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The dilemma of today’s Pakistan

Can Pakistan become Asian Tiger without first becoming an egalitarian State?

The dilemma of today’s Pakistan

The repeated claims in the past by Ishaq Dar and Ahsan Iqbal, influential ministers of the ruling PML-N government, that “Pakistan will be the next “Asian Tiger” were never taken seriously by ordinary Pakistanis and experts. Both have now conceded (as our economic indicators show) that they were living in fantasy. Their claims were nothing more than day dreaming. It was not because of the reason that Pakistan lacked or still lacks potential to achieve this goal but due to absence of any convincing roadmap, pragmatic policy design, concrete plan, actionable strategy and meaningful debate.

Economist Dr Nadeem Ul Haque has written a book showing how Pakistan managed to achieve the status of Asian Tiger by 2050. He has intensely offered an optimistic, realistic — though futuristic perspective — for a prosperous Pakistan. Unfortunately, his work has yet not been given the attention it deserves by academicians, practitioners and administrators. Our politicians, administrators, intelligentsia and entrepreneurs keep on complaining about multiple and complex challenges faced by Pakistan but seldom offer solutions. If somebody does, they start criticism without bothering to read his/her work. The parliamentarians as well as government servants do not even read what to speak of debating serious economic issues.

Rapid economic growth is not possible without ensuring socio-economic justice for all and job opportunities for millions of young people, whose frustration is on the rise with every passing day.

This is not a conventional book review of latest book by Dr Nadeem Ul Haque, Looking Back: How Pakistan Became an Asian Tiger by 2050, but only an attempt to highlight the crux of his valuable contribution that is innovative both in form and substance. The book is written in fictional style, yet it is not a fantasy — it offers a reality that can be crystallised through adopting right actions. The significant work is a must read for all those who matter in the land. It needs to be read with an open mind and debate should be on its content and not on the personality of the writer.

Read also: Back to the future

The work has been appreciated by many noted economists. Steve Keen, Professor of Economics at Kingston University, Author of Debunking Economics, has observed that “Nadeem Ul Haque’s innovative future history provides a marvelous framework for an erudite critique of current failed aid-based development policies for Pakistan, and for the promotion of an alternative based on acknowledging that complex self-organizing networks are the building blocks of genuine development.”

Dennis De Tray, former World Bank Director for Europe and Central Asia, says that “Nadeem Ul Haque is a rarity among development analysts — someone with an intellectual foot firmly in two worlds…Haque’s book is a valiant attempt to put into non-technical terms the frustrations that policy analysts from Developing countries face — caught as they are between predatory, unlistening governments and a donor community that believes “more of the same but this time we are serious” really does represent a valid response to past failures. Donors have preached the importance of county ownership for decades, but have seldom practiced what they preached. Whether Nadeem’s RFP is the answer to this “rock and hard place” trap is anyone’s guess, but Nadeem’s basic message: that we have to start doing development assistance differently is one that at least I find compelling.”

Dr Ishrat Husain, ex-Governor State Bank, is of the view that “Nadeem Haque deserves our gratitude for his unique attempt, through this semi-fictional work, for shattering our priors and conventional thinking about economics and Pakistan’s economy. He is right that the mono disciplinary and exclusive, dominant approach of Economics needs to give place to a broader interdisciplinary approach in which economics, politics and sociology all are brought to bear in understanding the complexity of the real world phenomena.”

Akbar Ahmed of Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University, Washington, DC, while appreciating the approach of the writer noted: “Nadeem Ul Haque, one of Pakistan’s foremost economists and intellectuals, uses his keen literary sense to give Pakistanis an exciting glimpse into our great nation’s potential for the future, outlining how through a deep, widespread reform of our development policies, Pakistan has the potential to emerge as a great power over the next three decades. However, if we are to actualize our potential as a nation, we must heed Dr. Haque’s words of wisdom and begin focusing on the plight of all Pakistanis rather than continue to serve narrow special interests above the interests of all. A nation must be able to serve and dignify all of its citizens if it is to emerge as a great power, and with Dr. Haque’s inclusive, insightful message, Pakistan can in fact achieve this lofty ideal.”

