Friday September 29, 2023

Pakistan on the verge of change

September 04, 2023

Pakistan is on the verge of change. People have been affected badly by high inflation and shrinking income sources. They are struggling to sustain life, let alone have a decent life. Poverty is on the rise.

The ruling elite, unfortunately, is not ready to pay attention to their sufferings. They are enjoying perks and protocols in the very name of common citizens, who are suffering. It is irritating for the people. They are becoming more determined to bring positive change for the society and future generations.

Now, it's up to the ruling elite to decide how to deal with it. Whether wisdom would lead the way of change or egos, selfishness and pity interests will decide the future. The wisdom tells us the present system cannot deliver. Situation is getting complicated with the passage of time. The system has turned Pakistan into a home of multifaceted problems. Talk to anybody, he/she will start complaining. It is a hard fact that common people are suffering, and hope is dying with the deterioration of country's economic and social fabric.

For the last 76 years, the ruling elite has been trying to tweak the system one way or another, but with no result. It seems they are not interested in reforms. They always try to experiment in the name of reforms. Patchwork is another phenomenon, going on for a long time. The reforms slogan is being used to strengthen control over the power and resources.

For example, the political parties told the people governance was not delivering due to absence of decentralisation of power. People bought the argument. The parties started reforming the system and introduced 18th Amendment with the slogan of decentralisation of power, and for empowerment and welfare of common people.

In reality, decentralisation stopped at the provincial level. Provincial governments and political parties never allowed local governments to function. They did not allocate and transfer financial resources to them. The local governments turned into useless bodies and proved to be an additional burden on the State. They keep control at the provincial level, using the resources as bribes to achieve their objectives.

The most disturbing part of the story is they have turned the political parties into private limited companies. Recently, we have observed political parties selling tickets to preferred people by ignoring political workers. They are making good money out of it.

Moreover, the leadership of political parties ensures their absolute control over the parties by making amendments to the Constitution. No one is allowed to vote against the will of the party leadership. In other words, they have become lords of their respective parties. They fight with each other like warlords of the past. In modern days, they push their people to fight in the name of democracy and help them get power.

The story of economic reforms is even more disturbing. The ruling elite created crisis after crisis in the name of reforms. They formulated policies that only benefited an elite group of the country at the expense of people. They subsidised their own economic ventures and obliged cronies and business groups, which support them in their power struggle. For example, we hear a lot about privatisation of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The ruling group is preaching about the importance of private sector and inability of the State to run businesses. They are convincing the people that creating employments is not the job of government. They also claim private sector runs the business better than government.

Thus, it would be good to sell State entities. They are telling the people these are loss-making entities and Pakistan must get rid of them. But, they are not telling the people who is responsible for that. They themselves have destroyed these entities by obliging cronies and accommodating political supporters. They hire consultants or media personnel to advocate on their behalf to achieve their objective, and sell the SOEs to get benefits.

Let’s buy the argument of the ruling elite for a moment. Then, there is a question: Pakistan has one of the worst governance systems.

Look at any indicator of governance, Pakistan will be ranked quite low. Should we privatise governance and hire private companies to run the government, or ban all the parties, as they have failed to deliver? Should we introduce private companies, or abolish bureaucracy, as they could not protect the rights of common people, and hire private companies/consultants?

No one will like this idea. The political parties and bureaucracy will consider it an insane proposal, as, in this way, their interests would be hurt.

Another result of economic reforms is debt trap and sluggish growth. The ruling elite kept wasting resources and people busy with fake slogans. They did not put efforts into modernising production sectors.

Pakistan adopted a liberal economic order without considering country's production capacity and development status. It went for premature liberalisation which impacted the local industry. It led to a fall in exports which contributed to lower foreign earnings and reserves.

The ruling elite could not devise any policy to bridge the gap by utilising national resources. They opted for easy money and started bridging the gap by borrowing money from international and local sources. Now, Pakistan is stuck in a deep debt crisis.

