A GROUP of politicians from various parties is trying to put together a kind of floating think tank to sort out the country’s ills — political, economic, governance, etc. In their roadshow called ‘Reimagining Pakistan’, they are joined by myriad ‘intellectuals’ and subject specialists. They have all been part of one administration or another and are at least partially responsible for the present state of affairs.
The country does need a major overhaul of how it is governed. But we must look deeper to address the weak foundation of this crumbling edifice. The worldview of the republic needs a reorientation to stop the latter from devouring itself.
The Covid-19 pandemic in India was much worse than what we endured. India is a bigger country with a population four times ours, which evens out its resource advantage. Only recently a private Indian airline ordered 470 new jets from Boeing and Airbus; the deliveries start late next year. The post-Covid travel boom is expected to raise passenger traffic by seven per cent annually over the next two decades and the government plans 80 new airports in the next five years to accommodate the surge. While we are still having debates about whether to keep the national flag carrier flying with massive subsidies or to divest, it is worth remembering that Air India that placed the mammoth order for new jets reverted to the Tata conglomerate’s private ownership only last year. The US president reportedly said that Boeing’s share of the Indian order will support a million US jobs. The French president has also weighed in on how the Airbus order will help France, but the French being better at fashion than math are still figuring out the numbers.
Not to be left behind, the ‘great people to fly with’ have floated a proposal to paint their planes green with the country’s name added to the tail. How this will create a tailwind behind the airline and help the economy is yet to be figured out; unlike the French, we are not even good at fashion.
The worldview of the republic needs a reorientation.
The politicians trying to create a national consensus on economic reform are an entertaining lot. Desperate to show local ownership when holding seminars in provincial capitals, they have been surrounding themselves with all sorts who have never been accused of intellectual rigour. They include wannabe tribal chiefs to factional heads of splinter groups known more for their TikTok antics than sagacity. The guest speakers at these think fests continue to flog the dead horse of capitalism vs socialism.
That India has had its infatuation with socialism is an understatement. Not too long ago, the closed economy, disdain for competition and a mortal fear of foreign investment led to a default-like situation. In 1991, India sold part of its gold bullion to avert default and prop up forex reserves hovering at a little over $1 billion. That is when the reforms were initiated that set the trajectory for a booming economy and the $500bn-plus in reserves today. India had an advantage though; it had teams of experts in every field who had done their homework to reform every sector imaginable.
We, unfortunately, have the same handful of ‘advisers’ who were part of ‘inefficient’ administrations and are now seen as trying to reinvent themselves as reformers. Among their ranks, you will find former international bureaucrats who happily allowed the finance ministry to ride roughshod over the monetary policy, one-book-wonder alternative economists, former NFC members once nominated to provinces they didn’t reside in, Planning Commission and FBR head honchos who have nothing to their credit.
None of this is to suggest that the ‘most organised’ and ‘apolitical’ entity practising the art of the possible without any accountability has the grey matter to even fathom the challenges facing the country. In fact, nothing could be more ludicrous.
Going back to the worldview, and the national narrative that has defined us for more than seven decades now — who will the world listen to? A country struggling to service its sovereign debt where mobs routinely snatch the accused from the protective custody of law-enforcement agencies and lynch them in the public square, or a behemoth placing gargantuan orders with private cash and public guarantees to back it up?
We can carry on with the seminar circuit, and keep debating socialism vs market economy. We can also keep up the bewilderment act against suicide bombings of mosques, and keep on appeasing ‘misled brothers’ who claim their SOPs do not permit attacks on mosques but who brazenly kill schoolchildren as a shortcut to heaven. The road to perdition is paved with good intentions.
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2023