The advice of Akbar Ahmad obviously has fallen on deaf ears. Our political parties and policy makers are least concerned to actualise our potential. Our consistent view has been that the sufferings of Pakistanis, especially the poor and less privileged classes, will continue unabated unless the society is restructured on the principles of equity, fairness and justice — the fundamental elements of constitutional democracy enunciated in Article 3 of the Constitution.

The present sorry state of affairs of Pakistan is because of captivity of State in the hands of militro-judicial-civil complex, landed aristocracy and industrialist-turned politicians. Pakistan’s economy serves these privileged classes. The militro-judicial-civil complex not only enjoys unprecedented perks and benefits at the cost of taxpayers’ money but is also not delivering for what it is being paid. The ruthless landowners and industrialists amass more and more wealth by exploiting landless tillers and industrial workers, respectively. Unscrupulous traders create artificial hike in prices of essential items and thrive on the hard-earned incomes of the poor and the fixed-income classes. The government imposes unbearable indirect taxes on the poor and extends benefits to the rich and the mighty. This is the dilemma of today’s Pakistan.

Our considered view is that our dream of becoming an Asian Tiger will never materialise if the existing anti-people alliance of elites is not dismantled. For civil bureaucrats, life revolves around good postings, lucrative benefits, foreign tours and promotions. Officers having political clout are requisitioned by federal and provincial ministries. They are either relatives of ministers or are close to them. They serve their interests even if law and regulations do not permit so. This has destroyed the entire structure of civil services, where ‘political connections’ is now the ‘name of the game’.

The important question is: can Pakistan become Asian Tiger without first becoming egalitarian State? The powerful State officials in hands with the rich and mighty exploit the system for self-aggrandisement. For example, through SROs [Statutory Regulator Orders] the government provides “legal” ways and means to the mighty sections of society to amass huge wealth — exemptions and concessions given to them were of Rs500 billion every year in the last 10 years alone.

Dr Akmal Hussain, distinguished Professor, Dean School of Social Sciences, Information Technology University, Lahore, very rightly opined that “Nadeem Ul Haque has made a significant contribution to the literature on development…..He has applied the emerging theory of complexity to suggest that governance systems, institutional structures and culture interact. Within this tableau of complexity the identification of the appropriate policy, the implementation and assessment of its impact are fraught with uncertainty. Finding the space for policy intervention requires discovering emerging patterns of socio economic change using the new big data techniques. Given the complexity of the process of change, Nadeem suggests that one can at best nudge the process at the margin rather than intervene with conventional policy instruments within an ambitious governmental agenda.”

The problem of Pakistan is not scarcity of resources, but unwillingness on the part of policymakers to properly utilise and manage their equitable distribution, absence of effective administrative and justice systems to check socio-economic injustice. We cannot become Asian Tiger without undertaking the fundamental reforms (Fundamental reforms, Business Recorder, March 13, 2015).

Rapid economic growth is not possible without ensuring socio-economic justice for all, job opportunities for millions of young people, whose frustration is on the rise with every passing day as elites show apathy towards them and enjoy luxuries at the State’s expense. The work of Dr Nadeem is very important from the perspective of how to end the rule of mediocrity, imposed by today’s civil servants, who now act as cronies of their inept political masters. Fulfillment of dream for becoming Asian Tiger cannot be achieved unless this unholy alliance is dismantled. How this can be done is very well presented by Dr Nadeem in a pragmatic and convincing way.

Dr Ikramul Haq

One comment

  • The present sorry state of affairs of Pakistan is because of captivity of State in the hands of militro-judicial-civil complex, landed aristocracy and industrialist-turned politicians. Pakistan’s economy serves these privileged classes. The militro-judicial-civil complex not only enjoys unprecedented perks and benefits at the cost of taxpayers’ money but is also not delivering for what it is being paid. The ruthless landowners and industrialists amass more and more wealth by exploiting landless tillers and industrial workers, respectively. Unscrupulous traders create artificial hike in prices of essential items and thrive on the hard-earned incomes of the poor and the fixed-income classes. The government imposes unbearable indirect taxes on the poor and extends benefits to the rich and the mighty.
    This is the dilemma of today’s Pakistan.

    Muhammad Muzaffar
    Senior Development Banker-Fellow World Bank

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