Where are the real issues?

The culture of indifference toward corruption and nepotism has permeated in the foundations of Pakistan’s state and society

With foreign exchange reserves with State Bank dwindling to $ 12 billion and exports not touching beyond $ 21 billion, Pakistan’s predicament is deepening with each passing day. Human and social development, which should have been the priority of those who are at the helm of affairs, is at its lowest ebb. More than 25 million children are out of school; literacy ratio is hardly 60 percent and around one-third of the population of Pakistan is living below poverty level.

These are the hard facts which should be an eye opener for those who wield power but are totally oblivious as far as the real issues are concerned. The issues which are on the limelight and projected are: schism between the judiciary and the ruling PML(N); allegations of horse trading in the forthcoming Senate elections; infighting as far as the MQM is concerned; third marriage of PTI Chairman Imran Khan; charges of corruption against public office holders, politicians and retired military generals investigated by National Accountability Bureau(NAB) and Trump’s hard hitting allegations against Pakistan on sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan. In the political discourse of contemporary Pakistan there is no emphasis on addressing real issues which are faced by more than 200 people of this country and jeopardize their present and future.

Why there is no serious thought process in Pakistan to discuss, examine, contemplate and provide solution to issues which in the last several decades seem to have weakened the foundations of this country? How the lack of focus on resolving critical issues faced by the people of Pakistan is causing frustration, anger, antagonism, intolerance, radicalization, violence and terrorism in this country?

In order to set its priorities on addressing the real issues, Pakistan must learn lessons from various models of development, particularly South Korea and Singapore

The real issues in Pakistan which are a major source of insecurity are: fragility of economy because of huge trade gap of around US$ 30 billion; US$ 180 billion of foreign and domestic debt; diminishing foreign exchange reserves; growing poverty; scarcity of water resources; illiteracy and low educational standards particularly at the grass roots level; failure of state to provide clean and safe drinking water; poor housing and public transport facilities to the majority of people; looming power shortages particularly during summer season; corruption and nepotism; violence and terrorism; intolerance and extremism; Indo-U.S and Afghan Axis to isolate Pakistan, country’s image problem at the international level. Unfortunately, in the state narrative most of the issues mentioned above are not to be seen. As a result, there exists a grave crisis in Pakistan as the lack of interest; seriousness and professional handling of issues which challenge the survival of this country and its future remain unaddressed. Political parties and their leadership is involved in mudslinging, allegations and counter allegations but are not interested in dealing with the real issues except either to protect their hold over power or to seek power by all means. Good governance, rule of the law and better justice system are not to be seen on the list of their priorities.

Four major steps are required to be taken by the stakeholders of Pakistan: whether they represent political parties; civil society groups; military, bureaucracy, clergy and business community. First, placing the issues in the forefront which are related to human security; good governance; the rule of law and justice system. Human security means those issues which are directly related to the quality of life of people. Without giving priority to human security issues, Pakistan will transform as a sub-Saharan African country where in the recent past millions of people had perished because of draught; famine and armed conflicts. When the government officials, particularly those dealing with planning and finance, fail to realize the mushrooming of poverty and under-development not only in the country side but also in urban areas, one can expect more and more surge of extremism; violence and terrorism. Second, there should be a zero tolerance for corruption and nepotism because the two evils have caused enormous damage to the past and present of Pakistan and are a major threat to the future of this country. Judiciary needs to play a pivotal role in dealing with the menace of corruption and nepotism.

The culture of indifference for corruption and nepotism has permeated in the societal and state foundations of Pakistan. Judiciary at the moment is trying its level best to expose and uproot corrupt mafias but cannot perform its duty unless it gets the support from people and civil society. The resistance on the part of mafias in most of political parties, who in the name of democracy want to protect their looted and ill-gotten money, is predictable but in the battle for Pakistan one needs to take the risk to inflict a permanent blow to those who in the last many decades tend to misuse and loot tax payer’s money.

Third, it is the youths of Pakistan whose future is at stake because of corruption, nepotism, bad governance, absence of the rule of law, intolerance, extremism, radicalization, violence and terrorism. Since Pakistan’s 60 percent population is composed of youths, it is in their interest not to support those political parties who have plunged this country into serious economic, governance and political crisis. By providing quality education and better employment opportunities, one can think of empowering the youth so that they become an asset, instead of a liability. Finally, appointments on merit will go a long way in eradicating corruption, nepotism and inefficiency from state or semi state owned institutions. As long as the supremacy of merit is not established, Pakistan would remain an under-developed state with bad governance, absence of the rule of law and under serious economic and political crisis.

In order to set its priorities on addressing the real issues Pakistan must learn lessons from various models of development particularly, South Korea and Singapore. Five decades ago, these two states were grappling with the issues of under-development and low income but are now categorised as successful states because of their competent leadership  and their vision for a better future. Now, South Korean exports are 574 billion US dollars, whereas, the exports of Singapore are US$ 315 billion. The foreign exchange reserves of Singapore are US$ 376 billion and South Korea are US$ 387 billion. When the two countries were able to focus on good governance, rule of law, justice system, upholding of merit and proper work ethics there was no looking back. Even Bangladesh, which was once called as a ‘basket case’ has foreign exchange reserves of US$ 33 billion! Can Pakistan put its own house in order and follow role models of development of the two countries who were behind Pakistan in key sectors of development? In its essence, no rocket science is required to deal with real issues faced by Pakistan provided there is leadership at the helm of affairs which is clear headed, efficient, visionary, honest and owns the country.

The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi. E-mail: amoonis@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, March 2nd 2018.