Vision or mere jargon

A closer look at the visions presented by our visionaries from time to time shows how this has remained an exercise in futility

Vision or mere jargon

This country is prolific in producing ‘vision’ after ‘vision’ and equally consistent in not learning or linking the previous with the new. If visions were the only thing needed for progress and prosperity of a country, we wouldn’t have been in the mess we are in.

This means either the official visions have been an exercise in futility or perhaps actual progress needs something more than a vision.

Three days before Pakistan was officially declared ‘independent’, the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah articulated the first vision for the country to be. Since then we have had several visions, but the more recent and prominent ones are Vision 2010 that was presented by the PML-N in 1997; Vision 2030 that was prepared by the Musharraf-Shaukat Aziz government in 2007; and the last, and the latest one that the incumbent government prepared in 2013 is Vision 2025.

Let’s start with the first one and see how we have fared. Officially known as "The Quaid’s Vision", in his famous speech of August 11, 1947, Jinnah stated, "…I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world…"!

I don’t know what did Jinnah imply by the term ‘the greatest’, but we certainly are the most prominent; though I am sure, he did not envision what we are today.

The vision 2010 saw us becoming an Asian Tiger; so does the PML-N’s latest vision 2025. This tiger fantasy is intriguing and can be subjected to several amusing sub-interpretations (like the ‘he-tigers’ mainly do the roaring job, while ‘she-tigers’ actually go out, hunt and help the household make ends meet!). But I guess the authors did not have this bit in mind. They probably only looked at the surface connection between the PML-N’s election symbol and the 1990s’ ‘miraculous growth’ of the four East Asian countries viz. Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Our visions have not been able to even predict the obvious weather and road conditions, or what type of vehicles were required for an uphill drive, let alone their prowess in guiding us to a destination!

Here a side note on the launch of the last two official visions (2010 and 2030): the governments that presented these visions were packed up in the following year and a half. Amusingly, official stamps bearing the logo of Vision 2010 (Better Pakistan) were also printed and released towards the end of November 1998, some six weeks after the PML-N government was deposed by Gen. Musharraf. The general then himself was shown the door with, relatively speaking, more decency a year after the launch of Vision 2030.

Vision 2025, which many say is an overhauled and expanded version of the erstwhile vision 2010, sees Pakistan transforming into "a vibrant and prosperous nation by 2025". It was launched on August 11 last year (to coincide with the Quaid’s ‘vision’). Incidentally, three days after this launch, the PTI and PAT marched on Islamabad and the vision 2025 did not get a great take off. If the election tribunal finds more irregularities in the alleged rigging, we might get into another vision-making exercise later this year.

The coincidental packing up of the "visionary" governments aside, this article argues that the so-called visions hardly qualify as ones.

They are political attempts of coming up with soothing slogans that try to link the apparent symptoms of a chaos with wishful outcomes -- from the standpoint of a presumed and confused utopia. Looking at the exercises of visions under discussions, it seems either the authors were dishonest and just wanted to float slogans which did not have any link with well thought out solutions. Or they were too ignorant of ground realities or were outrightly untrained and competent to undertake a sound vision-making exercise.

In my view, the persons and teams who took up such exercises faced five challenges which perhaps they did not realise: untested assumptions, the planning fallacy, data disorder, alienating vocabulary, and inability to correlate economic targets and ambitions with social dynamics.

The Quaid’s vision assumed "justice and impartiality" as the core principle of his vision. The four goals of Vision 2010 (justice for all, tolerance of opinion and belief, knowledge and entrepreneurship) assumed there would be good governance, and equitable access to economic opportunities. Vision 2030 that saw "developed, industrialised, just and prosperous Pakistan through rapid and sustainable development" did not assume there would be several civil wars going on in Pakistan.

The seven pillars of Vision 2025 -- developing human and social capital; achieving sustained, indigenous and inclusive growth; institutional reforms and modernising of public sector; energy water and food security; private sector led growth and entrepreneurship; developing a competitive knowledge economy through value addition; modernisation of transportation infrastructure; and greater regional connectivity -- wishfully assume "political stability, peace and security, rule of law, and social justice".

The second challenge, "planning fallacy", is a phenomenon where predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a given task underestimate the actual time needed, regardless of the knowledge that in the past similar tasks had taken longer. The immediate example of this is the Lahore Metro project where both the initial estimated costs and the indicated time of completion underwent several revisions. The manifestation of this fallacy are evident in the Metro Islamabad project where the same/similar decision makers did not learn and the Islamabad project too underwent cost escalation and time extension.

The data disorder is perhaps our biggest and most serious nemesis. Given that the last census took place 17 years ago, when we simply don’t know how many children we have to take care of, every calculation sits atop a careless speculation and all estimates are in fact guestimates. Vision 2010 was formulated before and alongside the census; Vision 2030 resulted from nine years old population projections; and Vision 2025 is based on 15 years old data. Unless we fix the meta data issues, or let our (promised) local governments plan, and build our national plans on those, such visions will not only remain perforated, they will also be misnomers for whims.

A close reading of these vision documents shows that the neither the jargon of the narrative belongs to us, nor do these seek to embrace our ethos, aspirations and diverse realities; although all of them start with the false claim that they represent aspirations of the people of Pakistan.

Last but certainly not the least is a manifest inability of the visionaries to correlate economic targets and ambitions of prosperity with social dynamics and institutional hurdles. The visions fail to tell us how peace and stability would be restored or how the intended delivery of basic services will reach the doorstep of every citizen without functional and effective local governments.

These visions also don’t talk about the bitter nuances like if the much touted youth bulge is like a fat in the body or energy of the body; or if certain institutions are like a tumour or a muscle, and if they are eating us from within or if they are helping in keeping the body healthy, fit and agile. They also don’t seem to differentiate between fighting a fire and managing the potential of any fire in the future.

Invoking the metaphor of journey, there are two ways of looking at the result of a literal or metaphoric journey: Every road leads to some destination; or, destination is where you reach.

Our visions have not been able to even predict the obvious weather and road conditions, or what type of vehicles were required for an uphill drive, let alone their prowess in guiding us to a destination!

Vision or mere jargon