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The tested players: two lost decades of Pakistan

A review of the economic condition during the period from 2002 to 2023 reflects two lost decades of Pakistan. During this period all the players presently in the field have been tried and tested. 2002 to 2008 was the period of military government of Musharraf; 2008 to 2013 was Asif Zardari’s; 2013 to 2018 was Nawaz Sharif’s and 2018 to 2022 was Imran Khan’s.

Notwithstanding contrary claims Pakistan’s social and economic indicators went from bad to worse after every regime. There is no point in comparing one regime with another. The right comparison is with other countries. In 2002, the US Dollar (USD) was for Rs 57 which is now above 250 whereas in India it was Rs 46 in 2002 and 83 in 2023. Our population was 160 million people which increased by 40 percent to 235 in 2022 whereas India remained at 1,417 million people from 1,117 in 2002 with an increase of 25 percent only. Indian exports were USD 130 billion in 2002 which increased to $640 billion in 2022 whereas we witnessed an increase from USD 14 to 30 billion during that period. This amply reflects that as against India we have failed in each and every indicator. Indian growth was not exceptional; it was quite normal. We lacked in every field. Similar is the situation in comparison with Bangladesh as well.

The point to note is that during this period there was reasonable democracy with elections held in time. At each election the ruling party lost the majority and the opposition came to power that may represent the fairness of the election process against the generally perceived notion that democracy is not allowed to operate in this country. All the players in the political field are adamant, even after complete destruction of the economy at their hands that they were in government but not in power. All these four political parties are tested and tried. This statement therefore means that this country is afflicted by undiagnosed ailment.

In the writer’s view the problems are (ii) false illusion about Pakistan’s strength and misplaced importance of its geostrategic location; (ii) artificial patriotism and nationalism without actual actions; (iii) uneducated and ill-prepared political parties and (iv) intellectually corrupt intelligentsia. With these characteristics no society can survive.

Pakistan has been a very weak and economically dependent state since its inception. It never had a positive current account except in 1950-51. The Quaid-e-Azam, the first Governor General of Pakistan, way back in 1948 asked for an aid of $ 2 billion from the USA through our Ambassador of Pakistan in Washington DC, M. A. H. Ispahani, which was politely refused. Then subsequently aid came to us when we sided with the US against the USSR in the Cold War. It should therefore be understood by politicians, especially Imran Khan, that this country is not in a bad shape for the sole reason that PML and PPP have remained in power for the last 30 years. It is a weak country which has always survived on IMF bailouts, etc. In other words, the starting point in economic discourse should be ‘humility’ instead of arrogance on account of the fact that we are located at a place which is considered relevant in international politics. When a country is run with such false illusions then proper results can never be achieved. Poor nations do not use top of the line ‘Mercedes Benz’ vehicles for their rulers. This message is not understood.

Every Pakistani is a patriotic citizen but most of them are not ready to register themselves for tax. For example, retailers are falsely demonstrating that they are the most patriotic persons in Pakistan, however they are neither ready to pay Rs 3000 per annum tax nor are they willing to refrain from selling smuggled goods. We are a very patriotic nation and are ready to feed people through ‘Sailanis’ etc., however, we are not ready to use daylight for energy saving and balance our current account.

The 2002 to 2022 period has seen all the players in government. The writer is of a considered view that there is not even a slight difference between the so-called ‘manifestos’ of all these players that do not reflect realism. All are saying the same thing. However, an analysis of all the four manifestos reveals that they do not understand the real problem. The biggest problem of the country is the huge unsustainable fiscal deficit due to low collection of taxes. However, in none of the manifestos any party has given any road map for documentation of the economy which is critical to increasing tax collection. This means that either these parties are ignorant of the real issue or they do not possess the courage and will to take on the tax dodgers. In either case it becomes clearer that none of them has a solution. The best case is Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), a party that remained a coalition partner in all the four governments. But its presence in the power structure failed to serve and protect the interests of urban Sindh from where it has been deriving its political strength since the 1980s.

The worst group is intellectually corrupt intelligentsia. They may belong to ‘Party A’ or ‘Party B or ‘Party C’ located in Pindi but very few of them are independent minded or farsighted. Pakistan faces the worst fiscal, current account and circular debt crises in 2022 and 2023. No one anticipated or apprehended this situation earlier. Sometimes they ponder on the subject of elite capture whilst at other times they give sermons on the IMF program without predicting the position that is likely to emerge. Either these people are compromised or they are cowards who do not want to say that the country is going towards destruction. Unless and until there is proper nourishment of independent economic think tanks there cannot be any development of pro-people economic policies of the country.

There cannot be any short solution; however, the immediate action required to redesign the revised socio-political and socio-economic paradigm for the country, the following route map is to be followed:

a. Real national austerity is a sine qua non. We must accept that Pakistan as a country cannot maintain the lifestyle that exists in some countries such as the UAE and others, including India, as we have already lived beyond our means in the last seventy five years.

b. Use geostrategic location for regional harmony against disharmony. India is short of energy resources and very relevant pipelines can pass through Pakistan to meet India’s growing energy need. These include Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (TAPI) and Iran, Pakistan, India (IPI). Just the toll revenue will be enough to bridge the gap in the current account;

c. Election Commission of Pakistan must make it mandatory for all political parties to present their economic policies to people through electronic media in an organised form before every election;

d. Reform Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) so that it can serve the original purpose of being a think tank of economic policies of Pakistan.

As a nation we are doing everything except development economics. The purpose of this article is only to argue that there is no point in comparing one regime in the country with another. The real comparison is with the competitors. Let us admit that we have lost the match. The match has been lost however there is always an opportunity to re-enter the arena with a new team and a new coach. The only panacea for success is not to repeat the mistake and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team. This may be the last chance after which we may be out of the tournament forever.

Syed Shabbar Zaidi, "The tested players: two lost decades of Pakistan," Business recorder. 2023-01-27.
Keywords: Economics , Economic condition , Economic indicators , Economic policies , Population , Musharraf , Asif Zardari , Imran Khan , PIDE

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