Pakistan is once again passing through a critical phase of its history marked by political instability and serious economic problems. The preceding year saw the defeat of the PML(N) governments at the Centre and in Punjab in a highly controversial election tainted with allegations of political engineering and the rigging of the electoral results with the involvement of the deep state. Obviously these allegations will remain as such as long as they are not proven through independent and credible investigations. Meanwhile, the political climate in the country has been vitiated and an atmosphere of uncertainty has been created with adverse consequences for political stability and the economy. The accountability process, which is the need of the hour for the eradication of corruption, itself has become controversial with charges of selectivity and political victimisation. NAB’s harsh and arbitrary accountability procedures have generated a climate of fear driving away potential investors and discouraging senior government officials from taking bold decisions in public interest.

PTI’s agitational politics during the past few years starting with the totally unjustified dharna of 2014 as established later by the Supreme Court Commission findings, which was secretly supported by renegade elements belonging to the deep state, destabilised the country politically, undermined the democratic process, damaged the economy and prevented the country from reaping the full benefits of CPEC. These renegade elements did not realise that in destabilising a duly elected government and undermining the democratic process, they had unwittingly become the instrument of the enemy’s hybrid warfare against Pakistan with the aim of destabilising it politically, demoralising it socially, and weakening it economically.

The worrisome developments of the past few years marked by the reported involvement of the deep state in political engineering and the current political, economic and social problems are the logical outcome of our inability to deal effectively with certain fundamental issues that every nation must settle in the interest of its security and economic well-being. The most important out of them is the issue of the right political system for Pakistan or, more specifically, whether elected representatives or unelected institutions of the state will rule the country and be the ultimate arbiters of its destiny. The verdict of the modern history is in favour of representative forms of government, which are formed through periodic elections allowing the people to decide through their votes as to who will have the right to govern. This principle of consultation with the people for setting up a government is also in accordance with the injunction of the Holy Quran.

Unfortunately, despite the clear injunction of the Holy Quran calling for consultations with the people in running state affairs, despite the emphatic advice given by the Quaid-e-Azam to the senior army officers at Quetta in 1948 to keep away from politics, and despite our unhappy experience with military rule, the country had to bear the disastrous consequences of four military governments. These experiments with military governments repeatedly derailed the democratic process, sowed the seeds of political instability, undermined political evolution on the right lines, undermined the rule of law which is sine qua non for social stability and economic progress of a country, and aggravated centrifugal tendencies resulting in the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. It is a pity that Pakistan’s superior judiciary played an ignoble role in validating these military take-overs, the last one being the coup d’etat by Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

The developments over the past few years show that as a nation we have not drawn the right lessons from our own historical experience or from the history of the world over the past several centuries during which democratic institutions have evolved. A national consensus on a democratic form of government is a must for Pakistan’s long-term stability, security and economic progress. Unfortunately, renegade elements belonging to some unelected institutions of the state continue to hatch conspiracies to destabilise and change elected governments, thus, falling prey to the machinations of Pakistan’s enemies. These conspiracies, which have inflicted enormous damage upon the country’s security and economic well-being, must stop and the elected governments must be allowed to govern in accordance with the mandate given to them by the people of Pakistan.

Besides the challenge of political stability, national cohesion and a democratic form of government, Pakistan faces the daunting task of rapid economic development and eradication of poverty from which about 60 percent of its people suffer. With per capita income of about $1600, Pakistan remains a less developed country which is unable to provide even necessities of life like food, shelter, education and health facilities to the vast majority of its people. Growing inequalities of income and wealth have exacerbated the difficulties of the poor who are groaning under the weight of low income, unemployment, and high inflation. Our national expenditures on education (2.2 percent of GDP) and health (0.9 percent of GDP) are far below the desirable levels.

Consequently, we are turning into a nation of malnourished and semi-literate people who would be unable to face successfully the difficult challenges of rapid economic growth and prosperity in the highly competitive world of the 21st century. Education, especially advancement in science and technology, is a must for economic development in the contemporary world. In this perspective, our low literacy level (about 55 percent) even after 70 years of independence is extremely disappointing. Despite a population of about 220 million people, we do not have even a single world class university. Our economic growth rate remains on the low side as we are caught in the syndrome of low national saving and national investment rates. Our huge current account deficits show that as a nation we are living far beyond our means. The unsustainably large fiscal imbalances are the result of the proclivity of our governments to spend far more than what their revenues would allow.

The changes required in our economic policies to overcome the daunting economic challenges confronting the country are obvious. Side by side with the campaign to eradicate corruption, the need of hour is for steps to raise significantly our national saving and investment rates so as to eliminate our current account deficits and accelerate our GDP growth rates, reduce our fiscal deficits to sustainable levels, increase our exports, promote education particularly science and technology, raise the tax-to-GDP ratio to raise additional revenues for the government, expand health facilities, provide justice, and reduce income and wealth inequalities for the benefit of the poor. Simultaneously the government should launch programs for the rapid development of agriculture, industry and infrastructure in the country.

Unfortunately, in a marked contrast with the message of peace and moderation that Islam embodies, Pakistan has turned into a country which is prone to violence and extremism. Extremist tendencies compounded by strategic mistakes have also created the monster of terrorism which has inflicted enormous damage on our society and economy. We need to take well considered steps to encourage moderation, minimise violence and eradicate terrorism in our society.

No discussion of the fundamental issues confronting Pakistan can ignore the need for adequate military strength and a proactive foreign policy to safeguard our security and promote our economic well-being. For the allocation of maximum possible resources to the gigantic and urgent task of rapid economic development, we should maintain a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments. However, this would be possible only if we pursue a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy in the service of our national interests.

 

The writer is an author, a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.

 javid.husain@gmail.com