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Downgraded Pakistan

Published Mar 25, 2012 12:00am


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IT’S been five years since Pakistan first began to look like it may unravel, a sequence of crises that started with Musharraf’s attempt to sack CJ Iftikhar and that tore through the political, economic, security and social landscape of the country.

There was no real pattern to events — Musharraf trying to sack his handpicked CJ to extend his term in power; the Lal Masjid episode; and the spike in global commodity prices just as easy credit dried up internationally weren’t connected events, for example — but they did seem to combine to suggest that Pakistan may not survive.

Five years on, as the dust begins to settle on the tumult, the very worst fears have receded. Pakistan is not on the verge of state collapse. The agrarian base and the informal economy help many eke out a living. The Taliban don’t know how to take over and are far from acquiring the ability to do so.

Luckily or unluckily, there is no Arab Spring imminent here. People want change but they haven’t turned to the military this time; the civilian options, decrepit as they are, remain the first choice of many. Two very different — and ultimately unsuccessful — attempts at transformation by the army in recent history, the Zia and Musharraf eras, appear to have dampened the army’s appetite for political power.

A fragmentation of power has seen the predominance of Punjab curbed somewhat and the rise of new power centres like the judiciary and the media. An increasingly conservative society with a radicalised fringe is intense about its Muslim-ness but not in thrall to truly poisonous ideologies.

Five years on from what threatened to become the unravelling, Pakistan looks like it will hang on for some time yet. But the fear of collapse did mask something else, something less spectacular though no less profound than collapse: Pakistan has given up on the dream of becoming a middle-income state with a progressive and dynamic society at its heart.

Never before have the challenges to progress looked more daunting and the possibility of solutions less likely. Pakistan may not erupt or suddenly fall apart but it is slowly imploding as a state and society.

The problems started much before 2007, of course, but that year marked the beginning of the mass realisation of what is happening to the country and its people.

Rewind to 2007. On the back of several years of solid growth, optimism was high that Pakistan could live up to the economic potential that it last seriously threatened to realise in the 1960s. The threat from militancy had yet to hit with full force and the swaggering Musharraf was one of the three most famous men in the world, alongside Bush and Osama.

Illusion or reality — arguably both — Pakistan could feel that it was once again being taken seriously on the international stage and that internally the problems of state and society were manageable.

Then the economy slowed suddenly. At first, it looked like the country could bounce back in two or three years. By 2010, recovery had been pushed back to 2014-15. Today, no one is even talking about recovery.

Anaemic growth rates that can’t cater for population growth, let alone the need to pluck swathes of the population from miserable economic conditions, aren’t the stuff on which dreams are built.

Blaming Zardari and his ribald bunch of misfits doesn’t change the reality that the alternatives have no ideas either. Zardari lets the tax-to-GDP slide because his stock-market buddies and property-tycoon friends don’t like to pay taxes but then the PML-N is happy enough in Punjab to pocket the extra cash from the NFC without paying attention to the need to expand the provincial tax base.

Khan thinks economic policy is built on bringing back stolen billions and talking about fighting corruption, while the army is the one that let the tax-to-GDP ratio slide during the Musharraf years.

Without any serious thought about where jobs and growth will come from and how revenues will be upped, the state will be reduced to doling out patronage from money that is borrowed or printed.

You don’t build a brighter future on borrowed money spent on internship programmes and free laptops.

The Great Flood of 2010 exposed the underbelly of human suffering and deprivation stuffed away in rural Pakistan. But there are no schools or clinics that those people will have systematic access to for at least another generation.

In urban Pakistan, a rickety state education system operates alongside a growing private sector whose educational output is patchy at best. Worse, even a generous amount of income spent on education doesn’t guarantee a job for the next generation.

And even if you do have a job, you’re likely to lose a portion of it fending off a predatory state and to criminals who’ll mug you for your wallet and cellphone on the street or turn up at your home for your car or motorcycle and other belongings. Social security exists in name only.

Run down any list of economic, social and security indicators and Pakistan is falling behind on virtually all of them. The people don’t need sophisticated metrics or fancy charts to understand that, they’re living it.

Accentuating the feeling of being left behind is the news from the neighbourhood. China has more money than most Pakistanis know how to count. A couple of trillion dollars in reserves alone is an impossible-to-imagine sum.

In India, that benchmark Pakistan loves to compare itself to, even the corruption scandals are monstrous. Just the alleged sums lost in the 2G spectrum scam amount to a fifth of Pakistan’s GDP.

Bangladesh seems to use Pakistani managerial skills to export more cotton-based products than we do despite a longer manufacturing pedigree.

And for those who bother to read, Pakistan’s social indicators are falling behind parts of Africa that were once thought to be beyond redemption.

Think about what a visitor to any of the provincial capitals or Islamabad has to worry about: dengue (Lahore); kidnapping (Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta); insurgency (Quetta, Peshawar); criminal gangs and street crime (all of them).

Pakistan looks like a country that Pakistanis would have avoided a couple of decades ago.

That collapse may have been avoided is only the smallest of consolations.

The writer is a member of staff.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (31) Closed

jaihoon Mar 25, 2012 07:57am
Pakistan confronting daunting challenges, and only visionary leaders can tackle, who are lacking in Today's Pakistan.
Tara Mar 25, 2012 08:07am
To survive and give it's country men a decent life and earn a bit of respect in the international community Pakistan has to learn to live in peace with neighbors and save money on defense,get rid of the terrorists and the Madrasas.we wish our neighbours good luck.
Harsh Mar 25, 2012 09:03am
aisa kuch nahin hoga yaar. things WILL look up. hang on.
El Cid Mar 25, 2012 09:59am
A fearful description by someone too old and tired to come up with recommendations. Age and wisdom tend to go together. Please come up with orignal thoughts and constructive ideas...enough already with the gloom and doom. Nothing new there. Think out of the box. Bring out hope...
omar Mar 25, 2012 10:57am
absolutely true!
Haqq Ali Mar 25, 2012 12:12pm
Unneccessary fearmongering. Have faith in Allah. Everything will be fine.
Reality Mar 25, 2012 01:09pm
Not sober and factual in to the fears you get up one morning with shouldn't a column make!
Mustafa Razavi Mar 25, 2012 02:55pm
Spreading despondency and fear is our enemy's hallmark. The worst is over, Imran Khan is here.
Mansoor Mar 25, 2012 03:08pm
Survive today to fight another day.
Meekal Ahmed Mar 25, 2012 04:02pm
This is very good Cyril but a bit one-sided.
Naeem Butt Mar 25, 2012 05:10pm
One thing every Pakistani must realize, that things are getting a bit worse with each passing day. When things are going downhill, they gather pace and. I don´t know if Pakistan is in a freefall or we are nearing a freefall, but my objective analysis is that if the system is not drastically changed in the right direction within a couple of years, then a slow disintegration of Pakistan will be unavoidable.
Chaman Mar 25, 2012 06:20pm
Lot of soul searching going in the country is a very positive thing. Money and technology will flow into the country when the terrorism is banished from the soil. It is okay to blame leadership but people who support and perpetrate terrorism are the real problem. Who would like to invest in a country even visit it when the law and order situation is so bad. Turkey attracts 17 million tourist a year. The tourism industry is booming there creating jobs as well as goodwill for it's people. It is also a Muslim country. Pakistan can be a great place for travelers. People wake up and shape up the country. Economic upliftment should be the top priority for the people, everything else comes next.
pvk Mar 25, 2012 07:20pm
Have hope. New generation of Pak people shall follow Tara' s advice and bring Pak to international respect. Good luck.
Waqar Mar 25, 2012 07:25pm
The writer is pushing everyone to the element of fear portraying our country as if it has already sunken in the deep dark dungeons of darkness. Have faith. Allah is ther
Saad Mar 25, 2012 07:41pm
We know the problems very well. What is the point to highlight them without any solution? Nothing is too hopeless ever. Unlike a year ago, now we can step outside the house without the fear of getting blown into pieces. At least be thankful for that!
Secular Pakistan Mar 25, 2012 08:09pm
Allowing the fuedal system to continue with the backing of religious establishment has been Pakistan's biggest failure. Instead of investing in education, we invested in medressahs and the military, always willing to be the coolies of anyone who would finance the two. We continue on this path full of dust and confusion. Pakistan is a nation that does not like the light of enlightment, only coming out to grab a few laptops and cell phones and retreating back into its darkness of tirbalism and religion.
fahad Mar 25, 2012 08:43pm
A good macro analysis of our situation within the last few years. Its absolutely true that where we are right now would have been only unimaginable 10 years ago. Optimism for the sake of optimism will not help. A people that doesn't help itself will only find themselves in a downward slope. Pakistan has unlimited potential and the forces of change need to be mobilized in any size and form today to stop this steep decline and perhaps find niche areas for quick improvements. IK might not be able to solve things as people might be hoping but even bringing him to power will set some changes in the political order that can yield future positive results. I am ever positive about the potential of Pakistanis, what of course is a tragedy is the leadership.
