I was around 7 years old in 1947 when I travelled from Ferozepur city to Kasur with my parents witnessing horrible scenes on the train loaded with injured, sick, some dead bodies and homeless refugees. Millions of refugees migrated from India to the newly created country – Pakistan. This was perhaps the highest refuge exchange in human history. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims sacrificed their lives to establish Pakistan in 1947.
Pakistan has now celebrated her 70th independence day. Starting from scratch, in 1947, Pakistan has made significant progress in some vital areas. Today, we are an established nuclear power. Thanks to Mohsen-e-Pakistan Dr AQ Khan who made it possible despite many odds. Politically it was Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister who pressed the nuclear button for the nuclear explosions in 1998. We are now a democracy. Our Defence Production Industry is fairly advanced and CPEC is a ray of hope for our national economy in some measure. Nonetheless, we have many serious challenges threatening our independence for which we, as a nation have to gear up for planned solutions.
Our national debt, including external and internal, is mounting which is around 70 billion dollars and is going up. According to a recent official statement, we have to pay $7.43 bn off this year, including the principal amount and the interest, a huge liability. Heavily debted nations risk their independence.
Our exports are falling. Despite the available potentials ‘babu culture’ has failed to achieve the desired targets.
Additionally, millions of children cannot get education, good governance challenges are hovering, terrorism threats are surfacing at intervals causing colossal damage, and various types of disasters causing loss of lives and property are encountered frequently due to mismanagement prevailing in the public sector affairs. The impending energy crisis and water scarcity are posing serious threats to the national economy.
At this national juncture after 70 years of independence, we need to review our national strategies and plans with a strong political will to overcome the current national challenges.
Massive reforms are required in the socio-economic system to get rid of national debt and overcome the problems confronting the nation. Let us glance at the major reforms needed.
Issues and reforms: It is highly imperative to put the national economy on a high economic growth path in real terms based on actual and advanced productivity trajectory in each sector of the national economy. The following parameters will have to be addressed through massive reforms, coupled with short term and long term action plans free of “babu culture” and with a strong political will at the top to implement them. These factors alone can generate real wealth for the national economy to pay off the current public debt liabilities in a few years and make Pakistan economically self reliant in the very near future.
‘Babu Culture’: This is the core area that eats away the effects of all good policies and plans. Bangladesh, on independence, drastically changed the old complex procedures breeding red-tapism and corruption. Services reforms based on results achievements and market orientation, are needed to meet the challenges of mass welfare, accountability and freedom from corruption. About forty percent of the budget is wasted through red-tapism, delays, and costs escalated projects and corruption. This needs drastic reforms.
Agricultural and industrial productivity growth: Fast track GDP growth strategies and implementation plans are sine qua non to high growth targets achievements. In this connection, the roles of agricultural and industrial productivity indices are very vital. Presently these parameters are very low in our national economy. The present National Productivity Organisation needs to be strengthened and reorganised professionally. Cost of production needs to be cut through modern technologies. Innovation and technology up-gradation are needed, based on international models. Research and development plays a massive role in boosting industrial and agricultural productivity.
Mass industrialisation: Aggressive industrialisation policies are needed to be launched in the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sectors and large industries focusing on exports orientation. The PML-N Government in the past launched a rural industrialisation program which needs to be relaunched with an updated approach. This alone would help achieve high growth targets. It would be advisable to set up public sector companies to ensure the fast track implementation of industrialisation programs based on simplified procedures and updated methodologies.
Corruption: Corruption eats away a sizeable chunk of our national resources and adversely effect public welfare policies through red-tapism. It can be checked through reforms and by using intelligence agencies as well. However honest and good political leadership, efficient accountability framework and an effective parliamentary system alone can minimise corruption.
Control of wasteful expenditure: A nation gripped by economic crises has to adopt austerity and economical ways to cut wasteful and luxuriant expenses in government and public sector organisations. The number of ministries needs to be cut and reduced to the minimum. International models of developed democracies need to be followed.
Intensifying use of modern technologies: Technology advancements are fast modifying public sector, industrial and agricultural methodologies worldwide. Information and communication technologies are playing a pivotal role. Resultantly higher efficiencies, costs reduction and value addition in operations are being achieved. In Pakistan also, updated technologies, new organisation and management methods and global standards need to be introduced fast to achieve higher national growth in each sector of national economy our public sector. Our R&D organisations have so far failed to achieve market driven and needed results in the absence of public private partnership.
Education and literacy: High literacy rate and education spread at least up to Higher Secondary levels is key to long term growth and strong economy. Enhanced economic resources, allocations for education and Public Private Partnerships in this sector can help boost literacy rates. Economically self-reliant nations today have high literacy rates.
Exports: Pakistan’s current exports levels are going down. Focus should be shifted more on value-added exports especially for the engineering goods and machinery, which has high export potential. Likewise new markets for enhancing exports need to be explored. Defence items can achieve high export targets. With good planning and efforts, Pakistan can achieve an export target of fifty billion US$ per year in a short time.
Overseas Pakistanis: Overseas Pakistanis remittances are well over fifteen billion US$ per year now. In fact, this alone is sustaining the Pak Economy in difficult situations. With good political leadership and a credible system, this can go up. In fact, these remittances can be more productively utilised with a proper institutional framework to strength the national economy.
To work out the details of the reforms packages mentioned earlier, action plans and implementation strategies, a high level experts group comprising experts from the public and private sectors need to be set up the soonest to rid the nation from the ongoing debt trap and save the country from disastrous consequences threatening our independence.