Unfortunately, the ruling group is not ready to learn and change. They are continuing to borrow money. They do not put efforts to modernise the production sector or create economic opportunities. They are least bothered to create livelihood opportunities or jobs. Rather, they envisioned another plan to silence people. They came up with ideas like BISP or Ehsaas Programme. These programmes are very interesting case studies. The same group is running these programmes and getting benefits. They have appointed favourite persons with lucrative package to run the show. They are also using these programmes as political bribes to attract votes. On the other hand, the ruling group is teaching begging and destroying human capital through these programmes.

Pakistan is at a crossroads. It does not have any option except to change. The country will have to implement real-time reforms, and there should be no patchwork. Pakistan should learn to rely on indigenous wisdom and country-specific solutions. It can learn from two examples: China and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Let’s start with the Chinese experience. Three reform periods can help Pakistan draw lessons. First, in 1978, China realised the biggest challenges for the country were high poverty and low economic growth. The party leadership adopted a new policy of reforms. They decided to start with agriculture, as at that time it was the mainstay of livelihoods. Agriculture was also essential, as it was a source of raw materials for many industries. It helped China reignite growth and development.

Second, in 1989, foreign-sponsored tension in China started creating problems. Communist Party of China solved the problem with wisdom and did not allow spoilers to impact growth and development paths. However, after controlling the spoilers, Chinese leadership sat together and deliberated on how to avoid such a situation in the future. The leadership of the Communist Party of China (COC) came up with a new period of reforms and changes. They renewed efforts to highlight the importance of ideology.

Third, when President Xi Jinping assumed the charge of leadership, China was again at a crossroads. The country was struggling to find a balanced governance and economic model that could satisfy the future needs of the people. Simultaneously, ideological debate was going on among the party’s cadres and common people. He introduced the required reforms, emphasising the importance of ideology and socialism with Chinese characteristics. He encouraged the youth to study ideology and be confident of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Now, China is enjoying the fruits of reforms.

From the above discussion, we can extract four key lessons. First, China applied indigenous wisdom and did not hire consultants or liberal experts. Second, they had the view people must be at the centre of all reforms. Third, China did not keep implementing failed strategies and did not hire retired personnel. Fourth, though the State had absolute power, China avoided using power and concentrated on reforms.

The USSR took an entirely different route. It opted for securitisation of decision-making. They were looking at the economy and society through the security lens. The security mindset and apparatus took over all sorts of decision-making. It weakened the focus of the State on development. It also weakened the economy. In the 1980s and 90s, international financial and economic institutions started interfering in the decision-making. Indigenous knowledge and wisdom were forced into the backseat. It weakened the control of the State. The USSR could not focus on the ideology of the State. It created a vacuum and youth could not comprehend the importance of ideology. They started looking towards the West, and the Western culture and ideology overtook their minds. Russia started privatising the State assets under the guidance of international financial and economic institutions.

There are three key lessons in Russia's experience. First, ideology lost its charm and weakened the State. Second, Russia said goodbye to indigenous wisdom and started listening to international financial and economic institutions. Third, it did not go for reforms; it used power to control the situation. This strategy miserably failed despite the State being extremely powerful. The USSR could not overcome challenges.

In conclusion, the ruling elite must realise a change is inevitable. Now, the country will have to decide from which example it wants to learn. Either it will apply wisdom or pursue ego to solve problems. Wisdom, however, will ensure sustainable development, while the use of power will impact Pakistan badly.

The government should learn from the Chinese experience and define the future path. For that purpose, it should work on three areas. First, the State will have to strengthen its commitment to Islamic ideology and encourage youth to explore its importance for nation-building. Pakistan is quite a diverse country and ideology will act as a binding force.

Second, Pakistan must learn to apply indigenous wisdom and get rid of expats and international liberal institutions. Third, the State needs to reorient the governance system, making it people-centric.