Saturday June 15, 2024

Looking ahead

By Javid Husain
February 01, 2023

Once again Pakistan is faced with formidable internal and external challenges because of the gross mismanagement of our national affairs by successive governments and ill-advised institutional overreach.

Internally, the country is destabilized politically and in an extremely weak and vulnerable state economically. Externally, the emerging security environment at the regional and global levels can cause grievous harm to Pakistan’s security and economic well-being if we fail to take necessary corrective steps for safeguarding our national interests. The combination of internal weakness and external threats should be a matter of grave concern to our policymakers.

Historically, Pakistan has suffered badly at the hands of its elite which comprises senior civilian and military officers, leading politicians, superior judiciary, and feudal landlords. These people are primarily responsible for the political instability and economic mismanagement from which the country is currently suffering. Pakistan’s establishment indeed has played a leading role in undermining the democratic process through repeated military takeovers and covert interference in politics even under elected civilian governments.

The judiciary has also played a negative role by legitimizing military rule. This is, however, not to absolve the leading politicians and the feudal aristocracy of the damage inflicted by them on the democratic process in the country. Besides preventing democracy from taking roots in the country, the Pakistani elite collectively have let loose an avalanche of corruption by plundering the nation’s precious resources for personal enrichment.

The establishment’s negative covert role in Pakistani politics has been particularly prominent since the dharna of 2014 against a democratically elected government. It led to blatant political engineering and gross electoral rigging in the 2018 general elections and the imposition of a hybrid system with disastrous political and economic consequences for the country. More specifically, it weakened the democratic system in the country by undermining the sanctity of the constitution and rule of law.

Pakistan’s politics stands deeply polarized, and its polity became destabilized because of the misuse of the accountability process for political victimization and the currency given to abusive language and extremist rhetoric in political discourse. The country’s economy also suffered at the hands of the government installed under the hybrid system as it failed to come to grips with the major economic challenges confronting the country.

On the external front, the performance of the PTI government during its tenure from 2018-22 left a lot to be desired. There was a visible cooling off in our relations with China, the US, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. On Kashmir, we faced a major setback when in August 2019 the Modi government revoked IIOJK’s autonomous position.

The country is in a royal mess right now. We need to take urgent corrective measures to set our house in order. Internally, we must put a definite end to the establishment’s involvement in politics with or without judicial support. The nation cannot afford any more of these shenanigans, whether in the form of a hybrid system or otherwise. Those found guilty of unconstitutional activities must be given a befitting punishment. Electoral reforms must be carried out to ensure that governments assume power after fair and transparent elections. Above all, the sanctity of the constitution and rule of law must be ensured. Hopefully, these measures will help stabilize the country politically if we let the democratic process continue without any interruption in the years to come.

The economy needs drastic measures to put it back on track. The tax-to-GDP ratio, which has been hovering around 12 per cent in recent years, must be raised to 15 per cent, which is the average figure for developing countries, in the immediate future with the target of 20 per cent to be achieved subsequently. This will require major tax reforms to widen the tax net, abolish tax exemptions, and prevent tax evasion to make the Pakistani elite pay their due share in meeting the current and development expenditure of the government.

The national savings rate must be raised from the dismally low level of about 13 per cent of GDP to at least 25 per cent to finance the increased national investment required for sustaining a high GDP growth rate without incurring current account deficits. By way of example, India’s national saving rate is about 28 per cent while the corresponding rate for Bangladesh is about 32 per cent. We must adopt austerity as our major national goal to be able to raise our national savings rate substantially. The burden of austerity must fall primarily on our elite who have become addicted to an ostentatious lifestyle.

Our failure to raise the tax-to-GDP ratio and national savings rate to levels recommended above will condemn the country to growing fiscal deficits and high current account deficits whenever we try to raise the GDP growth rate by raising the level of national investments. These measures must be combined with the allocation of increased resources to education, especially science and technology, accelerated development of industry, agriculture and infrastructure, and promotion of exports.

Externally, at the global level Pakistan needs to bring about the necessary policy adjustments in response to the redrawing of the global geopolitical map because of the growing US-China rivalry. At the regional level, Pakistan must come to grips with the emergence of India as a great power propelled by its rapid economic growth. India’s economy, which is already the fifth largest in the world, is projected to assume the third position by 2030 when it will probably be outranked only by China and the US. Our leaders need to ponder over these momentous developments which have far reaching implications for our security and economic well-being.

At the intellectual level, Pakistan’s policymakers should discard their tendency of deliberating over these issues in tactical terms or in terms of departmental strategies where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Instead, we should ponder over the momentous challenges confronting the country in grand strategic terms aimed at a synthesis of the political, economic, security and foreign policies of the country in the service of its best interests. It is worth underscoring that our ability to safeguard our national interests externally will also depend primarily on our internal political stability and economic and technological strength.

The writer is a retired ambassador. He can be reached at: