It is hardly a secret that in the prevalent international system, countries are primarily engaged in promoting their national interests in competition with one another. What, however, is not generally recognised is the reality that in the modern world, the capacity of a country to maximise its national interests is determined to a large extent by its economic and technological strength. The less advanced a nation is economically and technologically, the weaker would be its capability to take decisions in its best national interests. More often than not, such a nation will be forced under international pressures to compromise and give in to unfair demands of other countries, whether friends or foes. The predicament of an economically weak nation is aggravated further if it depends upon doles from foreign donors. Pakistan, unfortunately, falls in this category. The fiasco faced by Pakistan and PM Imran Khan regarding the Kuala Lumpur summit is the latest example of what can happen to a country, which depends on foreign largesse for its economic survival.

Unfortunately, over the past several decades, Pakistan’s leaders and policymakers, whether civilian or military, have pursued begging bowl diplomacy. Such diplomatic approach thereby aggravated the country’s reliance on foreign assistance progressively to survive. Each government blamed its predecessor for Pakistan’s worsening economic conditions but failed to take necessary corrective measures to introduce the badly needed economic reforms and overhaul the country’s exploitative and retrogressive economic system.

In Pakistan, the elites have discovered ingenious ways to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. How can one otherwise justify the fat salaries of the country’s judges and senior civil and military officers? By way of example, the monthly salary of a Supreme court judge is about 100 times the average monthly income of a Pakistani, which is currently Rs.17000 approximately. Whereas, the salary of a US Supreme court judge is just four times the average income of an American citizen. The contrast would be much starker if one takes into account other perks and privileges to which judges of Pakistan’s superior judiciary are entitled. How can one justify the allotment of highly-priced plots of residential, commercial and agricultural land, which are the assets of the people of Pakistan, to senior officers of Pakistan’s civil and military bureaucracy at throw-away prices? This in real terms amounts to taking billions of rupees out of the pockets of the poor every year to enrich the already rich, exactly the opposite of what should be happening in a welfare state or a state-run on genuine Islamic principles. Unfair tax exemptions enjoyed by the Pakistani elite, which do not increase economic productivity, are another way in which they avoid paying their dues to the nation.

Corruption, which has spread like an epidemic in our society, further aggravates the situation slowing down economic growth, undermining the rule of law, increasing wasteful expenditure, and causing the flight of capital to foreign destinations to avoid accountability at home, thus, further impoverishing the nation and exacerbating its dependence on foreign donors for its survival. An across-the-board, depoliticised, and legally fair process of accountability is a must for any program of economic reforms to end Pakistan’s excessive dependence on foreign donors.

However, it would be a mistake on the part of our leaders and policymakers to assume that a ruthless campaign for the eradication of corruption alone would put the country on the road to progress and end our excessive economic dependence on foreign donors. In the ultimate analysis, our economic dependence on foreign donors is the direct result of our tendency to live beyond our means. As long as we fail to practice austerity to raise our national saving rate as a proportion of our GDP to a respectable figure so as to finance a high national investment rate through domestic savings, we will remain dependent on foreign donors, and our GDP growth rate will remain far below the level necessary to provide the needed employment opportunities and raise the standard of living of our people to a decent level.

No country can ignore the demands of its national security, which is an indispensable condition for safeguarding its independence, sovereignty and its ability to make decisions relating to internal and external policies in its best national interest. However, excessive expenditure on national security can result in slowing down the growth rate of the economy and increasing economic dependence on foreign donors. This can undermine a country’s long-term security and seriously circumscribe its ability to take foreign policy decisions in its best interests. The current state of affairs in Pakistan in which defence expenditure claims about 43 per cent of the net revenues of the federal government is untenable. Therefore, simultaneously with increasing government revenues through improved taxation policies, every possible effort should be made to cap the defence expenditure at a reasonable level for maintaining a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments.

The economic performance of the PTI government reveals that came into power unprepared to manage the economy in an effective and efficient manner. As a result, the GDP growth rate has plummeted from 5.8 per cent in 2017-18 to about 3.3 per cent in 2018-19, inflation rate has shot up from about 4 per cent to 12 per cent, about 1.2 million people have lost their jobs, 4 million Pakistanis have been pushed down the poverty level, and the level of external debt in dollar terms, instead of coming down, has risen. The real challenge facing the PTI government is to raise the national saving rate and the government revenues substantially. Its failure to achieve these goals will doom the country to low GDP growth rate, continued heavy dependence on foreign donors, and serious constraints on its ability to pursue a foreign policy in the country’s best interests.