As the budget was being presented, there was gloomy news coming from every direction. Dawn recounted “budgeting for hard times ahead,” The Express Tribune described it as “tax-heavy and inflationary.” The Business Recorder described “tough fiscal consolidation,” and so on. The message was clear: Pakistan is in the midst of one of the most acute economic crises in its history, and navigating it would require stringent adherence to IMF-imposed conditions. Unfortunately, the extreme polarisation of politics makes dealing with the economic crisis even more difficult. Furthermore, given the approach and policies used by previous military and political governments, as well as the current coalition, in dealing with economic issues, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to escape the debt trap and end our reliance on foreign countries and international aid organizations.
Political stability, connections with major countries, and the inherent capabilities of its people in terms of education, health, and scientific and technological level all contribute to a country’s economic sustainability and independence. Pakistan lags in all of these areas, even by South Asian norms.
Pakistan is under continual danger of turmoil and on a collision path, a likely formula for worsening economic instability thanks to intense polarisation verging on hostile relations between major political groups.
Pakistan has since been imprisoned in a particular external and internal security scenario for years, putting a significant strain on its resources. The unrelenting, but necessary, hatred toward India must be addressed but at a high cost. The emergence of hostile factions like the TTP, BLF, and IS-K adds to the security forces’ burden and responsibilities. This anti-state component is fuelled by political squabbling, a lack of trust in the government, and economic hardship.
The question is whether we will continue to face these challenges and accept them as inevitable, or whether the moment has come to handle them with more insight and a different strategy, given that current policies have failed to deliver and have exacerbated the problems. Is it possible to cut the defence budget instead of growing it to the point where it consumes the biggest proportion of the overall allocation once debt commitments are met? The BJP government’s strategy is to damage Pakistan’s economy, which is one of the reasons for the high level of animosity. However, if successive Pakistani administrations focused on human and infrastructure development and allocated adequate resources to it, Pakistan would be in a better position to confront India, and Pakistan’s global status would be different. Another way to look at it is how the country’s strategic and defence capabilities are harmed by its economic weakness and dependency on the outside world. Despite the dire economic situation, successive governments have shown little interest in dealing with it and adapting their policies to alleviate its effects. As a result, the current state of the country is not surprising.
Countries with weak and dependent economies are always at odds with themselves and subjected to massive meddling from major and regional powers. Take a peek at Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and a slew of other African and Latin American nations. Our conflict zones—the formerly tribal territories that are now part of K-P, as well as Balochistan—have suffered greatly as a result of our indirect involvement in the recent US-Afghan war. Unfortunately, these places deteriorated as a result of the British utilising them as buffer zones. This demonstrates the need for mature leadership capable of safeguarding the country’s fundamental interests while avoiding confrontation. Confrontational politics within the country, meanwhile, creates turmoil and disorder, which the public must tolerate.
What conclusions and lessons should leaders learn from our historical experience, as well as that of other unfortunate Muslim and developing countries mired in internal strife and foreign humiliation? In essence, they should concentrate on the proper national goals, avoid petty political squabbling, and put the country first. However, it is quite dubious that they would be able to meet the task.
South Korea, Vietnam, and, more importantly, China are examples of countries where devoted leadership with remarkable insight and enthusiasm for changing society succeeded in changing the lives of millions of people. I’ve had the privilege of visiting these nations multiple times during their extraordinary development, and it’s been astounding in many cases. I’ve also visited Syria and Iraq, where I observed the suffering of people living under terrible tyrants whose sole goal seemed to be to maintain their grip on their helpless citizens. Thankfully, Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia have kept up with the times and advanced in several vital areas. In the Middle East, despite their monarchial power systems, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are revitalising their countries and keeping up with the present while conserving their centuries-old traditions. Countries that have succeeded and are going forward, as well as those that have failed, may both teach us something.
The flaws in our political power structure must be addressed. The army’s realisation that it would no longer be “neutral,” suggesting that it would not interfere in power manipulation, was enthusiastically applauded. However, how the main political parties handle themselves would be crucial. In a heated political atmosphere touching on outright hostility, Imran Khan’s request for the army’s backing puts the institution in a difficult position.
This is just as true in the case of the bureaucracy, which is not entangled in political contests. However, this does not always occur, and the underlying premise that state institutions are intended to be apolitical and serve exclusively the current government continues to be disproved. When a government changes, a new group of bureaucrats is hired, and the process becomes more personal, which goes against the notion of good governance. There is a lack of understanding of the consequences of not following these basic rules for the country and its citizens.