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Friday, May 24, 2024

Pakistan’s 9 mistakes and the way forward

The writer highlights significant mistakes and challenges faced by Pakistan over the years, including financial mismanagement, political instability, and the erosion of constitutional and judicial integrity. These mistakes have led to economic struggles, loss of decision-making autonomy, and a tarnished international image.

With the benefit of the experience of the various stages of my life, such as childhood, education, profession, and marriage, I wish to give my views on crucial mistakes committed by my country and draw some lessons to help us chart our way ahead.

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The creation of our homeland, Pakistan, was the best fortune to befall Indian Muslims. Pakistan required immense sacrifices, including bloodshed and cross-border migration of colossal populations. This was unprecedented, and not seen in recent living memory. The struggle for the formation of Pakistan was spearheaded by the greatest leader of our time, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, assisted by his lieutenants and stalwarts, such as Quaid e Millat Khan Liaquat Ali Khan, and leaders from East Bengal like Maulvi Fazl e Haq, H S Suharvardi, Maulvi Tameezuddin Khan, Khawaja Nizamuddin. The leaders in the West included Sir Mohd Iqbal, Daultanas, Tiwanas, and Ayub Khuhro.

The original concept of Pakistan is enshrined in a speech delivered by the Quaid on August 11th, 1947. He said that Pakistanis are free to go to their mosques, churches, and temples. He underlined that the Pakistan movement was due to the beliefs of Indian Muslims being different from those of the Hindu majority. The Muslims, being in the minority, wanted to ensure their security, and sought equal opportunities in education, business, and agriculture.

The Quaid, through his speeches, emphasized that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state based on Islam. Its foundations would be Islamic freedoms, guaranteed by the Muslim concept of democratic governance, ensuring the freedom of all religious communities, without any difference based on caste, color, and creed.

Unfortunately, subsequent leaders, particularly the bureaucracy after the assassination of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan (October 16th1951), the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, failed to ensure this promise. Quaid e Azam, the first Governor General and Architect of Pakistan, tragically passed away on September 11th, 1948, a year after the creation of Pakistan.

To ensure that the Quaid’s Islamic secular liberal state legacy is abandoned, a conspiracy was hatched to eliminate Quaid e Millat Liaquat Ali Khan. His assassin, Saeed Akbar, was immediately killed, to cover up those responsible for this horrifying political catastrophe.

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Since the removal of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan has greatly suffered from the mistakes of its rulers:

Mistake No. 1

The then Governor General and President invited the Commander and Chief of the Pakistan army to join the civilian cabinet. It was an invitation, and not an imposition by the Pakistan army, which implied that the politicians could not govern without the backing of the Armed Forces. So why blame them now?

Power was usurped by Malik Ghulam Mohammad, who became Governor General himself. He was a sick man, with disabilities of movement and speech. For almost two years, the country was run by his attractive American-born secretary, Ms. Ruth Boral, who would convey his decisions, as she was the only one able to decipher his mumbling speech.

In those days, politicians broke all records of appeasing this man, to become prime ministers and ministers in the government. Legend has it that one of the prime ministers, Mohammad Ali Bogra, even rode a motorbike as a security detail, to lead Ghulam Mohammad’s motorcade.

Mistake No. 2

It was a settled matter that the Quaid e Azam, with the support of Sindhi leaders, had decided to make Karachi the capital of Pakistan. The stalwart Sindhi politicians even agreed, at the Quaid’s request, to separate Karachi from Sindh, and make it the federal capital, a decision acceptable to both West and East Pakistani leaders and populations. A large adjoining area in the northern hills was designated as New Karachi, to be built along the lines of New Delhi and present-day Islamabad.

A new capital was to be built in the Federal B Area, in the north of Karachi. New Karachi and Federal B Area have a rich historical background, and now, due to neglect, have become shanty towns. The Quaid had given careful thought to this decision, visualizing Karachi as a cosmopolitan city. Its temperate climate suited both the leaders and their families, and all citizens from East and West Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Pakistani leaders have often ignored the wisdom behind such settled issues. General Field Marshal Ayub Khan committed the grievous mistake of shifting the federal capital. He later explained that he wanted the capital to be close to the Pakistan army as if he was to be the president forever. He especially alienated the citizens and leaders of East Pakistan.

