Hardly anyone would dispute the fact that there are deep flaws in the Pakistani education system. Few discuss the impact this hason the prevailing narratives and the consequent policy discussions in the country. Perhaps it is because we lack seriousness in our thought and culture of discourse. We see this every day on TV and other media — constant yelling and screaming, never thought and analysis. The narrative that emerges from this is based on a number of simplistic propositions, where a single factor is responsible for all of Pakistan’s problems. Narrators are unable to see the complexities of Pakistan, which is host to a highly multicultural society. Each public intellectual carries this simplistic binary in his or her pocket. What are these binaries? The first is that civil-military relations explains every turning point in Pakistan. The military willed it! No one else in this country, not the civilian governments, nor other actors in government, has any agency. Civil society too is totally in control of the military — also known as the ‘militestablishment’ — which apparently, is the greatest social engineer in the world; they engineered every problem we have! As evidence, they often cite Zia’s Islamization. No one seems to consider that we have had about 6 civilian governments since then, who have had the freedom to make useless mega projects, sign several bad foreign deals and chose to run the country on alms collected from abroad. Yet, they could not change Zia’s legacy because the army did not let them. Well then, there are some limits to militestablishment’s influence! The second is that there is no way forward for Pakistan without peace with India. This view, which has been sponsored by a large number of Track-2 dialogues with liberal donor money seems to think that the only stumbling block to Pakistan-India problem is Pakistan. Here too, the fingers point to the military. According to prevalent narratives, the military wants this conflict to continue, so that it continues to take the lion’s share of the federal budget. Why is it that the West considers lowering tax rates conducive to growth, while in Pakistan increasing taxes are considered beneficial? There is no consideration for India’s role in a possible settlement. Should we negotiate? Will the hardline Modi crowd in India and its treatment of Muslims matter? Should the sentiments of the vast majority of Pakistanis on Kashmir be an issue? Sadly, the nuances don’t matter. Only the binary in its raw form. Then there is the argument that modernity or development are not possible without clinically secular politics. Following the US State Department and think-tanks, this view sees Islamic fundamentalism as a rootless, deep-seated conspiracy that has to be rooted out by force. The socio-economic roots of religious extremism are never really considered. Nor are these people willing to concede that more inclusive development as well as abundant and diverse employment opportunities might make for a more cohesive society and stem religious zealotry. Instead of taking a broader view of society and seeing religion as an important part of human life, proponents are only concerned with eliminating religion. The belief that there can be no development without heavy taxation also needs to be addressed. Economic dialogues are simplistic. Tax people more and more. Revenue to GDP ratio must be equivalent to high middle-income countries. There is little discussion of growth and employment. Nothing on entrepreneurship, innovation or productivity. Eloquent proponents of this binary leave several questions unanswered. Why do we need more taxes? Why are we required to catch up with ever-increasing unproductive expenditures? Why do we ask the government to set up more and more agencies when previous ones are failing? Why are unproductive and wasteful expenditures so easily allowed to grow? Why is it that the West considers lowering tax rates conducive to growth, while in Pakistan increasing taxes are considered beneficial? We must also address the deeply rooted beggar mentality that insists that we must get more foreign aid and FDI. Our own wealth, resources and markets are irrelevant it seems. It seems we can do nothing except beg, no matter what the cost in terms of sovereignty or policy outsourcing. It is these simplistic narratives that blast into our houses all the time. This is the narrative one finds at all conferences. This is what public intellectuals continually talk of. Anything else is drowned out, no matter how well researched it is. I am afraid countries that develop have a much richer dialogue and a deeper understanding of society. Nadeem UlHaque was Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan 2010-13 and the author of Looking Back: How Pakistan became an Asian Tiger in 2050 @nadeemhaque email: email@example.com Website: http://development20.blogspot.com Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2018.