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January 11, 2019

Economic truth


January 11, 2019

So what trick is Imran Khan missing in his first opportunity to bat as the government? These are transition times the world over. Global economy and global politics are under a renewal.

Domains and their limits are being redefined in social, financial and political economies. AI, robotics, biotechnology and nanotechnology are the enablers of the new world. In all this, where are we placed as a society? Leadership must pave the way for the country and its society to meld in the emerging realities of the future economies.

Foremost for IK is to take charge of the situation as it stands and move the ball forward. Then, begin taking control of what is now his charge as the Skipper or the Coach or whatever fancies his imagination and seek answers from those placed at the high mantles in the government. The 100-day review of ministers’ performance seemed more a cover-up. Nothing substantive emerged in policy in the first 100 days and nothing has come forth since. To envision and encompass the task at hand, does the government have the right structure in place? How much specialist input is being incorporated for policy formulation? Or, is it government by convention only? Sadly, that is what it seems.

The ministries, at least the critical ones, must have a senior minister entrusted to keep the ball in play, with one junior minister enterprising enough to think ahead of time, capable of reading the future contours and someone who can plan for the times ahead. The senior ministers in economy and commerce for example are more attuned to the existing matters of industry, agriculture, services, trade, and the macro-economy of it all. Perhaps deciding on policy options which will enhance productivity, give incentives to pursue a specific policy option in each of the sub-disciplines and offer support and relief for the targeted areas to perform better per the needs of growth and job creation; essentially the ongoing economy.

While the more reflective mind of the junior minister is engaged in determining how and where Pakistan may be plugged into what is coming and what shall deliver growth in the future economy. Pakistan may be eons behind with its current brain-trust to seek such answers but that is the catch – to equip our political and social economy enablers with capacities to guide us to produce, contribute and partake of what future economies and societies will offer as growth and opportunity.

Were AI, robotics, nanotechnology and bio-tech the way of the future, it would in a coherent and integrated plan begin to seek qualifiers for that kind of an economy from universities and research institutes of such capability. The market will need to evolve to put such potential contributors to work who will then produce what may be needed in an interdependent global economy. Pakistan will need to first know that economy and then develop the expertise to create a niche. This should inform the disciplines needed in our educational institutions to produce knowledge workers and intuition leaders with relevant qualifications.

To that end, work in our universities must begin now – retraining, teaching and getting staff with degrees and academic suitability from foreign universities and laboratories of note in those disciplines. The fledgling IT industry of Pakistan will need to develop much faster with incentives and facilitation which can find it place relevant to the new economy. Dr Umar Saif may have worked under the PML-N but he can be the go-to guy as we ponder the next challenge. The government should tap people of his ability and others who may be under the radar.

Bio-tech and nanotechnology may be the next frontier for the very basic levels of Pakistan’s existing industrial and academic standards but should that not seek immediate remedy? What better time than now when CPEC is along its way to fruition and China can help Pakistan with the initial institution of such capability? Such planning should already be in the works. The ministers of planning, industry, finance, and education should be meeting frequently with their staff to develop a blueprint of what shall be the future shape of the economy and Pakistan’s place in it. For the moment, it all seems archaic.

It is also time to begin to digitise the political and financial economy. Merely bringing all transactions on record will resolve as many omissions as exist in tax evasion or money laundering or matters currently under review at the FATF. A database of significant effect can be developed which can then be utilised to great advantage in other areas such as law and order and security. There is a need to be creative in how critical enablers in technology can deliver multifarious gains. It can help societies and economies reshape on more sustainable modern lines. Currently, the economy remains conventional and stuck in a conservative groove – disabling even the need for a modern society.

Creation of wealth will remain the key to progress even in future economies. Enhanced gradations of efficiency will minimise waste and pilferage. Such net savings will add to society’s worth. Commodities will exist, but possibly of a different kind, and staples will be replaced by bio-foods capable of providing humans perfect nutrition with minimum waste. As this new society takes shape around a new economy, humans will be free to break from their perennial dependence on earthly sustenance and possibly venture out to areas where life today seems unsustainable. Those will be the literal new frontiers.

The beginnings of the future society are now in place as a new economy evolves. Pakistan must develop a blueprint of its own to keep its people relevant in the new world. Otherwise, those incapable of thinking anew or uninitiated in how the future is shaping will soon be irrelevant to the new world. Time will then march all over them, relegating those people to the footnotes of history, if that. As prime minister, Imran Khan sits at the cusp as the world and its economy and society, and the polity to manage both, is in a critical and huge transition. You miss the moment, you miss the train to the future. That is his dilemma. Sadly, his dilemma is also how to run the government as it stands.

The PTI has been dealt a very unfair hand, mostly beyond its capacity; this is unfortunate for a country and a people looking to find a way out of the impasse. Only well meaning, sincere, capable and adept governance can negotiate its way out of such a state. All these attributes are difficult to find in one political entity among those around. That makes this entire journey complex and demanding but we cannot be buried under the impossibility of the situation.

More imaginative reform of our thinking capacity needs to be integrated in our governing structures; one thought is to hire specialists from the private sector, replacing the more generic bureaucracy. Imran Khan will need to push through with this reform at the earliest. This piece only suggests that there are even bigger and more critical responsibilities ahead for which work is needed in earnest. If that is yet not the case, we are doomed.

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