Funnily, the bureaucracy and staff were shifted between cities through railway trains that were given a ceremonial pipe band arrival in Rawalpindi, almost twice a day. East Pakistan was furious. An East Pakistani leader in Dacca even said that “Ayub Khan has taken the capital from Karachi to Rawalpindi by train, and we the leaders in East Pakistan, who are in the majority, will bring the capital from Rawalpindi to Dacca by air”. Temperatures in Islamabad in the winter fall to subzero. How could Bengali families, including ministers and bureaucrats, cope in such weather?

Mistake No. 3

The transformation of one unit into West Pakistan alienated people living in the various provinces of West Pakistan, including Urdu-speaking communities. A permit to operate a bus in Karachi needed to be applied for in Lahore, which was now the capital of West Pakistan. To make matters worse, a tyrant like Amir Mohammad Khan of Kala Bagh was made the governor of West Pakistan. He hated and belittled people, especially businessmen and farmers from outside Punjab. His temper and hubris were legendary. In an altercation, one of his sons shot him dead.

Mistake No. 4

Bureaucracy in any country is the backbone of good governance. It is the common thread that ensures consistency from one democratic elected government to the other. Unfortunately, every government has not trusted the bureaucracy appointed by the previous administration, as it feared that the setup would not be loyal to it. This lack of trust has led to the removal of talented and efficient bureaucrats, as many were the product of intensive education and training received by cadres of the CSP.

This included well-trained incumbents in the fields of police, judiciary, civil administration and indeed agriculture. This costly mistake led to the squandering of generations of talented bureaucrats, and combined with our political crises, has produced today’s economic collapse. 75 years of political maneuvering of successive governments must share the blame for the present catastrophe.

The borrowing of our five-year plans by countries such as South Korea is evidence of the professional skills of our bureaucracy in the early days. Pakistan, through its Civil Aviation Authority and Planning Commission, helped establish world-class airlines, such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines. While these airlines flourish on the foundations we provided, tragically, our flagship airline is presently sinking due to political interference and bureaucratic mismanagement.

Mistake No. 5

A far-reaching mistake of our politicians, in league with a corrupt bureaucracy, was financial mismanagement that changed our status from a creditor to a debtor nation. Earlier, Pakistan was a lender for countries in need. No wonder our growth has depicted a fitful performance, with unsustainable peaks and many troughs. No wonder, today, we are in significant debt to the USA and the UK, and recent years, to our all-weather friend, the People’s Republic of China. Due to these mistakes and the rampant corruption, Pakistan is now submerged in burdensome debts owed to the IMF, World Bank, ADBP, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. We have lowered our self-respect and lost our flexibility and freedom to make decisions on the economy and foreign relations.

Mistake No. 6

The most lethal mistake that dismembered our country in 1971 was made by General Yahya Khan, in connivance with the politicians of those days. The distribution of seats in the National Assembly between East and West Pakistan was decided to be an equal number, through a unanimous agreement of the leaders of both East and West Pakistan, despite the population of the Eastern Wing being in the majority.

This very sensitive issue was dismantled by Yahya Khan, who had a brainwave and decreed that the 1970 general elections would be based on ‘one man one vote’. While ‘one man one vote’ is indeed in the true democratic tradition, this matter could have been dealt with by building a consensus between East and West Pakistan leaders, so that the tragic chain of events that occurred would have been avoided. It could have been handled in two stages, with the consultation and agreement of all key stakeholders undertaken in the first stage, and the implementation carried out in the second stage. Due to this decision, a majority of seats were allocated to the Eastern Wing of the country. Its leaders, such as Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rahman of the Awami League, carved out 6 points, based on which he fought the elections and won a majority in the National Assembly.

