Structural flaws in way of progress

Shehbaz Sharif and The Economist

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his predecessor Imran Khan are both mesmerised by the myth created about the Ayub era which ended ignominiously amidst countrywide protests caused by rising unemployment, skyrocketing prices and corruption on the part of those close to Ayub Khan. Industrialisation had ended after the 1965 War. Meanwhile Ayub’s strong centrist policies had created grounds for the separation of East Pakistan. The trickledown doctrine led to the accumulation of wealth in the so called 20 super-rich families while leaving millions jobless.

Shehbaz Sharif finds three critical structural flaws that hindered Pakistan from fulfilling its great promise. First, the political environment which has become increasingly polarized. Second, failure to invest enough in the nuts and bolts of development that is, education, health and infrastructure. Third, turning inwards in a way that has prevented us from reaping the benefits of globalisation through the free exchange of people, goods, capital and ideas. According to Sharif our ability to make― and keep― friends on the international stage has significantly weakened over time. Today, we hardly make anything that the world wants and our companies remain very comfortable only operating within our borders, often protected by barriers to competition.

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It is time we stop covering up our deficiencies by talking about “the complicated neighbourhood we live in.” Despite the neighbourhood, military action in East Pakistan could have been averted and agreement reached hrough political dialogue. The Zia regime and later the Mushrraf government could have avoided getting Pakistan involved in Afghanistan. While military expenses cannot be altogether dispensed with, countries have reduced these considerably through better diplomacy. Pakistan needs to learn this.

Political considerations have been allowed to stand in the way of making sound decisions. Pakistan can make little progress in the absence of population control. Both Iran and Bangladesh have made sufficient head way in family planning. Fear of backlash from the clergy however stops political parties in Pakistan from taking bold steps in this regard.

Political exigencies stop govts from taking sound economic decisions. While the country badly needs to expand the tax net, powerful financiers or large segments of traditional voters go untaxed. With provincial assemblies dominated by powerful farmers, the agricultural sector remains untaxed. Hundreds of thousands of traders brought under the tax net recently had to be exempted because they mostly support the PML(N).

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