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Pakistan beyond 70

On the 70th independence anniversary, listing some ‘mega trends’ and ‘game changers’ that will determine Pakistan’s future

Pakistan beyond 70

Turning seventy is a major landmark for Pakistan. In 1947, its political opponents were of the view that Pakistan would not sustain for more than couple of years and will seek a reunification with India. The journey during last seventy years was never easy but it managed to sail through. On 70th independence anniversary, let us not talk of hardships that Pakistan faced but try to foresee its future.

Future is premised on factors found or missing around us. I am categorising these factors into “mega trends” and “game changers”. The former are visibly and verifiably present in today’s Pakistan, while the latter are natural or human-made circumstances which determine whether the “mega trends” lead to positive change or they produce negative outcomes. 

Mega Trends

Demographic trends:

Nearly one third of Pakistan’s population is 10 to 24 years old. One is waiting for census 2017’s results but it is estimated that women would be around 52 per cent of its population. Despite the structural exclusion of women in many spheres of society, they are increasingly marking their footprints and are playing a vital role in Pakistan’s development. Majority of the Pakistanis in working age are migrating both within the country as well as to other parts of the world.

Domestic migration is leading to rapid urbanisation (and peri-urbanisation). Whereas, international migration is helping in acquiring new skill sets. Those who migrate abroad are not only a source of precious remittances but also play an important role in socio-economic spheres of their host countries.

Increased individual empowerment:

Another visible trend in today’s Pakistan is increased individual empowerment. Due to a number of developments, an individual in Pakistan is more empowered today than s/he was a few decades ago. Albeit increased economic inequality, the number of people living in abject poverty has decreased.

There is a rise in middle class. Internet, smartphones and media has made access to information (and disinformation) much easier than we had ever imagined. One may argue about the quality of education, but literacy rate has improved and so is the life expectancy at birth rate. People are more aware of their rights and empowered enough to challenge the status quo. They are candid in expressing their socio-political likings and disliking. All of these trends are reminders that one cannot ignore individual’s ownership while talking of any initiative about Pakistan’s future.

Emergence of new power centres:

Despite the cliché about “establishment” having monopoly over power in Pakistan, one has to recognise that increased individual empowerment is facilitating emergence of new power centres. Today’s Pakistan has come out of the risk of direct military takeover. New power centres; the parliament, the superior judiciary, the corporate owned media, more autonomous provinces, and a vibrant civil society are challenging the monopoly of “deep state” in Pakistan. These power centres are contesting for their space in decision-making. Their alignments (or misalignment) and alliances (or differences) would have a major role in determining Pakistan’s future.

Cultural trends:

There are some visible cultural changes taking place in Pakistan. Rising middle class, access to information, and rapid urbanisation have given rise to an unprecedented consumerism. One can think of any major international brand of consumer good and it would be available in Pakistan. Cost of consumer goods is an important component of its import bill and adds to its trade deficit.

Businesses are responding to consumer culture and are redefining its social fabric, at least in urban centres. For example, two decades ago “father’s day”, “mother’s day”, and “Valentine’s day” etc., were very western concepts for Pakistan. Now these are one of the major events on all media channels and in the malls across all major cities of Pakistan.

Societal heterogeneity:

Pakistan’s society is highly polarised and divided across all possible fissures and fault-lines, be they political, economic, ethnic, sectarian, or provincial etc. The level of tolerance and mutual acceptances has considerably decreased in this heterogeneous society where few groups claiming to be self-righteous are resorting to mob justice, mob lynching, and revenge-seeking in different guises — street crime, honour killing, political differences, or blasphemy.

Natural resources:

On natural resources front, one can find that water, food and energy have become interdependent in Pakistan. Water needs for agriculture (for food), are competing with needs for power production through hydro-electric power plants. To keep the plants running, river water storage for irrigation has to be curtailed or to ensure the availability of water for crops the production of power has to be compromised. All this, indeed, is just one part of the problems emerging from climate change which is upsetting weather patterns and thereby impacting the ecology, crop patterns, energy requirements as well as production and consumption of food. Due to the competing demands for water, at given point of time, considerable percentage of Pakistan’s population is either food insecure, water insecure or energy insecure.

Economic trends:

Pakistan’s economy reflects a boon and burst phenomenon where macro-economic stability lacks sustainability and follows a period of economic downfall. Till 80s, Pakistan was an agrarian economy. It took a quantum leap, bypassed industry and manufacturing, and turned into a service based economy. Today service sector is contributing 60 per cent, industrial sector 20.8 per cent and agriculture19.5 per cent to Pakistan’s GDP. However, the share of jobs and exports of these sectors reflects another picture. Agriculture sector is still the largest employer and forms the export base of Pakistan.