This irritated and unnerved the West Pakistani leaders, principally Mr. Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto, who threatened that any MNA from West Pakistan going to attend the first session of the newly elected assembly at Dacca (the Dacca session) in March 1971 will be punished, and their legs will be broken. He advised General Yahya Khan to call off the assembly session, which was a sensitive matter, concerning the emotions of the East Pakistani population. Most stupidly, an announcement canceling the session of the assembly was made by the government during a cricket match being played at Dacca, attended by over 90,000 spectators.

This created mayhem, which eventually led to the foundation of Bangladesh. Instead of handing over the prime ministership of the country to the legally elected leader of the National Assembly in the Parliament, Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rahman, Yahya Khan decided to arrest Mujeeb ur Rahman, bring him to West Pakistan and imprison him. A grave was dug in his cell to terrorize him. Nothing could have pleased the Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, more, whose forces invaded East Pakistan in support of the freedom fighters known as Mukti Bahini. Yahya Khan, in response, instead of seeing reason and settling with Mujeeb ur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the National Assembly, ferried thousands of Pakistani troops to East Pakistan via Sri Lanka (as flights over India had been stopped).

These were the 93,000 troops under the command of Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi (Sitara e Jurat) that most ignominiously surrendered in Dacca on 16th December 1971, to General Jagjit Singh Aurora. India transported these troops across the border and housed them as prisoners of war (POWs), along with some civilians of West Pakistani origin, who opted to become POWs in India, rather than face a massacre by the Mukti Bahini. Subsequently, Bangladesh was born as an independent state, with the help of India, on 26th March 1971, with Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rahman as President.

Mistake No. 7

Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was in Paris in late December 1971, was brought to Pakistan, as he was the leader of the National Assembly of West Pakistan. He was made President and the first civilian Chief Marshal Law administrator. Mr. Bhutto was a popular leader, and tremendously helped West Pakistan (now Pakistan), whose morale had been shattered, to regain its confidence, honor, and dignity. Mr. Bhutto had radical ideas and introduced numerous reforms rapidly. One of the biggest mistakes committed was the nationalization of banks, the shipping industry and industrial units, followed by schools and colleges.

On the economic front, the nationalization of industry and banks dealt a devastating blow to the entrepreneurial confidence of the private sector. Local and foreign investors were greatly discouraged from investing in Pakistan. The economy crumbled. The premature adoption of International Labor Organization (ILO) labor conventions at a time when industry was not ready for them created turmoil between employers and employees in private industries.

Small and medium-sized industrial ventures started to collapse, and industrial units began to disappear. Today, 5,000 industrial units of the middle-sized investment category have abandoned the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE), the Korangi Association of Trade and Industry (KATI), and the North Karachi and Landhi Industrial areas. Even after 50 years, the confidence of investors has not recovered. The sad story continues, through the departure of many international pharmaceutical and allied industries, and at least five major international banks, from Pakistan.

Mistake No. 8

Our influential business lobbies exerted pressure on the government during the 1980s-90s to devalue the exchange rate, to bring in additional profit without doing value addition. We know that value addition to commodities brings in additional revenue and profit to the exporter. Corruption and bad governance led to the artificial devaluation of the Pak rupee. International pressure and domestic political interference in our rupee-dollar exchange rate continue. We allow big businesses, principally textile and traditional exports, to pressure the government to depress the exchange rate.

Comparing Pakistan’s governance and fiscal policy with Bangladesh and India, political instability has reigned supreme in Pakistan. Bangladesh has seen 2 Prime Ministers, and 3 Finance Ministers, and India 3 Prime Ministers and 4 Finance Ministers since 1999. Ironically, Pakistan has seen 13 Prime Ministers and 16 Finance Ministers over the same period. So how can we expect stable economic governance? Whether the reasons have been petty political wrangling, corruption, or something else, unfortunately, none of the prime ministers during this period were allowed to complete a 5-year term.

