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September 15, 2018

Pakistan: old vs new


September 15, 2018

While the phrase New Pakistan is the catchword in present-day political discourse, rarely have we pondered over the salient features of ‘Old Pakistan’ that we seek to change. What is it that should happen for us to characterise the country as ‘New Pakistan’? To understand this, here is a brief sketch of ‘Old Pakistan’.

Since the economy is one of the most important factors, let’s first ponder over this aspect of the old order. In ‘Old Pakistan’, the economy was characterised by low GDP growth rates; dependency on foreign economic aid; frequent recourse to international financial institutions (IFIs) for loans to fix balance of payment issues and undertake infrastructural projects; and chronic and ever-widening trade gaps to the detriment of Pakistan’s economy.

The economy was also characterised by a lack of foreign direct investment; a perception of rampant corruption, both in the public and private sectors; high rates of joblessness; rampant poverty; the existence of a sizeable informal/illegal economy; the culture of non-payment of taxes; political cronyism in public-sector infrastructure contracts; and the existence of large public-sector entities, such as PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills, running crushing deficits.

In the realm of politics, governance was characterised by incompetent and ill-qualified political authority at the helm of affairs; thousands of pending cases before the judiciary; corruption in the police at the thana level; nepotism in bureaucratic postings; utter disregard for rules and regulations; routine violation of rule of law; lack of accountability; colonial-style and disproportionate perks and privileges enjoyed by public office-holders; and the failure to summon meetings of the Council of Common Interests and the National Finance Commission at constitutionally-stipulated intervals.

The shape of federalism in ‘Old Pakistan’ was characterised by deep-rooted resentment among smaller provinces against the federal government. Such resentment emanated from the widespread perception among smaller provinces that they weren’t given a due share in their own natural resources. Another complaint was that they weren’t sufficiently represented at the federal level, such as their negligible representation in the federal cabinet and key positions in the federal civil service. ‘Old Pakistan’, unfortunately, was also blamed for the restrictions on freedom of thought, expression and assembly.

Foreign policy is another key element that will differentiate New Pakistan from ‘Old Pakistan’. In ‘Old Pakistan’, the country rarely saw an independent and principles-based foreign policy that citizens could be proud of. Despite the delusional official narrative of grandeur that is shoved down our throats, the country made one foreign policy blunder after another for short-term benefits.

At present, Pakistan stands isolated in its foreign relations, with strained relations with all its neighbours, except China. Islamabad has always had transactional relations with the US – unlike relations that could be based on solid foundations between an important South Asian nuclear power, and the world’s sole superpower.

From this brief sketch of ‘Old Pakistan’, we can now have a clearer idea of how New Pakistan should look like. If in a few years, a Pakistani citizen can see some positive changes, only then will he/she be in a position to say that a New Pakistan has emerged – or at least its foundation has been laid.

This will only be possible when a noticeable rise in the GDP growth rate, driven by a mix of FDI inflow, an increased tax net, and growth in exports, has been witnessed; poverty has substantially been reduced; the country isn’t dependent on foreign aid and loans from IFIs, and people are no longer jobless in as large numbers as they presently are.

New Pakistan will emerge when corruption from public and private sectors has substantially decreased; public office-holders don’t enjoy the disproportionate perks and privileges that they do at present; exports have increased; the chronic energy crisis is overcome; the large loss-making public-sector entities have either been privatised or made profitable; rule of law has been established in governance; and appointments and postings in bureaucracy and other public sector jobs are made according to merit.

In addition, we will be moving towards New Pakistan when strict adherence to rules and regulations in governance is ensured; the routine violation of constitutional provisions is stopped; smaller federating units are made to feel better by the government’s efforts to do away with injustices; freedom of thought and expression are ensured; Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours as well as with the US, and other important countries, are improved and put on solid footings; cases are no longer pending before the judiciary; and the demeaning thana culture has been changed,.

It will be unrealistic and unfair to expect the incumbent government to accomplish all that has been enumerated above in its five-year term. However, it must show some level of measurable progress on all of the above for the people to at least be able to say that the promised New Pakistan is within sight.

The writer is a research analyst atthe Institute of Regional Studies,Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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