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Conceptual poverty of foreign policy

By looking closely at the interlinked deprivations of poor people, this report provides valuable insights on how to tackle multidimensional poverty—referred to simply as “poverty” throughout—by addressing its multiple dimensions—Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2022 (MPI)

The above cited report, (MPI), issued by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), based on comparable data from 111 countries, “identifies a series of ‘deprivation bundles’—recurring patterns of poverty—that commonly impact those who live in multidimensional poverty across the world”. MPI includes 23 low-income, 85 middle-income and 3 high-income countries, mentioning that these are home to 6.1 billion people, out of which 1.2 billion, approximately 19.1%, are living in poverty. This gap further widens in developing countries where the ratio of poverty is recorded at 92%. MPI reveals that the most common profile affecting 3.9% of poor people includes deprivations in exactly four indicators: nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation, and housing.

The MPI finds that “more than 45.5 million poor people are deprived” in only above four indicators. “Of those people, 34.4 million live in India, 2.1 million in Bangladesh and 1.9 million in Pakistan—making this a predominantly South Asian profile”, it adds. It further highlights that 328.9 million people are deprived of these four indicators as well as others related to commonly accepted indicators of poverty. According to MPI, “of the 374.4 million poor people deprived in these four indicators (some of whom are deprived in others), 224.8 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa, 122.9 million are in South Asia and 26.7 million are in other regions”.

The MPI mentions that around 4.1 million people across 111 countries are deprived in all the 10 indicators, out of which 3.8 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, including 910,000 in Nigeria, 685,000 in Niger and 615,000 in Ethiopia. However, the ratio of deprivation in nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and assets is lower in the Arab states, 214,000 alone in Sudan, and 110,000 in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Latin America and the Caribbean, Haiti has the poorest people, around 20,000. In East Asia and the Pacific, Papua New Guinea has 27,000 people and Myanmar 24,000.

The MPI covers pre-flood situation in Pakistan and does not discuss its impact, which has affected one-third of Pakistan, causing a loss of over USD 30 billion. The devastating floods have not only damaged infrastructure but also destroyed the crops which are going to negatively impact the production of sugarcane as well as cotton’s. The MPI states that 38.3% of the population in Pakistan is poor, out of which an additional 12.9% is classified as vulnerable to multidimensional poverty. Unfortunately, the ratio of people living in multidimensional poverty is as high as 51.7%.

Similarly, Pakistan’s ranking on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI) downgraded from 154/189 to 161/189 in 2021-2022. The HCI highlights that life expectancy rate in Pakistan at birth is 66.1 years, whereas years of schooling are around 8 years. The country’s gross per capita income was recorded at just US$4,624.

In global surveys, whether related to poverty, human capital development, corruption, tax evasion, judicial system, democracy, governance, human rights or free speech, our performance is ranked low and/or poor. Despite being the fifth largest populous country and the seventh nuclear state in the world, located in the middle of the two largest and most strategically important countries in the world, Pakistan has neither tried to capitalise on its strategic location, nor has it explored new opportunities to improve its economic condition by strengthening its diplomatic ties with its neighbors and rest of the world.

Foreign policy plays an important role in attracting foreign investment, increasing export, reducing poverty and setting the direction of economy. However, our foreign policy has predominantly revolved around partnering in regional conflicts and participating in defense-related matters.

During Pervez Musharraf’s regime (1999-2008), Pakistan received attention as an important non-NATO ally in war against terrorism while focus remained on generating revenue through aid and grants. He miserably failed to capitalise Pakistan’s position to seek long-term economic benefits from the United States and its allies. Resultantly, when forced to leave the presidency, he left Pakistan in quite a bad shape.

Terrorism was at its peak, law and order situation was at its worst, there were daily 6 to 8 hours of load-shedding of electricity, and the economy was on a constant decline. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) created the Friends of Pakistan Forum to seek guidance and technical support to strengthen Pakistan’s economy. President Barack Obama chaired the first meeting of the forum but PPP government became victim of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s judicial activism spending most of its time responding to suo motu notices.

Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, three-times elected Prime Minister, during his last tenure before disqualification, resorted to strengthen his relationship with China and Turkey and tried to improve ties with Central Asian states as well. However, due to short-sightedness of his party, Pakistan lost Middle Eastern countries’ support, especially Saudi Arabia’s and the United Arab Emirates’s (UAE’s), known as trusted partners and friends, due to mishandling of the Yemen issue.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE tried to normalise relations with Pakistan during Imran Khan’s tenure. However, due to immature handling of affairs, relations became tense, not only with Middle Eastern countries, but other friendly countries as well. During his rule [16 August 2018 to 9 April 2022], Pakistan’s economic situation worsened on all fronts. At the time of his departure from the Prime Minister’s Office, Pakistan was facing the risk of default on the external front.

It is a fact that due to our imprudent foreign policy, no state is ready to bail us out at this time of need. Pakistan’s close friends Saudi Arabia and China though verbally commit to supporting us in meeting financial needs, but practically nothing materialises.

Our foreign reserves are depleting despite import restrictions. This policy is causing huge losses to importers as well as the overall economy. Moreover, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has imposed severe conditions during its sixth, seventh and eighth reviews, but is not ready to send its delegation to Islamabad for the Ninth Review, without which release of a new tranche is not possible.

In the light of the above, Pakistan needs to reconsider its foreign policy priorities. We as a nation cannot treat the international community like an opposition as in the past. The only way forward for economic engagement, socio and geopolitical relations is a paradigm shift in foreign policy making it balanced and pragmatic. We need a new foreign policy that can help us in improving our economy through trade and investment. Unless it is done, the journey of 75 years carrying begging bowls will continue unabated, and we will continue to be rated among “poor and bottom performing nations” in every survey on international level.

(Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions)

Huzaima Bukhari, Dr Ikramul Haq and Abdul Rauf Shakoori, "Conceptual poverty of foreign policy," Business recorder. 2022-11-25.
Keywords: Economics , Economic condition , Foreign policy , Monetary fund , International community , Judicial system , Huzaima Bukhari , Ikramul Haq , Imran Khan , United Arab , Pakistan , IMF , LUMS , PIDE , UAE

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