This mistake is a result of bad governance, political instability, and the irreconcilable burden of foreign debt. Today, Pakistan survives on foreign loans and bailouts from the IMF, World Bank, other loan-giving agencies, or friendly states like China, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The country suffers from internal and external budget deficits, caused by the short-sightedness of political parties who have been in power. There is no genuine effort to expand the tax base, which remains dismal, with a paltry number of existing taxpayers burdened by increasing taxes every year.

Mistake No. 9

As a private citizen, I have seen over 65 years of turbulence in Pakistan; its nature has been social, economic, and political, and based on the personal well-being of safety and security of life, property, and honor. I have seen the decline of law and order, and respect for the Constitution, in both business and the larger society. I have seen three martial laws, where the Constitution was held in abeyance, and the country governed through martial law orders, with the courts and judiciary also controlled by the military. We must not commit the grievous mistake of trampling our Constitution, belittling and mauling our judicial system, while attempting to give a civilian and democratic face to our nation.

The result of some mistakes I mentioned earlier has not left us, even after the passage of five decades. The frequent demolition of law and order has branded Pakistan as a lawless country, which has laws, a constitution, and judicial structures, but these are held hostage to the whims and fancies of undemocratic power centers and political power brokers. Will any sane investor risk investing in Pakistan, whether long or short-term, when there is no credible legal or constitutional cover in the country? Our approach to governance is a terrible mistake that must be done away with immediately.

Hopefully, such a change may start to repair the demeaning and shameful image of Pakistan. It may take years for the free world and international investors to see the repairs in the offing, which can slowly start to generate and restore the recovery of confidence that used to prevail earlier. The way forward Pakistan is passing through challenging times, based on economic, social, and geopolitical pressures. Most of these are of our own making, resulting from the greed and corruption of our leaders and politicians, over the last five decades.

Given its geopolitical position, Pakistan has come into unintended and unwelcome pressures of major regional countries, vs the USA and Western Europe. Unfortunately, we have lost much of our decision-making autonomy due to our debt burden. E.g., we are unable to make decisions regarding our independent relations with neighboring countries like Iran, Russia, and China. Our government can no longer decide what type of political, trade and security relations we want with other countries, in the prime interest of Pakistan. We cannot even alter the prices of essential commodities, like oil, gas, and electricity, without checking with the IMF.

Unfortunately, the power to redeem this situation does not lie in the hands of the present government, which is essentially a caretaker setup but is erroneously making long-term decisions. The same situation applies to the security setup, which we call the establishment, and which is supporting the present dispensation. The political and establishment setups do not have the support of the population of the country. As governments are normally created and given the mandate by the people through a free and fair election process, such pressure will always be present in undemocratic situations.

Considering this challenging scenario, the only way out of this juggernaut is to seek the people’s support in the following ways:

a) The creation of a national goodwill environment by announcing a ‘forgive and forget’ approach to all sections, whether civilian politics or the establishment. This will entail the freeing of all political prisoners and releasing our major political party to participate in the general elections presently announced for February 8th, 2024.

b) The holding of fair and free general elections by ensuring a level playing field for all political parties in Pakistan. This is not an easy task given the present environment in the country. But it is the only way to save Pakistan from deteriorating further and sliding into the morass that we are continuing to witness.

c) Lastly, it is also critical to stop political bickering and to allow voting rights to overseas Pakistanis. This Diaspora of our nationals in the Middle East and Gulf countries, Europe, USA, UK, Canada, and Australia contribute eighteen billion dollars in the shape of foreign remittance each year. This contribution is the financial lifeline to run our economy, considering the present economic situation and our excessive borrowing. In the past, in some years, remittances from overseas Pakistanis have helped us in shoring up Pakistan’s Balance of Payments. There is no doubt that the Pakistan overseas contributors can mitigate our intense erratic foreign exchange reserves and help transform volatility into stability.


Mr. T.A. Batlay is experienced in business, marketing, corporate affairs, entrepreneurship, industrial policy, and business-government relations. He resides in Karachi. 

The views expressed in the articles are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.