A Mar 25, 2012 10:25pm
A very well written, thought provoking piece. What every Pakistani must realize is the seriousness of all the real fears after all where there is flame there is fire. Pakistan needs to wake up to the reality of going backwards instead of forward on economic, social and security front, the need to get up and do something is now. Its never too late.
Shamroz Mar 25, 2012 10:49pm
My mother land been going through some bumpy ride for long time , but I have my faith in allah. Every thing will be put right lnsha allah
Devendra Mar 26, 2012 12:50am
It takes a brave, honest and caring man to write such an upleasent but true article. Any one but the most dense, one who has less brain than stone knows that Paksitan is a mess, on the brink and no one for sure can tell if it will fall off the precipice or not ( I pray not). My Hats Off to You, Cyreil.
Moin Mar 26, 2012 02:20am
The glass is half empty for the writer. I wonder why cynics and pessimists sell newspapers. Sadly this comment will not be posted.
J.Sequeira Mar 26, 2012 02:30am
Pakistan will eventually collapse notbecause of its corrupt politicians or its internal terrorist threat but because of its embedded religious bigotry and hypocrisy. Looking at the list of names on whomm various honours were conferred some posthumously I didn.t read the name of the late Mr. Bhatti who was wifully murdered for no other reason than his Christian Faith. How much further can the state sink in this morass of bigotry and hate
Cynical Mar 26, 2012 03:21am
I have kept my faith in Allah for 65 years and being wiser by the experience of those years will have my faith intact for another 965 years,no problem.
Adnan Mar 26, 2012 06:10am
Coming to the basic building blocks of a society something which the people cannot live without is having a feeling of justice and fairness. That feeling needs to be revived at all levels and reinforced through upright and independent minded judicial system. The rest of the improvement can come about as a matter of concerted efforts in straightening Pakistan's macro and micro economic outlook. No one strategy is perfect and not all are completely useless. Just something needs to be done that can bring about some good.
wake up Mar 26, 2012 06:26am
your article adds very little value to anyones life. just complaining about how bad things are is neither productive nor informative, so I'm not quite sure what you had in mind for your reader other than to make him/her feel miserable. if thats the case, thats just sadism masked as journalism. it would be a lot better for you opportunities or solutions as well. have some moral responsibility, you work for a newspaper of good repute.
Umera Mar 26, 2012 07:32am
Its good to be realistic. But media, particularly a paper like Dawn has great influence on the way people think and behave, particular educated community and overseas Pakistanis. It is good idea to write facts but writer should take some time to research few good things about future of Pakistan (at least this is good that people have realized the role of Army and so-called political parties). Please behave responsibly and do not write such hopeless conclusion; this is giving a bad message to youth of Pakistan.
Saeed Chaudhary Mar 26, 2012 07:57am
Let's all play our role in the next elections and bring a party to power that will set the country on the road to progress and bring about healthy fundamental change to the governing . And that party is none other than Tehrike Insaf led by Imran Khan! Pakistan, Zindabad, Tehrik e Isaf, Zindabad!
aqabdulaziz Mar 26, 2012 08:27am
The worst is over because Imran Khan has brought the Tsunami to every corner of Pakistan. This Tsunami will bring Sharia laws to every small part of Pakistan. Now this Sharia Tsunami will make Pakistan one of the best in the world and all liberals will tremble in their shoes.
Silajit Mar 26, 2012 07:25pm
your email adds very little value to anyones life. just complaining about how bad things are is neither productive nor informative ... You see where I'm going ... The author is stating that Pakistan needs to change and the current way is not the way forward. That's what good journalists do. If you feel that journalists should simply sing the praise of the leadership and sing paens of false praise for the country, you're reading the wrong paper. Try Nation.
sandip Mar 26, 2012 08:56pm
God helps those who help themselves. Not sure if Allah works differently.
Sandip Mar 26, 2012 09:02pm
How can political change help you here is beyond me. Our part of world we look for some super star to resolve all our issues and well no such single person exits. But what exits are all small people like you and me who can work and contribute to our own progress.