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Pakistan at 70

Thanks to the untiring efforts of former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury and a former Finance Minister of Pakistan Shahid Javed Burki, Research Professors at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the National University of Singapore (NUS), NUS and ISAS hosted a workshop on September 11 on “Pakistan at 70: Politics, Economics and Sociology” at their UNDP Auditorium.

Talking about “Islam, Society and Politics,” Prof Riaz Hussain convincingly explained that Sufi shrines/khanqahs played an important role in spreading Islam. Co-opted by the State, the large ‘Jagirs’ they received helped them extend their Pir-Jagirdar influence to spheres of politics and economics. After 1947, this alliance became a dominant force in Pakistan. Committed to forming an Islamic State the Ulema and the spiritualistic Islam opposed this bid. General Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation programme boosted their role; the two traditions have since been in violent conflict. A strong affinity to their faith makes Pakistani Muslims prefer a pluralistic political culture signifying support for a tolerant and democratic society, not for Islamic parties or radical movements. Giving irrefutable evidence, Prof Riaz strongly refuted the despicable canard that Pakistan’s state organs were complicit in sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan. 6,000 dead soldiers and over 25,000 wounded besides 100,000 civilian casualties should be proof enough of that.

Shahid Javed Burki, speaking about “Pakistan’s Economic Development”, said that Pakistan was misunderstood not only in the world but also by its own people. The state’s role can be understood by looking at the influence on policymaking of what economists call “path dependence.” Giving five distinct reasons supporting the belief that Pakistan as a nation state is stronger than before, Burki talked about wide consensus for good governance and the country being managed by representative and inclusive institutions. Second, those in power have to be held accountable. Third, progress being defined as inclusivity and accountability, Pakistan is the only Muslim country making political progress. Pakistan’s unique geographical location guarantees it an important place, especially with China building arteries of commerce connecting with the West. The latest Census shows half the population being below the age of 24, if the aspirations of this segment are met, Pakistan will be able to build a better future for itself.

My presentation on “ECO: Pakistan’s Extra-Regional Economic Linkages”, highlighted Economic Cooperation Organisation’s (ECO) immense potential as a single market for goods and services because of commonality among member States, gross domestic product, foreign direct investment, geographical proximity and huge natural resources. The downside is that there is little success even after 32 years because of lack of political commitment for good governance, inadequate transport links, poor infrastructure, etc. The solid foundation of economic complementarities and geographical proximity, and most importantly, absence of disputes among members can unleash the huge potential in overcoming the challenges in strengthening regional and extra-regional cooperation. The success of ECO’s objectives lies in improving transport mobility and connectivity. Avoiding delays during transit in movement of goods and passengers, cooperation and coordination of efforts to avoid incidence of customs frauds and tax evasion, etc must be pursued. As a united bloc globalization provides unique opportunities for ECO facilitating trade, connecting Asia with Europe and Central Asia with South Asia. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a game-changer giving a huge boost to ECO by providing tremendous connectivity, giving all stakeholders opportunity to expand regional and extra-regional trade. The idea of the Chinese proposed “cascade dams” bearing fruition and Pakistan will never be blackmailed about water by India.

On “The Role of the Military in Pakistan’s Political Development,” former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Pakistan Army General Jahangir Karamat (retd) acknowledged that though there were extenuating circumstances created by a combination of political incompetence and chicanery, the blame apportioned to the Army for undermining democracy, not allowing institutions to develop and mature, for patronage to politicians, interfering in elections, etc., was not entirely without substance. At the same time, military rule has seen remarkable economic progress and stability. Since the last decade the military has clearly demonstrated it has no political intentions despite being baited by vested interests. When required to ward off internal and external threats, many political crises were resolved by the government with active support from the Army making a massive contribution. With its structural and organizational strength behind the elected government, the Army continues to ensure its positive contribution to democracy.

Shahid Kardar explained “Private Sector in Education,” in Pakistan especially at the schools level, has grown in Pakistan with the Punjab accounting for almost 5% of the enrolment with concentration in urban and more developed districts in all the provinces (10% of the districts nationally). About 95% of these institutions provide mixed gender education, addressing the demand for education of all income classes. The private sector providing good quality education, public sector education continues to suffer because of weaknesses such as low quality teaching, weak accountability systems, bloated administrative structures, failure to exploit opportunities provide by modern technology, etc.

Saleem Ranjha, founding director of Akhuwat Foundation and Federal Secretary, Benazir Income Support Program spoke about his organization “Akhuwat: A New Model in Micro-Credit”. As the world’s largest interest-free micro-financing and credit with cost at zero percent organization, Akhuwat commenced operations in 2001 with an initial donation of Rs 10,000. Till now it has disbursed about Rs 47 billion with a recovery rate of 99.93%. Serving 2.2 million families presently through its 686 branches located all over Pakistan, it is projected that by December 2017 Akhuwat will disburse Rs 60 billion to more than 2.5 million farmers. Very impressively this organization is also engaged in education, and health. 300 Akhuwat schools provide quality education, learning and e-skills to more than 40,000 boys and girls in Karachi, Faisalabad and Jhang districts.

With hardly any industries worth mentioning at independence, this country of 200 million plus is today a nuclear power having a well-developed industrial sector. Among the many problems needing sorting out is the lack of honest and purposeful leadership in governance. With leaders looking mostly after their own interests, the lack of accountability across the board dominates almost all other issues. Thanks to the tremendous sacrifice rendered (and being rendered) by our Armed Forces, terrorism and extremism are being tackled forcefully and with great success.

The impressive panel of speakers highlighted the importance of accountability across the board. Ridding ourselves of the crooks among our leadership would unleash the potential Pakistan has for becoming the power in the region the Quaid envisaged the country to be.

Ikram Sehgal, "Pakistan at 70," Business Recorder. 2017-09-15.
Keywords: Political science , Democratic society , Nuclear powe , Population , Economic development , Pakistan , Bangladesh , UNDP , CPEC , ECO

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