Demeaning. Insulting. Shameful.

Those in government feel that we may still get away from the current crisis but unfortunately, we don’t stand a chance now.

By Tariq Ikram (SI) | February 2023

Facing the Hobson’s choice, ‘Pakistan is once again at a crossroads,’ says the IMF, and rightly so. In a country with rampant corruption, the current leadership at the helm is floundering in keeping its political and national needs in balance. There is no second opinion that Pakistan’s major challenge is poor governance. The questions arise: Does corruption lead to a crippled rate of development and poor governance as we face today? What is the root cause of the spread of such rampant corruption, in all walks of life? My hypothesis is unusual and it digs deep into human nature and behaviour, pre and post 1947. I present that it’s the disillusionment of the post 1947 Pakistanis that led them to conclude as their survival and future was uncertain, that they must provide for themselves. ‘Grab’ what they can, regardless of how. The national institutions that were to deliver the needs of the people, including the minorities, remained ineffective and immature, and led to corruption, and in turn, the present collapse of governance.

As the old adage goes, ‘Vacuum is unnatural, if you don’t do what you are expected to do, someone else will do it.’ We seem to have become a people who will get something into their heads, but only through a crack! How often have we heard of the need “to smash the beggars bowl;” “I will sell my clothes (but not my palaces!), eat grass, and will not let the people suffer,” that the biggest and fundamental challenge we face is insufficiency of dollars and rupees which is due ‘the sins of our predecessors’, but ‘we will get it right.’

Finally, the day of reckoning is here, nay, it’s again here. Last was in 1999 when we were left with 500 million dollars as reserves (sufficient for a few days of imports), a near negative GDP growth rate, USD 38 billion of debt, stalled exports, severe sanctions imposed and a military government with whom no democratic country was willing to talk to. As the IMF says, “Pakistan is once again at a crossroads”, this time, hamstrung by donors who demand ‘their pound of flesh.’ Those in government feel that we may still get away, but unfortunately, we don’t stand a chance now. Even if we do succeed, the constipated ability to think outside the box and act of our leadership, will only mean more debt and suffering merely postponed. It is demeaning, insulting and shameful to say, but must be said, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” If we learn even today from these insults and ensure that we do what is necessary to not remain beggars, the insults and shame will have been worth it, alas track record doesn’t suggest this as a possibility.

It is common knowledge that Pakistan is endowed with extensive and intensive natural resources. However, it is painful to see how corruption and vested interests have left our management and leveraging of these resources in a pathetic state. So why and where did we go wrong?

Intellectuals far superior in knowledge and experience than myself have attempted diagnosis, prognosis, and a way forward. In my humble view as a student of management and observation in the last over six decades, of human behaviour in practice, both in the private and public sectors and of immediate and larger society, my diagnosis emerges with its roots in pre and post 1947 periods and the dictates of human nature.

Pre partition, Muslims were a subjugated lot, but the historical day came when Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947, 27th day of Ramadan. A country of 80 million people in two parts, East and West Pakistan, separated by 1200 miles of hostile territory, India. Unfortunately, our Quaid-e-Azam passed away soon thereafter. I still remember sitting as a 3-year-old child, next to my mother, listening to the news on the radio of the passing away of the Quaid and horrified to see the sudden burst of her emotions and her words, “Oh! Ab musalmanon ka kiya banay ga?” I couldn’t understand the flow of tears from her eyes, but today I can figure out the intensity of her emotions which emerged from the question about the uncertainty of the future.

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