Pakistan at a Turning Point
By Dr Ghulam M. Haniff
US

After fifty-eight years of rudderless adrift Pakistan is now at a critical turning point seemingly in transition from a failed past to a hopeful future. Signs of hopefulness include an economy experiencing rapid expansion, a stock market bursting at the seams, an information technology revolution involving increase in Internet connectivity and higher education seriously contemplating fundamental changes. Pakistanis in anticipation of a brighter future should have much to celebrate about when the independence anniversary rolls around this year.
Just a handful of years ago Pakistan was a ravaged country on a downward spiral waiting for the inevitable collapse. Interested observers had labeled it a failed state, ridden with graft and corruption, struggling to stay afloat. Since then the country has been resurrected, and despite adversity, political, social and economic institutions are showing signs of revitalization to give the nation a sense of statehood.
Under the democratically elected prime ministers the country was rife with civil strife, disorder and widespread anarchy for over a decade. Bombings and bloodshed were daily occurrence. It seemed as though the nation had descended into a Hobbesian hell with war of all against all. Today, there is still social turmoil though the intensity of violence has markedly subsided as attempts are being made to impose a sense of law and order.
When the dramatic coup took place in 1999 and General Pervez Musharraf took over just about everyone cheered for joy. There was dancing in the streets. People were fed up with violence and social chaos. They longed for national salvation at the hands of a savior. Since that date in October much has happened and indications are today that the country is undergoing fundamental changes and moving in the right direction.
In the political arena the concentration of power in the hands of the feudal elite, while still a reality, is beginning to erode as union councils gain strength and local governments acquire effectiveness. Pakistan’s elective feudalism rendered democracy meaningless and the exercise of ballot box power impotent. The vested interests were only interested in looting the national treasury. Recent requirement that legislators be college graduates is likely to break the stranglehold on power at the top. It would certainly usher in a new set of lawmakers more responsive to the pressures for change.
No doubt, there is urgent need for efficacious legislative culture particularly in the National Assembly. That is beginning to happen with the project launched recently to create an institutional culture for the purpose of strengthening the capacity of the parliamentarians and legislative staff. The inclusion of women in the traditionally male-dominated decision-making bodies is likely to have a dramatic effect as it provides an avenue for input into lawmaking by the neglected one-half of the population. In addition to women, the inclusion of farmers, labor and minorities would make policy formulation truly revolutionary and further deepen the devolution of power. The political role given to women represents a novel phenomenon in Pakistan’s political history and is the only one of its kind in the Muslim world.
Despite enormous resistance by the vested interests political institutions are being cast into a new mold to become answerable to the voting public. A new structure of power will not come about anytime soon but pressures for participation in decision-making at various levels of government remain high.
The most important achievement of the Musharraf regime can be seen in the economy. It has been rescued and turned around. The processes of deregulation and privatization have realized the creation of a free market economy. The results are already reflected in the rising productivity with 5 percent rate of growth in GDP for each of the past three years. The latest projections are that the economy will expand in excess of 7.5 percent during the current fiscal year. The fact that the management of the economy was placed in the hands of technocrats, with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as its latest czar, obviously has paid handsome dividends.
At the moment economic growth is being fuelled by the massive real estate boom in the major urban centers, and with it construction and consumer spending for durable goods, as well as manufacture and sale of textile products. All of these have led to bank reserves at an all time high, greater tax collection and reduction in national debt. The higher rate of growth in GDP is also contributing to larger outlays in the social sector for the financing of social services and improvements in the infrastructure.
Musharraf has paid considerable amount of attention to trade. Unlike the previous governments a number of trade deals have been negotiated and the trade policy regime of Pakistan is one of the most open in South Asia. That means that competitive pressures will qualitatively improve production and enable the country to compete internationally.
While left behind in the development of information technology Pakistan has attempted to catch up during the past five years. The IT breakthrough has largely been the result of the dedicated effort of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, Minister of Science and Technology, one of the wisest appointments that Musharraf ever made. Prof. Rahman continues to rekindle interest in scientific studies and emphasizes the development of IT industry. The fledging software initiative is off to a good start with exports increasing each year. Even outsourcing contracts are being snared with at least half a dozen call centers in operation, as new companies acquire greater business acumen.
Having been in the seat of power barely for six years Pervez Musharraf has accomplished a lot for Pakistan. The nation owes him a debt of gratitude. It is ironic that this military strongman is more interested in building a framework for democracy than any other leader previously. Academic studies indicate that the most important factor in implementing democracy is dedicated elite. For nation-building argues David McCullough in “1776”, a current best-seller, what a country needs is a few good men and one great one. He emphasizes that it is individuals of character that can change destinies of nations. The inevitable question that arises for the Islamic Republic is whether Musharraf would be that “individual of character” who can change the destiny of Pakistan.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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