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Saturday July 13, 2024

Tackling failure?

By Farhan Bokhari
September 13, 2023

Pakistan’s emerging failures, ranging from a rapidly sliding economy to growing political discord, together smack of just one outcome: making the country increasingly directionless. It is a fate which will only increase the risk to Pakistan’s future at a time when the country needs stability more than ever before.

In other words, lost without a clear direction to the future, there’s more than an even chance of Pakistan’s many pitfalls contributing to a deepening crisis. While members of the ruling structure led by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar point towards a promising future driven by the imminent flow of billions of dollars in fresh investments from the oil-rich Middle east, there are many gaps surrounding the riddle over the future.

As a palpable sense of crisis roams across the streets of Pakistan led by the prevailing electricity crisis and steep inflation, the government’s ability to tackle the challenge remains inadequate. And the official sense of the proverbial glass being half full and heading towards the upwards mark is amply removed from reality.

Pakistan’s multiple challenges require a sense of emergency to be kicked in – for now the missing element from the official corridors across the country. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s unsettled politics have fueled uncertainty and created yet another downside risk to prospects for the economy. Matters such as exactly when the next round of parliamentary elections will be held and how far they will allow free participation of all of Pakistan’s political stakeholders have yet to be resolved.

Without the future of politics amicably resolved, Pakistan risks becoming overpowered by a key impediment to its economic progress. Unless the future of politics is resolved and the next round of elections out of the way without controversy, Pakistan’s disarray and its resultant fallout for the economy will continue.

Once the political discord is settled, the economy needs to be immediately surrounded with a two-pronged future.

On the one hand, an all-encompassing economic emergency must be anchored upon an urgent freeze of all unnecessary expenditure, notably under Pakistan’s development spending from the Public Sector Development Programme or PSDP. Year after year, Pakistan has witnessed widespread evidence of allocations in the name of development becoming gobbled up in corruption or simply going to waste. A sorry tale of this trend is visible nowhere more than the history of infrastructure built under the tenure of the British Raj or indeed Sikh rule across areas now in Pakistan. Unlike more recent construction breaking down over time, the legacies of the Raj or Sikh rule in the shape of infrastructure remains relatively preserved.

The risk surrounding development spending is especially acute in an election year. The former government of prime minister Shehbaz Sharif which stepped down just last month, reportedly left behind significant financial allocations for development spending with a political bias. As Pakistan stares at an economic emergency, it is important to review all such allocations as part of a battle to deal with much more pressing challenges, notably making energy and food supplies more affordable.

On the other hand, the present ruling structure must not just observe the best standards of neutrality. It is also vital that they are popularly seen to exhibit the perfect standards of neutrality. Any hint to the contrary will not just spoil the overall atmosphere. More importantly, it will dent the future of politics in a way that finding stability after the elections will remain an elusive dream.

Meanwhile, the toughest challenges to Pakistan’s future include parts of the country’s foreign relations that require urgent action backed by a display of unparalleled national unity. The trickiest part of foreign policy objectives is led by recurring insecurity along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, which has already led to the sacrifices of many uniformed officers and soldiers. And with the outlook for Pak-Afghan relations just not likely to improve any time soon, more casualties are set to be delivered in future.

Elsewhere on Pakistan’s relations with the oil-rich Middle East, much has been said recently by top officials and leaders over the likely flow of $25 billion each from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in fresh investments, notably in agriculture. And yet, the prospect of mayhem across Pakistan has raised profound questions over domestic instability, notably political, hampering the arrival of fresh foreign investments.

For now, Pakistan’s best hope for the future lies in its ability to focus on internal stability. At a time of an unprecedented energy crisis, a food inflation crisis, a governance crisis and a political crisis all wrapped in one, Pakistan’s ruling structure must carry the country forward through an unprecedented era of reforms.

Unless Pakistan embraces tough reforms, its future will remain bare of prosperity even with the arrival of billions of dollars in hitherto not seen foreign investment. Ultimately, sustaining an upturn, no matter how limited, will be more meaningful for the future than the outcome of recurring turf battles between Pakistan’s rivals.

The writer is an Islamabad-basedjournalist who writes on political and economic affairs. He can be reached at: farhanbokhari@gmail.com