Tuesday December 05, 2023

Our story is ours to write

August 14, 2023

Pakistan is not a finished product, by any stretch of imagination. We Pakistanis must make hard and fundamental decisions about who we are and what Pakistan should look like going forward. We must shape our future through our everyday acts – how we look after each other and contribute to our society. The key lesson is that all of this work is ours to do.

Let us acknowledge what 76 years of our existence have taught us: our problems are a result of our collective failure. We cannot have a thriving Pakistan without taking responsibility for our follies. Our way out of trouble depends on how we conduct ourselves in the face of lurking challenges. Individually, fixing the whole of Pakistan is not our job. Our job is to repair the part of Pakistan that is within our ambit.

Our ascent to prosperity, if we choose to take that path, will be steep. The road to success will be a long and tedious marathon. We are not likely to get to stability in a short period of time. Folks, our story is ours to write. A story of a Pakistan with less noise and distortions. A Pakistan in which we principally agree on the basic norms of a tolerant and vibrant society. A Pakistan in which we agree that citizens are critical when it comes to the working of our system of government and politics. Regrettably, a majority of the citizenry remains unsatisfied with the functioning of our lethargic government and feeble democracy.

Our political process is ours to strengthen. It is our responsibility to ask our politicians what they have planned for us. It is our duty to cast our vote meaningfully. Our political parties have a lot to deliver. Our political parties have a lot to prepare before they assume office. Our state institutions have to move to a consensus thinking for all the pillars of the state to pull in one direction.

Our economy is ours to reorganize. It is inescapable that policy plans are expressed in terms of money, figures, and timeframes. Our finances, especially at the federal level are in distress with the country running on borrowed monies. The economy is in a perennial liquidity crunch in the fiscal, external, and energy sectors. This liquidity crunch leaves us little space to improve the quality of our society.

Our task, if we decide to take it up, is to reconfigure the economy on a sustainable footing. Pakistan’s tax system is ours to make equitable and fair. Pakistan’s expenditure rationalization through reforms of pensions, subsidy, and monetization are all actions pending on our end. Pakistan’s loss-making state-owned enterprises are ours to make efficient. Pakistan’s energy sector is ours to disrupt and redefine.

A public sector-led energy constellation is holding back the economy and playing havoc with the lives of people. Sometimes the energy sector feels like a train wreck full of 240 million Pakistanis. In the face of Pakistan’s gravest energy crisis, it is the countless people unable to pay their exorbitant bills we should be most worried about. It is precisely these citizens that the country is failing. The urgency of the energy transition has grown astronomically. Our challenge is to break away from the state-controlled arrangement. Our new mindset if we believe to adapt it is to move away from tinkering with policies. Our problems require deep surgery from us.

Our judgment should be better. The level of debt we are carrying is untenable. Debt reprofiling is ours to do. Delaying this may put us on an uncomfortable path of forced restructuring. Our inability to push innovation, productivity, and investments is keeping us globally less competitive. Initiatives like Special Investment Facilitation can hopefully bypass the slow-moving state apparatus and help in spurring both domestic and much-needed foreign direct investment in tradable sectors. Our low investment rate at 13.6 per cent is ours to improve.

Pakistan’s agriculture is ours to make more productive. Our duty is to reach those farmers who are producing wheat at 33 per cent less than the few progressive farmers in Pakistan. Better seeds, controlling adulteration, finances, and mechanization hold the key in this area. Our private sector, now aided by initiatives like Land Information Management Systems, has to come forward and contribute to research. Rusty state organizations have almost become redundant in this regard. Our task is to reduce the government footprint to create space for private sector efficiency. The government is ours to reconfigure. Our federal, provincial, and district governments all need to work in tandem but in their own sphere.

Many of the thoughts in this piece are a reflection of my attachment with the government. What one has seen is our weak homework when we negotiate programs with multilaterals. This weakness is for us to overcome as we remain in an effort to complete the 23rd programme with the doctor of the Intensive Care Unit – the International Monetary Fund.

Our vision should be to get the 23 million children waiting outside the gates to pass through to the school and provide the nearly 30 per cent of the population in a vulnerable state with substantive help through jobs. Our demographic decline due to lower female literacy, and shying from family planning programs are inexcusable policy omissions.

Our utmost responsibility is to believe that we hold 796,095 sq km of this land for the next generation. Our obligation is to believe in merit. The appointments in the public arena continue to favor personal biases over the suitability of candidates. Our competence in both the public and private sectors has thus meaningfully eroded. This process is ours to reverse. It has had a debilitating effect on our thought process which has over the decades gotten more and more outsourced. It is our need to regain control of research and policy-making. Pakistan is ours to run.

I hope this piece makes you reflect on the magnitude of the work ahead of us. The dilemma is that our effort on things we have to do has stayed minimal at best. It’s simply not working anymore. Let’s change that. Let’s support and encourage each other to be the very best version of ourselves. We want to make Pakistan a liveable place in the world. A place where we support the ideas of the 64 per cent under the age of 30 and give them space in moving this country forward. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.

We celebrate August 14th because it marks the beginning of what we now call Pakistan. Today we celebrate this day 76 years later in an air of less. Our trials and tribulations appear to be never-ending. I have no delusion that we are consistently finding it hard to organize ourselves better as a nation.

We don’t want to look back 10 years from now and lament that time just went by. We want to feel that these were the years the Pakistanis took charge of their own affairs. These were the years when Pakistan started to correct the basics. Thus, the question before us is what we want our country to be, and what we want to do with our future. We must not lose faith in our own capability. Iqbal put it best what is ours to do “Raise yourself to such eminence, that Fate, before writing your destiny, is compelled to ask what your will is.

The writer is former adviser, Ministry of Finance.

He tweets @KhaqanNajeeb and can be reached at: