Their tenures are quarter of a century apart, yet their prognosis of what ails Pakistan is the same.
Marc-André Franche, who until last month was the chief of the UNDP in Pakistan, and Hans Von Sponeck, who held the same post in the early nineties, witnessed an economy where the elite and the middle classes colluded to stifle the country’s potential by monopolising its resources.
Mr Franche, a Canadian national, caused quite a stir last month by speaking the truth about the powerful.
In his final interview as the UNDP’s head in Pakistan, he threw down the gauntlet to the country’s elite. He minced no words:
“You cannot have an elite that takes advantage of very cheap and uneducated labour when it comes to making money, and when it is time to party it is found in London, and when it’s time to buy things it is in Dubai, and when it’s time to buy property it invests in Dubai or Europe or New York. The elite needs to decide do they want a country or not.”
Some 24 years ago, I sat down with Hans Von Sponeck at the Islamabad club, the then-departing UNDP chief, to conduct my first interview as a cub reporter.
Mr Hans also had strong words for the Pakistani elite, but he was equally critical of the donor community that was keen to invest in brick and mortar but not in human capital. What is alarming is that Mr Franche is leaving Pakistan with almost identical prognosis of the state and society as did Mr Hans.
Not much has changed in the country for those at the bottom of the pyramid.
The ruling classes remain oblivious to the unending misery of the poor.
Investment in human capital and employment for the masses remains an elusive concern. They see development only through the narrow and self-serving lens of motorways and trade corridors.
Pakistanis today are celebrating Defence Day to commemorate the sacrifices of those who protected the country’s borders in the 1965 war against India. But what is more important than defending the borders is the urgent need to uplift the society that is inside these borders.
The large number of youth, who were supposed to be a demographic dividend for Pakistan, have instead become a liability, as the rapid increase in the labour force is not met with a commensurate increase in employment opportunities.
The private sector is limited in its ability to grow because of bureaucratic red tape, unprofessionalism, power crisis, and poor logistics. The state continues to employ millions even when the state-run corporations amass billions in losses.
The political discourse in Pakistan remains criminally blind to the needs of the population.
The opposition parties in Punjab are threatening even more sit-ins. The government is retaliating with overt threats to the life, property, and children of the opposition leaders.
Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub, is undergoing yet another phase of political crisis where the power struggle between, and within, political parties is preventing the city from running at full steam.
Only recently, a prominent lawyer in Quetta was killed in a targeted attack. His peers were subsequently blown up in a suicide attack at the hospital where they had brought his dead body. Even hospitals fail to provide refuge.
Quetta is symbolic of the violence that’s destroying Pakistan from within. Other urban centres are equally vulnerable. The most exposed are the ethnic and religious minorities who are routinely subjected to hate-driven violence.
On this Defence Day, one should look at the two contradictory images of Pakistan.
On one side are those living in gated communities, safe, well-fed, and secure.
On the other side are those who continue to be scarred by violence, unable to protect and feed their families, and with no hope for better future.
I wonder what the new UNDP chief Ignacio Artaza will say when he completes his tenure in Pakistan.
Will he also ring alarm bells at the continued exploitation of the masses by the elite?
Or would he be talking about a prosperous Pakistan where the country’s wealth is shared among its people?