WHAT does the near future hold for Pakistan? How will our lives improve, and on what fronts in the next three or four years? Pakistanis may have a few things to look forward to.
The security operations led by Zarb-i-Azb have already started contributing to a safer national environment and there has not been a blowback on the scale earlier feared. Meanwhile, it appears Punjab is also gearing up to take on the core of urban-based religious extremism. This year saw Independence Day being celebrated with record patriotic fervor. And even if the luxury hotels still continue to resemble bunkers under siege, all indications are that more people will spend more time outdoors.
As a result one can expect to see more family participation at outdoor events and safer public spaces such as town squares, parks, promenades, food streets, exhibitions and ‘pedestrianised’ walkways. All of these would in turn be made more accessible by growing public transport. This is a congenial setting for the revival of cultural activity, something that has been missing from our milieu for a long time.
I mentioned public transport because with BRT (bus rapid transit) systems being rolled out across major cities, we can expect thousands of people to move in traffic-high density corridors every hour. Empirically, public transport schemes such as this have made for safer cities in other developing countries.
We can expect more functional and accountable delivery of local services.
With Lahore and Islamabad already under way, five new corridors are planned for Karachi of which groundwork on three is set to begin. Peshawar and Multan will also see similar schemes in the near future. With that, we can expect to see a reduction in motorcycle traffic and clearer roads in our major cities. As it evolves, rapid mass transit will also have a bearing on the cities’ potential to sprawl out further and thereby reduce congestion and temper property prices. Pakistani cities are small and compact by world standards. They don’t necessarily have to stay that way.
Sindh has nearly completed the process of digitising its land record. Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are not far behind. My friend Zulfiqar Ali Shah, member, Board of Revenue Sindh tells me that “security of land titles will hugely reduce land grabbing and corruption, it will reduce conflict in society and once the services are launched for the public, it will create a massive and fluid market for land transactions. It will greatly ease the process for property to be collateralised for bank loans”. His database includes records of 10 million acres of rural and urban land belonging to four million owners of residential, commercial and agricultural property in Sindh. My banker friends confirm that once unleashed, this could spur a boom in mortgage and small business financing as well as agriculture loans. One loses count of the number of positive benefits that will accrue to the citizens in the years to come.
Over the last year, Pakistanis have enjoyed a strong rupee, low inflation and the lowest interest rate in decades. Most of that can be attributed to the sharp fall in oil prices. The flow of funds from the IMF and the successful offer of an international Sukuk have also augmented foreign currency reserves. By all indications the Pak rupee would retain its strength while most other currencies, including the Chinese yuan appear to be losing value.
This could be a boon to a consumer economy, automobiles, electronics and food franchises while keeping inflation in check. Meanwhile, the stock market is expected to maintain its bullish trend amidst rising reserves, improving security environment and infrastructure development activity spurred by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
On the energy front, the Punjab-based distribution companies are likely to be privatised and losses and leakages plugged. Consumers may thereby experience some let-up in the power outages. They can also expect further relief on power tariffs and petrol prices because of sustained low oil prices, especially once Iran ramps up oil production after sanctions are removed.
Early next year Pakistan’s democratic project enters its ninth consecutive year. By this time there would be functioning elected local governments in place. Not only would democracy have deepened but with that, one could expect more functional and accountable delivery of local and municipal services.
While it is true that a lot more needs to be done on building credible policing, healthcare and education systems, it appears that for most Pakistanis, the coming three to four years would be better than the previous three to four years. We can even expect international cricket to return to Pakistan. And while most of this improvement can be attributed to the fall in oil prices and the security operations, some of it may be the early fruits of the democratic project. And that show must go on.
The writer is a business strategist and entrepreneur.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2015