Sunday July 21, 2024

We need a holistic transformation

Country’s GDP growth is projected at modest 2.5% cent, and trade deficit remains concern despite reduction in imports

By Dr Murtaza Khuhro
February 10, 2024
This picture shows a general view of the Karachi sea port. — AFP/File
This picture shows a general view of the Karachi sea port. — AFP/File

In 2024, Pakistan is grappling with severe economic and social challenges, including a staggering inflation rate of 39.18 per cent, a depreciating currency, and a high government debt-to-GDP ratio of 89 per cent.

The country’s GDP growth is projected at a modest 2.5 per cent, and the trade deficit remains a concern despite a reduction in imports. Socially, Pakistan faces widespread illiteracy with 25 million children out of school and a completely obsolete education system, rampant unemployment with 85 per cent of the population affected, inadequate health infrastructure, prevalent child labour, gender discrimination, and escalating food insecurity.

All of these problems serve as clear indicators of more profound underlying issues. The central structural problem lies in the uneven distribution of power between the remnants of colonial-era state structures, which still exert a significant influence over the power dynamics and decision-making processes, and the so-called political forces, along with a society marked by backwardness and various distortions.

The core issue stems from the fact that Pakistan lacked a clear vision for its future as a nation before its creation. Furthermore, it failed to establish a robust political party deeply rooted in the grassroots and equipped with well-defined organizational institutions and a clear hierarchy. Additionally, Pakistan did not manage to draft its constitution within the first two or three years of its inception. As a result of these shortcomings, the country fell into the clutches of the colonial institutions that had been established by the colonial masters to govern the people of India. Unfortunately, these historical oversights have had lasting consequences.

What is truly unfortunate and deeply concerning is that over the past 76 years, Pakistan has made little progress in addressing these weaknesses, distortions, and fundamental structural problems. This stagnation has hindered the nation’s ability to fully realize its potential and overcome the historical legacies that continue to shape its governance and society.

The oligarchic rule of the civil bureaucracy from 1947 to 1951, followed by the continued dominance of the military bureaucracy in the power structures, with the judiciary as their B teams and politicians as their C teams, has been the primary cause of the severe economic, social, and political hardships endured by the people of Pakistan both historically and to this day.

There is a pervasive misconception among amateur adventurers and ill-informed policymakers that a country can progress by implementing isolated grand ideas in various aspects of its economy and governance. These amateur adventurers often emerge from the ranks of serving and retired civil and military bureaucrats, whose minds become filled with ideas they encounter during workshops and training programmes, particularly in the developed countries of the West. They may also be exposed to successful projects from around the world. However, what they fail to grasp is that disconnected and disparate ideas do not lead to the composite and comprehensive development of a nation.

In essence, the perpetuation of bureaucratic dominance in Pakistan’s power structures, coupled with the misguided belief in isolated grand ideas, has hindered the nation’s ability to achieve holistic development and has contributed to the ongoing challenges faced by its people in economic, social, and political spheres.

These amateur adventurers often point to the era of dictator Ayub Khan, who completely derailed the country from the semblance of civilian rule to military rule. However, they seem to forget a crucial aspect – that a country is fundamentally about its people, not just its geography, GDP, growth rate, or the enrichment of specific classes or sections within it.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the backdrop of the first national census in 1951, which painted a grim picture with an overall literacy rate of a mere 14 per cent. Disparities were evident, with urban areas outperforming rural regions. Furthermore, male literacy stood at 21 per cent, while female literacy lagged significantly at 7.0 per cent. It’s worth noting that literacy at the time primarily meant the ability to read, write, or sign one’s name instead of using a thumb impression.

By 1961, the ‘literacy rate’ had inched up to 24 per cent, and by 1965, it reached 26.7 per cent. While gender gaps began to narrow, with male ‘literacy’ at 34 per cent and female ‘literacy’ at 15 per cent, the larger question looms: what could have been achieved if people-centric leaders had been in charge?

Such leaders would likely have envisioned the transformation of the backward society by prioritizing the education of the nearly 95 per cent illiterate population. This ambitious goal wouldn’t have solely benefited society but also triggered advancements in agriculture, industry, and the services sector of the economy.

Unfortunately, the civil and military bureaucrats had different priorities, often seeking favour with the Western bloc, led by the neo-colonial power, the USA. Their pursuit of being the ‘blue-eyed boys’ of these Western powers, symbolized by the warm welcomes they received in Washington, reflected their loyalty as mercenaries.

In the 1960s, Pakistan’s power structure was complex, with military rulers, bureaucrats, feudal landlords, and emerging capitalists playing key roles. The military held significant political influence, while civil bureaucrats and the judiciary aligned with them. Feudal landlords controlled rural areas, causing social inequalities despite ‘land reforms’. Emerging capitalists amassed wealth through industry, worsening disparities.

The dominance of a few influential families, driven by trickle-down economics, perpetuated societal inequalities. It’s crucial to have inclusive economic growth for the well-being of all, but Pakistan has struggled with this issue since the 1950s and 1960s, and it persists today.

So, what is the solution to the challenges we face? We are currently living in an era characterized by the globalization of information, knowledge, research, innovation, and development (IKRID). Four powerful forces – science, technology, globalization, and brainpower development – are reshaping the world at an exponential pace.

In this age, marked by generative artificial intelligence and continuous scientific and technological advancements in various economic sectors, we have the opportunity to establish a transparent, accountable, and efficient system of governance based on constitutional rule. This can be achieved by leveraging these technologies and, importantly, by empowering the public with easy access to information held by government bodies at both the federal and provincial levels.

Complementing these efforts, the third crucial pillar is providing universal, high-standard education coupled with high-tech skill development to all individuals, regardless of age, using the potential of these technologies. This approach is not only feasible but also actionable.

It is imperative to understand that progress cannot be achieved without a comprehensive and holistic vision for the transformation of both the country and its people. Embracing these opportunities offered by IKRID and the transformative potential of science, technology, globalization, and brainpower development is essential to addressing the complex challenges of our time effectively.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a former civil servant.