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Building a self-sustaining and dynamic economy, however, is no easy challenge
Since independence, Pakistan has not been able to develop a self-sustaining economy. Realising how adversely it has affected its people and compromised national sovereignty the PTI government has taken the right policy decision of giving economy the highest priority. Dependence on the IMF, World Bank and other global and regional monetary institutions for indefinite periods and awaiting desperately for their approval to release the periodic tranches make a mockery of Pakistan being a nuclear power and the second most populous Muslim nation, and having an enviable geo-strategic location. It lowers the image of the country in the eyes of its own people, and the world at large, and provides an opportunity for major powers to exploit us. Needless to mention the treatment meted out to our workforce in some of the rich Muslim countries. In short, it is an unsustainable position and could push us permanently in the ranks of the dependent and ungovernable countries. This is despite the fact that we clearly can claim to have a talented and hard-working population as good as any and a country blessed with immense natural resources.
Building a self-sustaining and dynamic economy, however, is no easy challenge. More so, it would be folly to expect that it could be achieved without simultaneous development and improvement in other sectors and elements of national power. Conceptualising the National Security Policy and spelling out a path to achieve it in great detail is a first step and hopefully generate a robust debate. Even if it is rejected outright by some that by itself should provide the basis of discussion as what alternatives these rejectionists have. After all the present state of affairs is unsustainable.
Economic development and human security demand good governance. This in turn has to be supported by a sizeable educated class with a fair representation of graduates in science and technology, an industrial and technological infrastructure, a hard core of economists, people having managerial experience supported by an efficient bureaucracy.
The phenomenal progress of countries like Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam — apart from their ethics of hard work and dedication — is attributable to universal education, a strong science and technology based educated class and efficient industrial management.
Pakistan is a knowledge and expertise dependent country, where more than 30 to 35% of the population is illiterate. The leadership either through sheer indifference or deliberately promotes policies to keep the masses in a state of impoverishment. Large families with meagre incomes are a common phenomenon in Pakistan. From a feudal perspective it is easier to retain control over people that are economically backward and politically unaware. It is not only those at the helm but a large number of elected and other powerful elites that are equally casual in their attitude toward education. Not realising, without critical mass of educated people the country’s economy would continue to falter. The state of health of the broad masses is equally important for growth and is another area that is facing severe neglect especially in the countryside.
The PTI government would need to seriously change its orientation if it is serious in prioritising economy. During the three years of being in power it has focused on an education policy that would literary lower national educational standards rather than raising them. The emphasis has been more on uniformity and religious education and hardly on subjects that drive the economy and create ingenuity and competition among people and among nations. China’s remarkable progress owes largely to the emphasis it laid on science-based education. It sent thousands of students to the US, Canada, Europe and Russia for higher studies and its cream to the best universities like Harvard and Stanford. Pakistan’s leadership will have to make a major change in its thinking and approach toward the quality and spread of education.
The industrial and agricultural infrastructure, apart from a few exceptions, needs a major uplift in terms of modernisation and upgradation for developing a competitive economy. A quick comparison between the value of exports of Vietnam, South Korea, India or Bangladesh with Pakistan will be revealing as to how much effort is needed to match even South Asian standards. Our exports in the field of information technology are miniscule in comparison and constitutes only 0.07 percentage of total goods exported globally in 2019.
Diverting resources for promoting economic development demands political will and policy readjustments on the basis of national priorities. The military leadership is in sync with the new focus on the economy. It also realises the importance of combating the various non-kinetic threats that Pakistan is experiencing in the larger interest of the people. Since the last few years defence budget has been facing a squeeze as our economy continues to weaken. If this trend persists military preparedness would be affected. So, with national spotlight on the economy the nation would be in a better position to face internal and external challenges. Pakistan’s focus on the economy and its policy of a peaceful South Asia augurs well for the entire region and should facilitate peaceful resolution of lingering disputes, including Kashmir with India.
We also need to draw lessons from how the European Union and more recently China, Vietnam and others by placing economy at the core of their national policy turned around the destiny of their nations. Most striking feature of this transformation is that economic prosperity has opened up new avenues for their people and raised the stature of these countries. Besides, these are major military powers with considerable political clout.
By looking at security in a wider context and placing economy and human development central the NSP provides a clear vision and direction to the policymakers for allocation of national resources. It is unfortunate that those who have been advocating the same line of thinking in the past were generally misunderstood or did not have the support of the government. Better late than never. What matters now is how faithfully the policy is implemented and how soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2022.
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