Pakistan: Search for Stability
Edited by Maleeha Lodhi
Oxford
ISBN: 978-0-19-906204-1
443pp.

Pakistan is in a “polycrisis”. Dr Maleeha Lodhi starts the introduction here. So, it is not just that we have a number of crises that we are facing; it is also that the total effect of the crises, together, is more than the sum of the effects of the individual crises. They are feeding on one another and they are increasing the overall effect of each other.

The authors of the various essays or chapters in Pakistan: Search for Stability, edited by Dr Lodhi, talk about, on their respective subjects and from their perspectives, the current situation, how we got here, and what are some ways of moving forward.

The chapters are organised under four sections: Politics, Economy, Society and Foreign Policy. The Politics section has chapters on issues of constitutional rule and rule of law, governance failures, role of parliament and the role of the military in a hybrid democracy. The Economy section takes on important issues such as the structure of the economy, debt, competitiveness and the development paradigm that we need.

The Society section talks about the youth in Pakistan, higher education issues, religious extremism, women’s rights, environmental issues and the population growth dynamics. The section on Foreign Policy takes on relationships with China, India, the United States and Afghanistan — countries that have shaped our domestic issues in major ways and will continue to influence and shape how our future develops.

A collection of essays by experts analyses the multiple, simultaneous crises facing Pakistan in the political, economic, social and foreign policy sectors and offers recommendations on tackling them

Attorney and politician Salman Akram Raja argues that the struggle between democratic/constitutional governance and “its suppression” has been there throughout our history. His analysis of court cases leads one to the conclusion that the superior courts were part and parcel of the struggle and were not able to support democratic/constitutional governance consistently. And,

over the last few years, the struggle for constitutional democracy seems to have become even more challenging.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, the president of the think-tank Pildat, argues that “These achievements serve as a solid foundation for building a robust and effective democracy capable of delivering good governance to its citizens.” The achievements being referred to are the adoption of the 1973 Constitution, the 18th Amendment, a ‘robust’ Election Commission (ECP), and a decent citizen/voter registry. The chapter contrasts sharply with the chapter by Mr Raja.

Young men wait in line for a Capital Development Authority job entry test in Islamabad: the youth bulge and lack of skills and education pose a great challenge for Pakistan | AFP
Young men wait in line for a Capital Development Authority job entry test in Islamabad: the youth bulge and lack of skills and education pose a great challenge for Pakistan | AFP

The economic power of the military distorts politics and political development. Uzair Younus of The Asia Group argues that the role of the military, in various sectors of the economy, will have to be reduced substantially for there to be space for development of more balanced politics. But this requires major and deep reforms that will not be easy to implement.

The chapters on the economy by Dr Salman Shah, Khurram Husain, Murtaza Syed and Dr Ishrat Husain, cover familiar ground. Given the economic crisis and the conversations that have been going on around IMF packages and deals, the issues discussed in these chapters are familiar to a lot of people now.

Persistent fiscal and foreign exchange deficits, accumulated debt and large debt-servicing requirements are crippling the economy now and the need to reduce deficits means much higher levels of taxation or taxation in the form of higher inflation and lesser resources available for relief and even development.

The lack of export competitiveness means that the hope of addressing the foreign exchange crisis seems remote. Debt relief is not likely and debt restructuring is needed. How and when it happens will have an impact on revival efforts. Almost all of the contributors emphasise the need for deeper reforms in the economy.

The chapters covering society are the most interesting, as some are on areas that are usually not covered in collections on the economy. Our youth question (chapter by Adil Najam) continues to confound. Youth numbers, given our demographics, are staggering. But most of the youth are not educated or skilled. What does it all mean for the future of the country in a world that is increasingly becoming more mechanised/computer-driven?

We have one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world. Gender gaps in education have gone down and women are now in a majority in many university programmes. There are some sectors, such as education, where women are already dominating the market. As they make their way forward, and demands for equity and equality keep resounding (chapter by Khawar Mumtaz), how is this going to change the dynamics of the country?

Our very rapidly rising population (chapter by Zeba Sathar) and the environmental crisis (chapter by Jamil Ahmad) are serious existential threats to the future of the country. We are not doing enough in either of these areas. Family planning programmes and other measures, in the public eye for a few years, have almost disappeared. The rhetoric on the environmental crisis is there, but there has

been little or no concrete action or planning to address the consequences of impending environmental changes.

China (chapter by Riaz Mohammad Khan) has been a tremendous friend to Pakistan. What are the areas in which we can learn more from China? China has made remarkable progress in many areas in industry, agriculture, services, and even social sectors. Our contexts are very different and we are at different stages of development, but can we benefit more?

Pakistan needs better relationships with India (chapter by Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry). Could we redefine the relationship from a security lens towards trade, growth and development? It would also be important for Pakistan to work on creating a long-term partnership with the United States (chapter by Sadia Sulaiman). Transactional relationships, of benefit in the short term, have not been of great benefit for sustained development of the country.

It is hard to see how we could have peace in Pakistan and an end to terrorism if Afghanistan (chapter by Zahid Hussain) is not peaceful. What should be the right approach for Pakistan towards the Taliban and developments in Afghanistan.

Most of the chapters have a list of recommendations. There is some overlap in the recommendations but there is no real framework, across chapters, that allow the reader to prioritise the recommendations. Most of them seem sensible, but it cannot just be a laundry list. Even if the society/state wanted to do something about the polycrisis, it will need to prioritise actions, and will need to sequence them.

All of the contributors have spent years/decades working in areas they have written about. All credit goes to Dr Lodhi for bringing the group together. The analyses of the current situation are spot-on but they are also things that are well documented.

The contribution here is not new analysis but in bringing all of these analyses, from these various areas, together. This is important for getting a better understanding of the polycrisis. And the contribution is also to bring all of the recommendations together. The overlap in recommendations tells us a lot about what Pakistan needs to do in order to move forward.

“A decisive factor in achieving transformation is a leadership that is dedicated to reform and recognises the necessity for a substantial departure from the past,” Dr Lodhi writes, pointing out the importance of leadership in the introduction as well as in her concluding thoughts.

Politics has been a game of elites and they have structured institutions, organisations, laws and policies that have benefitted them. This needs to change in all areas and sectors. But how do we get such leadership is a question left unanswered.

For people thinking about the polycrisis and what needs to be done, the volume is a good, thought-provoking read. Given the complexities of the situation and the fact that this is an edited volume, there is no overarching framework that is given for the way forward.

But there are plenty of ideas here for the kind of conversations we, as a society, need to have.

The reviewer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 19th, 2024

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