KARACHI: The Concerned Citizens Alliance in collaboration with the Pakistan Medical Association on Saturday organised a discussion on the ‘Socio-political, economic meltdown’, and some solutions to the problems were presented by social scientist Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed and economist Dr Kaiser Bengali.
Looking at things from the socio-political perspective, Dr Ahmed said that the British who ruled here had left a colonial structure to control the people, and Pakistan needed to reform it.
“The colonial power structure was upheld in the form of military and bureaucracy here,” he said.
“At Partition, 19 per cent of the total population of India was in Pakistan along with 33pc of the military, which was so much more in number than the common people. Then the ruling party here, the Muslim League was a Muslim separatist platform not a proper political party with an education policy, an economic policy, etc. There was a weak Muslim League and a powerful military. There was also uncertainty that Pakistan would survive over six months. That was when the military and the bureaucracy saved the country by looking at western alliances. The USA didn’t care about Pakistan. They were looking at a bigger India. But Pakistan seduced America into looking this way,” he said.
Dr Kaiser Bengali says country may survive by taking loans
He added that Pakistan’s prime ministers and presidents would visit the USA asking for help for even to stop elections here, like President Ayub Khan did before imposing martial law.
“We are still looking at priorities and parameters of a national security state. Democratic states have democratic bodies to decide the security of state, but here it was the military and the bureaucracy doing all that. Thus, we have had 33 years of military rule here with civilian governments coming in between,” he said.
“Jinnah had called the parliament as the most important part of a sovereign state, but here it would be dissolved just like that. Ziaul Haq not just dissolved the parliament, but also the Senate. So did Musharraf to have direct military rule. Ziaul Haq’s non-party elections of 1985 put political parties in a compromising mode. And they are still like that. So we have had hybrid regimes with heads such as Mohammad Khan Junejo, Chaudhry Shujaat, etc. There was Ziaul Haq behind Junejo and Musharraf behind Shujaat. But now we can even see who was behind Imran Khan,” he said.
“The fault lines in our society having to do with ethnicity, religious extremism, foreign patronage, etc. There are so many autonomous groups involved in all these things and they are so powerful that even the state institutions cannot control them. And we are dependent on western patronage so much so that today the International Monetary Fund [IMF] micro manages us,” he said.
Economist Dr Kaiser Bengali spoke about the economic meltdown. He said that Pakistan has been brought where it is today, thanks to a 40-year-old policy package.
“Today, everyone knows that the state is bankrupt. The state may survive by taking loans from here or there. We are running the country on loans. And we no longer take these loans for projects, but to pay other loans. So whatever conditions come with the taking of these loans we must agree to. Our finance minister’s only job now is to implement the conditions of the IMF,” he said.
“The solution is to increase revenue while decreasing expenditures. But how? Pakistan’s economy has become very weak in the last 40 years. Trade, banking, transport, housing, etc, all depend on industry and agriculture. And we have ignored both. Here industrial land is being used to build housing societies. We are an agriculture country, but we are also a food scarce country. We import wheat, lentils and edible oil. We can’t even grow enough to feed our country. When your industry and agriculture is ruined, you have zero growth and zero jobs,” he said.
“Pakistan imports everything. And all imports are paid from loans. Here, even water is provided to us by foreign companies who bottle our water and sell it to us. Here, our education system is so bad that no one who can afford it wants their children to do matriculation. They all give money to Cambridge so that their children can do O and A Levels,” he said.
“Earlier, at least up to the 1970s or middle of 1980s, we used to take project-based loans for development work such as building of dams. But after the 1990s, we also stopped taking such project-based loans. We have been taking foreign loans for the most absurd of things such as buying furniture for our institutions because the policies here are made by certain lobbies for their own gain,” he said.
“Earlier, we used to produce two-thirds electricity for our country ourselves. Now 70pc electricity is produced from imported furnace oil. We do have coal here, but we run our coal-fired power plants on imported coal. Imported fuel power plants are given priority and power plants run on local fuel are often closed,” he said.
As for the solutions offered by Dr Bengali, he said that there was a one trillion rupees decrease in expenditure needed. He said Pakistan should cut its imports by half and only import industrial raw material. He also suggested the setting up of a fund where all the grade 20 to 22 officers and those who are paid salaries in millions give their one day’s salary to the government.
“We can use the amount to pay our debts because until you have loans you are under a curse,” he said.
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2022