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Pakistan: A Scorecard at Seventy-Six

May 29, 2023 at 10:02 am | Economic Affairs

Ambassador Naghmana A. Hashmi

Founded on ideological basis and seen as a leader of the Muslim world, Pakistan came into existence on August 14, 1947, which coincided with the 27th of Ramzan. Pakistan is blessed with an ideal location, a large educated and industrious population, vast natural resources, fertile agriculture with the largest canal network in the world, a fast-growing middle class, good speed of industrialization and capable and strong armed forces.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, had clear expectations for the development of the country, as stated in the Pakistan Resolution passed in Lahore on March 23, 1940.

Despite the promising start, Pakistan’s economic progress was hindered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The resulting geopolitical and geo-economic instability still persists today.

However, Pakistan has made significant strides in various fields, including education, health, and technology. The country has produced world-class scholars, scientists, and entrepreneurs, and continues to play a vital role in regional and international affairs.

As Pakistan celebrates its 76th anniversary, it is essential to acknowledge its achievements and successes at the national and international level. However, it is equally important to recognize the challenges that the country faces and work towards overcoming them. Pakistan has immense potential, and with hard work and determination, it can realize its founding father’s vision of a prosperous and inclusive nation.

It is imperative that we reflect on why, despite the clear roadmap, vision, and instructions of the founder of Pakistan, we have failed to achieve the dream of a united, prosperous, and peaceful country. We must examine the factors that have detracted us, where we have violated the roadmap and the original vision, where we diverted from the golden path enshrined in our motto “Unity Faith and Discipline”, where we lost our nationalism, and why we abandoned moderation.

The first decade of Pakistan saw a quick change of leadership and uncertain and confused political developments. In 1954, the word “Republic” was added to the name “Pakistan”, and then the first Constitution of 1956 changed the name to “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan”, thus altering the very ideological orientation from secular to religious.

This laid the foundation for religious differences that have become a cancer affecting the whole body. In 1962, we reverted back to the original name which is simply Pakistan only to once again become “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan” in the 1973 Constitution when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto succumbed to the pressure of Islamist political parties.

The next to suffer was the founder’s clear conviction that the political orientation of the state would be democratic. Failed attempts to agree on a governance and development model and a workable constitution led to military takeovers early in the formative years, which continued at regular intervals, not allowing democracy to mature and take roots or for the people to learn the attributes, rights, and duties of citizenship, and the value of participatory or accountable democracy.

On the development and economic front as well, we see a bleak picture. Today, Pakistan finds itself burdened by huge external debt with low growth rate, stagnation of economic growth, macroeconomic imbalances, and is faced with political and economic instability. Foreign exchange reserves have fallen sharply, necessitating financial planners to take harsh and difficult decisions to qualify for availing of further loan facilities from international sources. Today we have reached this unfortunate state despite the fact that Pakistan had maintained a sustained and fairly steady annual growth rate for a considerably long period.

There is no single reason or a regime that can be held responsible for this pathetic state of affairs. Long-term structural problems, repeatedly poor economic decision-making, poor governance, and the hold of the country’s financial and political power concentrated in a select elite since the 1950s have all contributed to this catastrophe.

Perhaps we are all, as a nation, responsible for this collective failure to ensure that Pakistan was securely put on the path of sustainable socio-economic development and secure the future of our coming generations.

Among other factors, there are six pivotal mistakes that Pakistan has made. Poor economic planning, behavior of economic, military, and political elite, huge loan facilities from the IMF, a huge gap in tax to GDP ratio at around 10% due to poor tax collection, which is even less than the average for developing countries.

It also leaves very significant chunks of the economy, including agriculture income and urban land, untaxed completely; this also has caused a recurring budget deficit, lack of foreign direct investment (FDI), and political instability.

All these factors are interconnected, and Pakistan relies heavily on foreign exchange from exports and remittances, both of those sources of revenue became unreliable in the case of global developments both political and economic and as most recently experienced by unforeseen pandemics and other disasters.

The fall of Dhaka, the pathetic state of national unity, the disastrous state of the economy, shrinking socio-economic development, rising poverty, weak institutions, and the current abhorrent political circus in the country all demand a serious introspection and larger national consensus on the future political orientation and economic development if we are to survive the shenanigans we have subjected our beloved Pakistan to.

Retrospection is essential for course correction, but it is also crucial to acknowledge Pakistan’s numerous assets and achievements. Despite the challenges that the country faces, many politicians, industrialists, businessmen, traders, bankers, academicians, writers, intellectuals, artists, doctors, engineers, sportsmen, lawyers, bureaucrats, diplomats, law enforcement agencies, armed forces, and others have contributed to Pakistan’s growth and development.

The Writer is former Ambassador to China & Brussels

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