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Living within means: The tin roofs of Bangladesh

Till 1958 Pakistan was debt-free. Then the fast-track debt-driven economic model was adopted. The standard of living was raised on borrowed money. Fancy cars and gadgets were imported. Our neighbor India did not fall for short-term gains. Instead of imports, they relied on indigenization together with simplicity.

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Our Muslim brothers in Bangladesh who were once East Pakistan are debt-free. Most people live there under ‘Tin Roofs’ and use Cycle Rickshaws for transport. The country has emerged as the major exporter of garments with foreign exchange reserves almost twice of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The movement for a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian Sub-continent was started there in 1906 with the formation of the All-India Muslim League (AIML).

In March 1940, the Lahore Resolution for the creation of Pakistan was presented by Maulvi Fazal-ul-Haq a prominent Bengali politician. In 1971, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy’s Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman led the movement for breaking away from the federation they had created. While Pakistan finds itself trapped in debt, Bangladesh marches forward by living within means.

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Living on borrowed money is a recipe for disaster

Countries, organizations, businesses, families that spend more than their income invariably vanish. When I joined practical life in the year 1976 as an Apprentice Engineer in PITAC (Pakistan Industrial Technical Center) my starting salary was Rs 650/= per month. Although the amount was meager, my mother advised me to save 25% of what I earned, while my father asked me to live within means, according to him it was always easy to move up and get used to luxuries but extremely painful to cut back. It was not an easy start to life.

After six months when my internship was completed, the salary was raised to Rs 950/=. At this stage, my old man arranged a second-hand car for me as I could now afford fuel for my transport. When the fuel budget was busted, I either had to walk to work or arrange a ride from a fellow colleague. This financial discipline has always provided security and peace of mind.

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Pakistan started off well

There was simplicity and austerity. Public transport was readily available. The Lahore Omnibus Service (LOS) covered the entire length and breadth of the city. For the short-haul ‘Tonga’s’ were also used both for shared or individual use, the term was ‘Sawari’ or ‘Salam’. Bicycles were also very popular with very few cars. Meatless days were strictly observed. Life was basic, simple but healthy. There was a balance between ‘Wasail’ (Resources) and ‘Masail’ (Tension). Tap water was drinkable and tasty. Sewerage and storm drains were separate, dirty water was not mixed with the clean. 

Till 1958 Pakistan was debt-free. Then the fast-track debt-driven economic model was adopted. The standard of living was raised on borrowed money. Fancy cars and gadgets were imported. Our neighbor India did not fall for short-term gains. Instead of imports, they relied on indigenization together with simplicity. When I look around, I am reminded of the words of my old man ‘Live within your means. This lavish lifestyle is not sustainable. It may be painful to cut back but that seems to be the only way forward to stand on our own feet. This luxury of borrowed money cannot continue for long. There was a time when PCICS the largest cycle manufacturer in the country produced 2000 bicycles every day, then the Chairman had an idea to enter the Motorcycle Market.

With Chinese Engines and Sohrab bodies, a low-cost version was introduced in the market. Since then there has been no looking back everyone seems to be addicted to these Motobikes that run on imported fuel. The PCICS plant in Shahdara is almost shut down, no one is interested in riding bicycles. In our days there were Cycle Stands now there are both legal and illegal roadside parking for the latest traffic menace to hit our roads called ‘Low-Cost Motorcycles on Lease’ running on the principle of ‘Ride now pay later.

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The discovery of natural gas at Sui in 1952 was a big blessing but it ran out much before its time due to mismanagement. Now the Fuel Import Bill is unaffordable. Finally, after four decades some sense has prevailed. The policy is to produce power with indigenous resources like abundantly available water and coal. While the AIML founded in Decca won freedom for us the Drama Muslim Leagues (DML) of Rawalpindi have dented it. The Prime Minister talks about the ‘Chinese Miracle’ of eliminating poverty, he should also send a study mission to Bangladesh to understand their approach of ‘ Living within means ‘.

 

 

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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