Breaking the bubble

May 25,2019

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To deal with the mounting problems of Pakistan, the PTI leadership will need to smash open the bubble it has placed itself in. While it is true that incompetent leadership over the past years has created many of the problems we face today, it is also true that it will need strong, committed and knowledgeable leadership to find a way out of the labyrinth. Confidence that this exists is not built when Imran Khan informs us that a large reservoir of gas is likely to be uncovered off the coast of Karachi. This is a claim he has made often over the past few months. However, we have now been officially informed that the hole being drilled in Pakistani waters is being closed and no trace of gas or oil has been found.

This is not in itself problematic. It takes many more holes and many more years of drilling to uncover undersea reserves. For India, 40 holes were drilled before oil was found off the Mumbai coast. For Norway, a country transformed by such a discovery, it took 74 holes drilled over more than a decade before oil resources were tapped. The problem here is that so much hype was built around a non-existent fantasy that people were led to believe their fortunes could really change overnight. This is a part of the wider projection by the government of change arriving with its taking of office.

The slogan of change, or ‘tabdeeli’, was what persuaded many people to vote for the PTI and seek an escape from decades of mismanagement and poor governance by the two mainstream parties, the PPP and the PML-N, which had ruled since the fall of the Musharraf regime in 2008. We can however only wonder if the PTI and its leadership truly hoped for a miracle or whether they had made any plans to usher in the change they had promised.

There is no evidence that such a plan was in place. While we are told that the fall of the rupee, following implementation of policies dictated by the IMF, is simply a development which exhibits the manner in which the currency had been propped up artificially by previous governments, the issue here is that the move will also inevitably create inflation and further difficulties for people. It is a fallacy to believe that the error lies only with previous administrations, although it is absolutely true they had contributed to the quagmire that Pakistan finds itself in. The PTI as such had little choice in the matter. But nevertheless, the loss of value for the rupee will create inflation, especially in the absence of any wider financial plan to promote exports and local manufacturing of key products.

The notion being put out by some PTI leaders that only the rich will suffer is not founded in reality. For example, Pakistan at present is the seventh largest consumer of tea in the world, consuming around 109,000 tonnes of of it annually. Almost all this tea is imported, with only a very small quantity locally grown in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Costs will rise as the rupee falls. The same is true for medicines and many other items that are used across income groups and form a necessity in many households. There are simply not enough local substitutes to meet the needs of people.

We have to face the facts. There are no miracles. Neither science nor spirituality can create them for an entire nation. Miracles have to be woven together by people, strand by strand. It is here that the government seems to be faltering. There is a belief that because its leadership is well-intended and because there is a genuine determination to tackle corruption and wrongdoing, everything else will fall into place. It is essential however to understand that nothing can be achieved without thought, without logic and without a great deal of hard work to draw up a plan. At this point, a plan for Pakistan is not easy. There are tremendous pressures on its limited resources, which makes it difficult to put schemes, ideas and proposals into place. But a way around the problem has to be found. In the same way, a way around other problems, such as mismanagement, incompetence and misuse of resources must be uncovered.

The solutions will most likely need to be unusual and innovative, given the number of hurdles we place and the limited parameters available to a government which has taken charge of a nation already facing instability and a lack of cohesion across its people. Perhaps one starting point would be to build these cohesion. By uniting people rather than keeping them divided, moving past problems becomes easier. This would mean accepting differences exist, whether ideological, political or social, and that it is necessary to move past them to build a nation that is able to grow.

Imran Khan brought with him the advantage of appealing to young people, many of whom voted for him. These people should have been used as a force for change. Instead, they seem to be becoming increasingly disillusioned and a little directionless. They need a high command to tell them which way to move in and how to operate. The policies over the last decade of removing international organisations and also local ones from Pakistan’s territory has created a vacuum in some areas. Projects undertaken by both INGOs and NGOs filled gaps in governance, even if in a very limited way. Since these organisations are no longer able to continue their projects, young people could have been mobilised to step in. Many everywhere in the country are extremely willing to do so and to make whatever difference they can. It is initiatives along these lines that could give to people the sense of change they had hoped for as the PTI moved into office.

There are other measures too that can be adopted. Even now, the current government has time to put some of these in place. Simply talking about planting an extraordinary number of trees in the country is not enough. Real projects have to be put in place on the ground and truths faced up to. The denial that there have been problems with the polio campaign suggests an unwillingness to face up to reality. People cannot be fooled. Attempts to fool them have been made for too long and they have now been able to see through such games. It is therefore essential to draw them into the process of rebuilding a nation and by doing so proving that the PTI is indeed capable of living up to its promise.

There has so far been very little evidence of this, and the extremely high expectations that had been built up also means the comedown has been steep and keenly felt by all those who expected a swift move towards an improvement in the quality of their lives and in the fortunes of their country. They need to be persuaded that this can indeed still happen, but only if far more attention is given to policymaking rather than to announcing grandiose schemes or laying out a carpet of dreams that have no foundation and no basis to support them.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.



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