Why don’t we progress?

December 05, 2023

They say democracy is the best form of government. We have tried all forms of governments but the country failed to progress the way some other countries in the region did, including Bangladesh, which was once part of our country.

What really prevents us from progressing? Are we preordained to remain a third-world country? Are we short of natural resources? No. What is missing is a spirited leadership with the determination to progress.

A serious question arises. Do policymakers formulate policies that guide the public in the right direction — a direction of progress? In my opinion, all we need to do is earnestly imitate countries that were once underdeveloped like us and now surpass us in all respects.

This picture shows a worker operating a machine preparing fabric in Lahore. — AFP/File

That mainly includes education, industrial growth, manufacturing and exports. The end result should be judged by the amount of foreign exchange those countries hold compared to us. When we are threatened by an economic meltdown, those countries hold hundreds of billions in reserves. Why couldn’t we do it?

The countries we consider to be models of progress were like us some decades ago. Singapore, for instance, didn’t have the natural resources that we possess. We are blessed with vast stretches of agricultural land that Singapore didn’t have. Now even comparing our present state with Singapore would surprise many. While these countries have progressed far ahead of us, we have only raised the poverty level in the country. Who is to blame for it if not short-sighted and unproductive state policies?

When it comes to natural resources, we are lucky to possess Reko Diq, which contains deposits of gold, copper and lithium underneath. To develop the site and make use of the deposits, the Pakistan government signed an agreement with the Australian Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) along with a Chilean company as a joint venture. The company invested about 200 million dollars to import machinery for the purpose. While the work was in progress on the site, former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry stepped in to quash the contract for lack of transparency.

The Australian-Chilean company sued Pakistan in the Court of Arbitration and won the case. The rest is history. But imagine if such a mining facility existed in Singapore. Singaporeans would have wasted no time in developing the requisite equipment for excavating the mine to recover the hidden wealth worth billions to enrich themselves?

The state of apathy at the government level is visible in our daily lives. Many areas of Lahore face a complete power shutdown from 9am to 4pm every week, including a short duration of blackouts. If a city of more than ten millions faces such a dilemma, conditions in the rural areas could be well imagined. The suburbs of districts Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh and Rajanpur have no electric power for days on end, as their residents claim. They say they have adjusted their lives without power. Similarly, there’s no gas after 10.30pm in many areas of Lahore, despite the fact that a huge raise in its price is in the offing.

Population growth is the only area in which we are unlikely to have competitors. Apparently, all cities of every size are expanding in all directions. Septuagenarian Lahoris think they live in a different city than the one in which they grew up. Rawalpindi is not far behind in competition. Cross the Islamabad toll plaza and you observe residential colonies springing up on both sides of the motorway. The problem is that when human growth shoots up unhindered, the industrial growth and economy cannot keep pace with it.

As a result, many Pakistanis want to leave the country in search of better income and living conditions. The term ‘brain drain’ is mostly used when talking about professional citizens like doctors, engineers and professors leaving the country. Does it mean successive governments failed to create jobs for our highly educated professionals? Under such conditions, how do we expect to progress and include ourselves among the first-world countries?

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. He can be reached at: pinecitygmail.com