The Pakistani economy is looking good. After years of downturns and rough patches, things appear to be finally moving in the right direction.
The World Bank believes that the growth rate should be touching five per cent for the next few years. Deficit is stabilising and tax collection is on the up.
On the face of it, at least statistically, Pakistan is going through a period of economic growth. The recent Chinese investment package is being touted as proof of global investor confidence returning to Pakistan.
But, that is not the complete picture.
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We still have social justice issues that are piling up and going ignored. While the economy is growing, so is the gap between the rich and the poor. This is resulting in escalation in crime and worsening of security conditions. Moreover, radicalisation and extremism are spreading fast.
So, while things appear bright on some fronts, the bigger realities are as grave as they used to be. We have four provinces and only one of these is functioning...barely.
Celebrating the one barely functioning province is not really setting a high bar. The other three provinces are experiencing a complete breakdown when it comes to governance. Provincial governments in Sindh, Balochistan and KP can be taken out tomorrow and nothing will change.
Or for that matter, Punjab can lose its provincial government and everything would still work more or less the same, because the bureaucrats run the show anyway. And service delivery – the one thing they're supposed to do – is the last thing they care about.
The federal government is doing what it can. Trade is improving, so is the overall economy. On a macro level, their efforts are working to a certain extent, but these are meaningless without taking service delivery and social capacity into consideration; when the second tier of governance i.e. the provincial tier, is so useless
Pakistan needs jobs… but it also needs social justice and good governance. Churning out students from universities is not education, just like perpetually building infrastructure around metro areas is not growth.
To put it simply, our indicators for progress are flawed. There are no indicators for the loss of lives, the slump in education quality or the swell in hatred. And, while it is uplifting to keep feeding ourselves the ‘this is also Pakistan’ narrative, those are the indicators which matter.
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At this point, what is needed is a holistic approach to progress. Beyond building brick and mortar structures, development should include improving the quality of life for the citizens, which means a better economy, more jobs as well as safety and security.
Accordingly, discussions should focus on civic matters more than federal issues.
Currently, most of the debate revolves around security dynamics and economic growth. While the government flaunts the economic indicators to tout success, the opposition seizes social indicators such as security and injustice to portray failure. To cut through the noise, an improved set of indicators is needed to measure not our growth or development but our progress.
'Progress' refers to quality of life; inclusive of income inequality, inflation, social justice, safety nets and economic improvement. Unless we have a new set of indicators to measure our ground realities, we will continue to live in a place which is half a fool’s paradise or half a fool’s inferno; where a segment of the society is obsessed with presenting a rosy picture when there is none, while the other segment is bent on presenting all the doom and gloom, which is also not the case.
Until we find a way to measure what matters, the policies we keep designing are simply not going to fix enough things. Better policy needs better measures and for now that is being ignored in favour of political priorities.