacturing units. Pakistan has to discourage imports especially luxury items. We have reached to a point where we are importing wheat, cotton, sugar, tea, coffee, tooth paste, cups, floor tiles so much so switch boards. There is no other way, Pakistan can progress in this situation.
  6. The most attractive economic opportunity Pakistan got so far is CPEC. CPEC was originally coined as PCEC in late 2013 but was changed to CPEC in early 2014. Roads, motorways and power plants have been constructed so far under CPEC. In recent years, we see go-slow approach on CPEC, which should not be a preferred approach.

Policy makers should form policies in support of SMEs and industrialization whereas law enforcement agencies must stop the smuggling. If Pakistan really wants to progress then it has to come out of its past and should have a forward looking approach. It doesn’t mean that corruption be ignored but strengthening of institutions especially reforming judicial system can only bring positive change in the country. Fair judicial system will not only give a lot of confidence to the investors in particular and people in general but can also effectively resolve at least 70 percent of Pakistan’s all sorts of current problems. Pakistan has a huge potential and we should not leave any stone unturned in putting our country on the right course for progress and prosperity. Pakistan Zindabad.

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