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Economics in Urdu

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. But there are words and then there are words. Take the case of Begum Nusrat Bhutto who was a member of Benazir’s first team from1988 to 1990. After being removed by then president G I Ishaq on the charge, among others, of ruining the economy, she said that was not true because “we did a lot of economics”.

Which picture could have more aptly described the performance of Benazir in the economic field? Begum Bhutto was not wrong either. Someone in that government did a lot of economics, earning the sobriquet of Mr 10 percent.

By the time Benazir returned to power in 1993, Begum Bhutto was no longer active in politics. Economics became a more direct contest between the prime minister and the ‘first husband’ who was handed the portfolio of environment as the country needed someone as dedicated to the cause of saving the planet or at least Pakistan from the degradation of nature. The real reason could have been that major funding was expected from external sources to save the environment.

Leaving morality aside, the current co-chair may have a point though. Kickbacks and commissions are time-honoured lubricants of all kinds of state projects. Nothing really moves without providing a satisfactory response to ‘what’s in it for me’. There will always some public officials who believe in dealing with things narrow and straight. But the majority seems not to mind and even encourages or demands a kickback.

The irony is that any number of convictions has failed to stop others from trying their luck, be it government functionaries, elected leaders or men in uniform.

Corruption is an attitudinal problem and no amount of electoral exercise is going to change that. In our context, the whole electoral process is marred by a deeply rooted desire to somehow deny victory to the other side by means fair and foul. Today’s victims of election irregularities can easily become tomorrow’s perpetrators.

The upshot of doing a lot of economics by those in power is that no one seems to be minding the national economy. If the PPP has built a web of graft in Sindh, the PML-N is running the national economy in a way that leads to bankruptcy while the first family expands its business empire. Economists might tell you that the country’s number one problem today is neither terrorism nor climate change but debt servicing.

The next most worrisome aspect is the steady decline in exports. These are needed not only to rectify the growing trade imbalance but to keep the wheels of industry running. An overvalued rupee is only one part of the bigger problem that is caused by the lack of productivity. At this rate Pakistan will only go down in its share of global trade, and we will just become vendors of goods produced in other countries.

The media as its own priorities; depressing stories about a rising debt burden and declining exports are consigned to business pages. The economy is really way down in our national priorities. True to their past record, the PML-N juggernaut is mostly geared to more showpiece projects rather than building dams or social infrastructure. The bullet train and the express to Kashgar may be off the front burner for now but the Mirpur-Muzaffarabad Expressway is in with a bang.

It is evident that the House of Sharif will not learn from its past mistakes. Nawaz Sharif has a habit of boasting about the motorway. You only need to look at the density of traffic on Peshawar-Rawalpindi-Lahore motorway and that on G T Road linking the same cities. For those unfamiliar with the situation, let it be noted that G T Road is choking with traffic while the six-lane motorway has one vehicle per kilometre.

One day, probably after fifty more years, the motorway will have the traffic it was built for in the 1990s. Good luck to the Mirpur-Muzaffarabad Expressway that may take a century to build the traffic that justifies its construction today. Why not build a less costly road between the two cities? Of course, that would be totally unglamorous.

There is ‘good news’ on the way as the prime minister has taken notice of the problems faced by the exporters. The commerce minister says that the prime minister will soon announce a package for boosting exports, and a strategic trade policy framework for the next three years would also be unveiled. At a time when English is ostensibly being displaced by Urdu, Khurram Dastgir used some heavy artillery in English to show how serious the government had become.

Here is a quote: “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s comprehensive meeting with exporters’ organisations signals a paradigm shift in government’s export approach that will give massive boost to Pakistan’s exports.”

Under the new language policy, Engr Dastgir may be required to say the same thing in Urdu. This being an English paper, I am not even trying to attempt the translation but you bet it would sound far more lyrical, poetry – not prose – being the greater strength of our national language.

Email: saeed.saeedk@gmail.com

M. Saeed Khalid, "Economics in Urdu," The News. 2015-09-18.
Keywords: Economics , Economic growth , Economic policy , Social aspects , Political aspects , Environmental policy , Language policy , National economy , Nusrat Bhutto , Benazir Bhutto , Khurram Dastgir , Mirpur , Muzaffarabad , PPP , PML-N , 1990