 

Game Changers

In no particular order, the role of China; energy; economic growth; openness and transparency; violent conflict and radicalisation; new technologies; regional geo-politics; and natural and manmade disasters are some of the game changers that may turn the above-mentioned mega trends to be either a boon or bane. These game changers are defining the economic, social, geopolitical, and environmental pathways for foreseeable future of Pakistan.

Economic pathways:

It can be argued that during last 70 years, on the whole, Pakistan’s economic policies produced many winners — poverty and illiteracy levels have come down, health indicators are improving and more people are joining middle income bracket each year.

Going forward, opportunities from the CPEC, energy availability, and innovative technology, if utilised in a transparent and judicious manner, may result in sustainable and inclusive economic growth. This growth would help in using the youth bulge positively with more hands to earn and fewer mouths to feed. It would result in an urbanisation that provides jobs to people pouring in from the rural areas.

The increasing size of the economic pie would help emerging power centres like media, middle class and ethnic and fringe groups to claim, and in some cases get, better, open and transparent economic and political share in governance. Now reverse the situation and one will see how a non-inclusive economic growth that benefits only privileged individuals, would turn the mega trends in a negative way.

It is important to note that societal perception of exclusion and marginalisation will bring impatience and restlessness not only among highly charged (under and-or unemployed) youth but also in emerging power centres. In such circumstances, these actors instead of becoming a part of the solution by providing political and intellectual leadership in driving the economy and the country out of troubled waters would turn the situation worse with half-baked ideas and less than practical demands.

Non-performing economy would also have direct bearing on state’s ability to provide basic services such as health and education. This would not only further marginalise the excluded ones, but pave way for the extremist groups to expand their influence through their humanitarian wings.

Environmental pathways:

Sustainable development is maintaining a balance among people, planet, and prosperity. Compromising planet (environment) for the sake of economic prosperity would lead to further intensification of climate change as well as frequent occurrence of natural and human made disasters. This provokes human insecurity which in turn threatens national security by eroding the societal fabric. This would nullify any positive outcome emerging from the above mentioned mega trends. Thus, Pakistan’s response to disasters and climate change would be a major game changer in determining its future.

Social pathways:

A sustainable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan will require a new social contract; an alternative narrative based on mutual co-existence and respect for diversity; and going back to Quaid’s vision where all Pakistanis were equal despite their creed and ethnicity. The new social contract would have to ensure an inclusive society which reduces human insecurities. It would have to recognise “human security” as a major component of “national security”. Ignoring the need of such social transformation would lead to a situation where perceptions of exclusion, marginalisation and human insecurity would keep on getting collective identities — provincial, ethnic, sectarian, or any other kind. This would, in turn, lead to a series of never-ending class conflict between “have” and “have not”, compromising the gains of development efforts of last 70 years.

Geopolitical pathways:

Another game changer would be how Pakistan and its neighbours settle their conflicts. Use of force and weakening each other through exploiting internal problems have not resolved any conflict in South Asia during the last seventy years.

Wars have failed to solve any issues between India and Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot get rid of the menace of terrorism through accusing each other. Iran and Pakistan cannot live peacefully in an environment of mistrust. Willingness of these four countries to give diplomacy, politics and negotiations a chance — if not as a replacement for the military operations then at least as a mandatory corollary to them — would be vital for the region.

The interaction of abovementioned “mega trends” with “game changers” can produce any of the three possible scenarios: Best case scenario where Pakistan would be a hub of climate resilient growth, a leading economy, and a social welfare state in few decades down the road; Business as usual, a boon and burst phenomenon, not only on economic front but in all other spheres of life, which Pakistan is observing for the last seventy years. And God forbid a Worst case scenario where highly charged, highly polarised and a socio-economically and politically marginalised class of “have-nots” guided by self-atomisation power of access to information and disinformation may challenge the whole existence of state and the country.

Demand for openness and transparency:

This demand is another game changer. While these values are forces for permanent good, their champions have shown the tendency to only scrutinise a newly-emerging power centre — the democratically-elected governments and parliaments — sparing the traditional and other emerging power centres in Pakistan.

Such simplistic insistence on accountability, no matter how important, can lead to the discrediting of the political class with dangerously destabilising consequences for the polity. Attempts to realise openness and transparency at the expense of democracy, may let non-democratic forces emerge in Pakistan again.

At its seventieth independence anniversary, the choice is with us, the citizens of Pakistan. We may not have a control over mega trends, but can certainly influence the game changers in a way that they affect these trends in a positive manner and if not leading to a best case scenario, may at least do better than business as usual. This is the common dream of many of us and indeed a pathway to sustainable development for our future generations.

Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri

abid suleri
The writer heads Sustainable Development Policy Institute. He may be contacted at [email protected]

2 comments

  • Dr. Abid wrote a great piece on Pakistan’s insight and provided several options for moving forward.

  • Very good essay Dr Abid; enjoyed reading it.

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