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Pakistan at 74: Challenges and opportunities for the future

On 14th August this year, Pakistan will be 74 years old. While this is still very young compared to most countries, its unique ideology and geographical position has meant that it has gone through many highs and lows but always managing to grab the global spotlight one way or another. With the Afghan Peace Process on one side and the Reign of RSS on the other, its future is still as unclear as ever. We contacted some of the topmost analysts to hear their take on the country’s challenges and opportunities going forward.

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Pakistan challenges and opportunities

Haroon Sharif

Ex-Minister of State and Chairman of Pakistan’s Board of Investment

Pakistan’s prime challenge is to have the ability to come up with transformational economic policies that ensure sustained economic growth in the rapidly changing global economy. Focus on enhanced productivity, exports and leveraging our comparative advantage will be the best way forward.

We must remember that we are living in a very competitive Asian century, and we’ll have to demonstrate our ability to implement structural reforms like dealing with state-owned enterprises or energy sector imbalances which are vital for sustained economic growth.

Countries which grew faster and sustained growth managed to replace external debt with direct foreign investment. Pakistan’s investment to GDP ratio is around 15% as compared to our competitors like Turkey, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, where investment to GDP ratio is in the range of 25%.

It is critical for us to give a signal to investors that the country can deliver transactions better than its competitors. For that, expertise from the private sector will be needed to structure commercially sustainable and profitable transactions. The current system and incentive structure of bureaucracy is not geared for it.

At the moment, we are suffering from a trust deficit which keeps investors looking for other destinations. Institutions like the Board of Investment should be run by professionals. The Chairman should be reporting to the Prime Minister as envisioned in its law.

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Policy continuity is dependent on the professionalism, neutrality, and effectiveness of institutions. At the macro-level, the biggest challenge is to deal with emerging geopolitical risks due to the withdrawal of the US-led alliance from Afghanistan.

Tensions between China and the US and lack of regional cohesion can pose serious stability challenges around us. Pakistan should bring key players like China and Saudi Arabia on the table for a serious reconstruction package for Afghanistan. Again, this will require a different skill set in our diplomatic engagement.

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Lt. Gen (Retd) Talat Masood

Former federal secretary and has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Pakistan presently faces multiple challenges. These arise out of its geo-strategic location and are a legacy of the past. Pakistan also suffers the pains of being a developing country and has to manage a highly disturbed neighborhood. Due to India’s hostile attitude and its Kashmir policy, all doors for cooperation are closed, at least for the near future.

The civil war in Afghanistan seems to have no end with its adverse fallout of an unending influx of refugees. With nearly 30 percent of Pakistan’s youth illiterate and the vast majority of the population undernourished and suffering from multiple ailments prioritizing education and health becomes necessary.

In such a tough environment for a government with scarce resources, sequencing priorities as part of national policy is not an easy task. Moreover, a preponderant focus on security and counterterrorism has crowded out opportunities for successive governments to focus on our democracy.

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Taking advantage of our strong and strategic relations with China and a definite improvement in relations with Washington, we need to focus inwards. Strengthening democracy and allocating sufficient resources for the education and health sector should be our top priority.

An educated and healthy populace is more likely to appreciate and contribute toward strengthening democracy. As experience reminds us, without strong democratic institutions and practices, we would not be able to develop a self-sustaining economy. What Pakistan needs is a positive vision for internal reform. Pakistan should seriously address reforming the state institutions, a process that it has already undertaken.

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Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan

Ex-Diplomat and Non- Resident Fellow of CCG

Pakistan faces a host of internal and external challenges. The internal challenges include lack of unity, poor law and order, delayed justice, foreign debt, poor trade figures, rising costs, and now COVID-19. Through dialogue and education, Pakistan must overcome or narrow down the political differences and religious/ethnic divides.

Media, Ulema, and teachers should play a positive role in this regard. To ensure social stability, reform in police and law enforcement agencies should be pushed. Moreover, discrimination must be eliminated in the justice system while the rights of the poor and vulnerable need to be adequately protected.

On the economic front, Pakistan must push for softer terms with lenders so it can pursue its economic growth objectives. There is also a need to restrict the import of luxury and non-essential goods. New markets should be explored while diplomatic missions should be tasked to promote Pakistani products and services.

Read more: Message from Gen Nadeem Raza, Chairman JCSC

Last but not least, prices of basic necessities must be put under control, and big mafias responsible for creating a shortage of supply and price hike must be dealt with iron hands. COVID-19 has unleashed human and economic catastrophe across the world. Pakistan has so far fared better than many countries, but the new variant is going to be a huge challenge for the country.

Keeping in mind the level of education and temperament of the Pakistani nation, the government must speed up vaccination drive and try it’s level best to vaccinate the majority of the population in a short span of time so that normal social and economic activities can go on.

Externally, Geopolitics are changing rapidly, our relations with the US, India, Afghanistan, and Middle East are worsening. We must re-align our foreign policy according to the emerging geopolitics and keep balance with east and west. It is critical that we learn from history and not build our relationships with one country at the cost of others.

Pakistan challenges and opportunities

Dr. Hussain Nadim

Executive director IPRI

Pakistan’s prime challenge is elite capture of the state that has not only blocked any public sector reforms but also robbed people out of their basic human rights, wealth and dignity. Elite capture essentially means that a small segment of Pakistan’s elite has developed a monopoly on developing national policies that only suit its particular needs while marginalizing all other segments in the country.

The dysfunctional public service delivery, including depleting state of health, education, and security, are not by accident but a result of a carefully designed policy by the elite to monopolize all levers of power in the country. This allows the elite to have the public dependent on the patronage network of the elite for their basic needs like justice, security, and welfare.

Read more: Message from Asim Saleem Bajwa, Chairman CPEC Authority

Different postcolonial states have undergone different experiences to fight the elite capture. It, however, depends entirely on the level of elite capture. In a state like Pakistan, where elite capture is deeply institutionalized, the opportunity and time to undertake traditional reforms has passed.

However, reforms through datafication, digitalization, and major disruption in the HR policy of the government perhaps is the only way to free the state from elite capture and humanize the state policy to serve the public interest, first and foremost.

 

Pakistan challenges and opportunities

Andrew Korybko

Moscow-based American political analyst

Pakistan must simultaneously confront several challenges. Firstly, it has to establish solid economic foundations successfully. Secondly, it must diversify its trade and investment partners. Thirdly, it has to diplomatically balance between relevant Great Powers.

Pakistan can accomplish these goals through February’s agreement to build trilateral railways between itself, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ). This project will improve the real sector of its economy, open up access to the Central Asian Republics, and strengthen ties with Russia as a crucial third-party balancing force between the US and China.

Read more: Fintech revolution at Pakistan’s doorstep – do you know what it is?

All the while, Pakistan must ensure its “Democratic Security,” or in other words, preemptively thwart Hybrid War plots to its stability. Its military-intelligence structures are already doing an excellent job with this, but more attention should also be paid to proactively countering divisive narratives aimed at provoking social discord.

Pakistan’s potential is very promising, but it needs to continue cultivating capable economic, political, and social leaders in order to maintain its strategic momentum. Therein lies the challenge since Pakistan has seemed to always lag behind in this respect. The solution is to continue reforming its educational sector and doing more to support aspirational students.

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