A History Littered With Prime Ministers, Wars And Economic Woes: Where Is Pakistan Today?

A History Littered With Prime Ministers, Wars And Economic Woes: Where Is Pakistan Today?
In the list of Prime Ministers of Pakistan, given on the website of National Assembly of Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif is at number 31. An analysis of the data given on that page leads to some interesting facts. Liaqat Ali Khan, the first PM, has served the longest that is 4 years 2 months and 2 days. Z.A.Bhutto’s tenure as PM was shorter than this (14.08.1973-05.07.1977). Nawaz Sharif’s name appears four times in this list.

After Liaqat Ali Khan’s death on October 16 1951, Pakistan had 6 PMs till October 7 1958. Noor ul Amin was appointed Prime Minister on December 7 1971, after the war had broken with India on December 6, and served till December 20 1971; his tenure of 13 days is the shortest in our history. During December 2 1988 to October 12 1999, the country had 9 Prime Ministers: BB twice, NS thrice and 4 caretakers.  From November 23 2002 to date, we have had 12 Prime Ministers.

Interestingly, in the decades of the 50s, 90s, and 2010s, no Prime Minister has been able to complete his term of office. As if this was not enough to create political chaos in the country, throughout this period we have been in constant debate as to whether democracy or a military dictatorship is better for the country.

The Pakistan rupee has lost 60% of its value during the last 12 months. Foreign currency reserves of SBP have depleted to an extent that we have to cut down our imports drastically and have confined it to very essentials only. It has consequently affected manufacturing and exports. Closure of industry or reduction in its production is adding to unemployment. Our foreign and domestic debt has increased to an extent that we are hardly left with anything to spend on the people of Pakistan after debt servicing, defense and civilian government expenditure.

The '75 years of Pakistan' narrative is nothing but a story of economic uncertainty including an uncertainty of the economic model we want to have. From an unbridled capitalism in the 60s, giving rise to so-called 22 families that controlled most of the wealth of the country, we had an ‘Islamic Socialism’ in the 70s which led to nationalization of banking, insurance, several manufacturing and production industries and education. The 80s was an era of Islamisation of the society and economy with a few changes here and there and without anything concrete to set the direction of the economy.

Immediately after the creation of the country, in 1948, we had Kashmir War and since then we are in a state of hostility with India. Then we became part of Cold War as an ally of the United States. We had war with India in 1965; we first had a civil war in the Eastern part the country, then the war of 1971 with India that resulted in cessation of eastern part of the country. The 1980s was a time of the first Afghan War; 1998 was Kargil; 2001 was the start of another Afghan War that lasted for most part of the decade of 2010. During these two decades and also till the current year we have been waging a war against terrorism.

All these events have greatly affected political and economic stability of the country. When we have economic stability of some sorts, we enter into wars and adventures. When we start receiving foreign aids and loans for our services in foreign wars, we forget industrialization.

In addition to all these wars, we have a perpetual situation of law and order in Baluchistan. The province has had military actions, dismissals of civilian governments, separatist movements, counter terrorism operations and enforced disappearances. Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan and a big business hub, has seen worst kind of law-and-order crises since 1985.

Strikes, extortion, ethnic and religious killings, rampant street crimes, politically motivated violence, administrative mayhem and police actions to control the situation, it has experienced all of this during the last 38 years. One can very well imagine how an economy can function under these circumstances.

The list of problems can go on and on. Other provinces also did not have very smooth sailing during all this time. Religious harmony can only be desired. No solution of sectarianism and extremism is in sight.

I don’t want to suggest any solution to all these problems because I do not have any new solution to give. I rather want to lament the people who are made to suffer these circumstances and to highlight their plight.

It is an established principle of economics that capital flies in uncertainty. We do not have one uncertainty in the country; we have all kind of possible uncertainties. We have political uncertainty, economic uncertainty, policy uncertainty, system uncertainty etc. In these circumstances we cannot have any kind of long-term-non-transferable investment in the country both local and foreign. Our tax laws used to change every year; now these change every month. Our interest rates are unstable. One government levies tax on real estate, other government declares an amnesty for that sector. Politicians are continuously threatening one another thus leading to the conclusion that political uncertainty is likely to continue. This is also an established principle of economics that without political certainty there cannot be an economic growth. Absence of a stable government has crippled all state institutions and has led to a near complete breakdown of all orders.

When we look at fixed income people of Pakistan, this uncertainty has created job insecurity for them and has depleted their real income. This has caused a double jeopardy for them. On the one hand they are not able to maintain a standard of living that should be a normal for any person of middle class and lower middle class. On the other hand, they are struggling to save some part of their income that is an absolute essential to have post retirement security.

Due to diminishing availability of health and education services in public sector as a result of rapidly increasing population, these classes of citizens are not left with any option for the future of their children in Pakistan. The rigors of the prevailing situation, without any hope in the future, have turned them into nervous wrecks. Small businesses of non-essential items are facing a similar situation and experiencing a severe decrease in their incomes.

Let us not talk about the poor of the society. It is beyond anyone’s calculation as to how they are managing their life. How do they pay their utility bills, manage food and clothing and meet their medical needs is beyond comprehension. Most of them have given up any desire to send their children to schools. No wonder that child labor, beggary and lawlessness are on the rise.

Is everyone a loser in this situation? No. Banking sector has shown increased profitability in the year 2022. Insurance companies are showing increased returns on their investments. Multi-nationals dealing in food and beverages have registered growth in their turnovers and earnings.

If I may conclude that the state of political uncertainty prevailing in the country for 75 years has ultimately caused an economic uncertainty. These two uncertainties have created political and business classes and a power structure in the society that is benefitting the people belonging to them. But their benefits are at the expense of a vast majority of 240 million people of this country who are living their lives at a very low standard. They have not only been economically affected; they have also been psychologically affected. Their lives are miserable for no fault of theirs. In this situation, one may start believing in fate and destiny.

Will our politicians, judiciary, military, bureaucracy, feudal and capitalist give some space to the people of the country or they will continue on their path of loot and control that is bound to lead to the disaster we do not want to talk about?