Can Pakistan make the ‘great escape’
One cannot continue to stand at crossroads for 72 years. There ought to be a time to settle down, to introspect, to chart a course and to take off. Emotionally laden jingoism, religiously loaded spiels and perpetually playing to the gallery may be short-term gimmicks, but they are counter productive to building a nation or its institutions.
Pakistan’s first and foremost responsibility is the well-being of its 210 million citizens. This task has been hugely neglected. Except for a very small coterie of rich elite who live their privileged ‘by-pass’ lives, the majority of the population and most of the state-provided services lag behind by centuries. Prosperity, education, efficient services, infra-structure, civic systems and benefits that are taken for granted in all developed countries are way beyond the reach of most Pakistani citizens. After 72 years, we have the world’s worst infant mortality rate, 22 million children out of school, ever increasing child abuse, 100 percent raw sewage released untreated, absence of clean drinking water and a dysfunctional bureaucracy.
Nations that are impoverished, dysfunctional, economically bankrupt and politically confused may have a nuisance value but they cannot be taken seriously . The recent stony silence by the Arab world on Kashmir may well be a case in point. It is time for Pakistan to make a radical break from 72 years of feeding clichés and platitudes to its people. It is also time for Pakistan to touch base with reality and to reconsider its exaggerated self-assumed share of acting as the torch bearer of all things holy. Even major performance indicators such as having been left way behind on every Millennium Development Goal and having no chance of coming anywhere close to the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030, have not been sufficient catalysts for a fresh national reassessment.
Pakistan needs to learn from economist Angus Deaton on how other countries have made progress, have become prosperous and said farewell to poverty and mis-governance. The rules of the game have been consistent and same for all competitors. They used modern technology, new inventions and smarter ways of performing every task. They opted to promote self reliance, indigenous development and local industry. Sadly, Pakistan has remained reluctant to undertake any of these changes.
Imagine the contradiction between our wishes and capacity. We do not have the capacity to issue car number plates ( in the Sindh province) to new car owners. We are dependent on unending (almost entirely wasted) foreign assistance even for petty tasks such as making a few more schools, holding seminars and establishing Child Protection Units. Forty four percent of our children are stunted due to nutritional deficiency. The state has no mechanism to provide birth certificates to sixty percent of newborn children. What London, Paris and New York could indigenously build ( underground train systems) over a century ago, remains an impossibility for Pakistan to this day. Should then, such a state not focus on fixing its own house first?
It is entirely possible for Pakistan to make ‘the great escape’ from poverty and under-development. However, for this to happen, the state must shed the mindset and the extra baggage that it has carried for the past 72 years. At least for the next 50 years Pakistan needs an era of peace and absolute focus on economic development through rapid internal reforms that deploy new methods, modern technology and innovative approaches for every activity performed by the state. Pakistan needs to adopt a strategic policy of internal focus and external restraint. This must include never getting bogged down by neighborhood events.
Pakistan’s ‘great escape’ is also a hostage to its burgeoning population. It may be best to learn from Iran and Bangladesh on how they controlled their population. We can learn from Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, on how they adopted new technologies and methods for rapid industrialization to become high-income economies. Pakistan must cease its dependence on foreign loans and grants. It must stop letting out its routine tasks such as road making and garbage collection to foreign companies and instead promote its own human, material and technological resources.
An archaic bureaucracy will continue to remain a key hurdle in Pakistan’s progress. Pakistan has no choice but to replace this burden, wholly or partially, by technology based systems and accomplished professionals, who can dream of newer, scientific and creative ways of running and transforming Pakistan.
Express Tribune, Aug 28, 2019