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Preparing for the grind

Watching events unfold over the last few weeks has been painful, primarily because Pakistan’s priorities are all wrong.

We are glued to our phones and television screens, anxiously waiting for more chaos and drama. With all these distractions like long marches, conspiracy theories, and mindless mudslinging, we are losing sight of reality. And the reality is that Pakistan is on the verge of bankruptcy, closer than it has ever been before. The education system not only lacks structure, it is completely outdated, and the water shortage is extremely alarming. While we are caught up in this political tug of war, Pakistan is rapidly nose-diving. Instead of focusing on the political circus, let’s discuss the most pressing issue Pakistan currently faces.

The first course of action should be to stabilize the economy. Thankfully, the government slashed the subsidy on petroleum products. This is not a long-term solution, but it needed to be done in order to regain stability. While Pakistan must continue to engage with the IMF, it is also important to plead their case smartly during negotiations. One could argue that this deal fails to take context into account. With the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine which has sent the global economy into a tailspin, the IMF should seek to take context into consideration, especially for third world countries. However, one has to be realistic. The IMF will continue to be harsh on Pakistan unless we show evidence that we are working towards restructuring our economy.

In order to become a globally competitive economy, Pakistan must introduce market-orientated reforms. There is so much talk about Pakistan’s weak export performance. Upon examination, it is clear that the export market is subpar due to deep structural issues. Pakistan’s exports have continually fallen behind its South Asian competitors since the early 1990s. Since 1990, Bangladesh’s exports have increased 6.2 times compared to Pakistan’s, measured in terms of exports per capita.

To strengthen the export market, the current and future leaderships have to make unpopular decisions and stick to them. Over the years, governments have continued to dole out large export subsidies without a shred of evidence that these subsidies have helped boost exports. Going forward, governments have no choice but to bite the bullet and say no to special interests. For example, instituting a land tax and rationalizing agriculture to create efficient farming choices can be done. However, sticking to the policy and carrying through requires courage from the government, and support from the public. To achieve long-term economic stability, Pakistan must have the will to put the interests of the people ahead of the privileged few. That means taking bold decisions, like removing land subsides and charging for excessive water use.

We also know that the economy cannot be restructured if political instability continues. Now more than ever, principles need to be put above petty political feuds. Pakistan must take a leaf out of Bangladesh’s book, as it shows that you don’t need complete, but just semi political stability and continuity to achieve economic growth. For that to happen, Pakistan needs to get past the first hurdle. Political tumult and confrontation has done nothing but create hardship and upset. The people have had enough.

Pakistan needs to prepare itself for a hard grind. With the steep rise in inflation, there is bound to be more social unrest around the corner. It is highly doubtful that the politicians will tone down their rhetoric and work together. Therefore, it is not out of the realm of possibility that something dramatic has to happen which will force political parties to take a step back in order to bring in a new dispensation comprising specialists and technocrats, who have the leeway and no political baggage to make tough economic decisions. To make it absolutely clear, this suggestion is not calling for an undemocratic takeover, which should never be encouraged. But we are fast reaching the point where there is no room left for political chaos.

The mainstream parties must realize that this current narrative of abuse and confusion is degrading Pakistan on every level. It is imperative that every segment of society, especially the media, encourages peace and stability, before it’s too late.

Email:humayun.gauhar786@gmail.com

Humayun Gauhar, "Preparing for the grind," The News. 2022-06-06.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political instability , Political will , Economy , Democratic , Bankruptcy , Bangladesh , Pakistan , IMF