By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Can Pakistan survive economically? is the popular and pertinent question everybody is asking everybody. Amusingly, a country that is taking loans to repay its loans has just offered jet-black fully-loaded SUVs costing over 22 million rupees per unit to Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners of the province of Punjab because they are symbols of administrative power of the government and are members of the “Superclass” that is actually ruling the country.
It is pertinent to mention that the province of Punjab is a federating unit of Pakistan that is facing external debt that already reached over $125.7 USD billion in March 2023 compared to a record low of $37.2 USD billion in Jun 2006. The matrix of the last 10 years showed that external debt hugely increased during the years 2018-2022 because it was around $80 billion in 2017 and it jumped to around $130 billion in the year 2022. The only industry that grew in Pakistan in the last two decades is real estate which has been eating out arable lands in the quest of achieving “horizontal growth” of the housing industry and this situation was not possible without the help of the Land Revenue and Management system headed by officers of Pakistan Administrative Service because the act of changing lines drawn between Grey areas and Green areas is just a matter of one stroke of an administrative pen. A country that had an excellent yield production rate in the past and had been exporting cotton, rice, wheat, and barley is now importing the above-mentioned products for feeding the 225 million-plus population. The state governance system is so redundant that a poor man is buying one electricity unit for 50 plus rupees while a rich high ranking bureaucrat is enjoying it free of cost. When we have a deep look into the governance we find that the state is serving only state employees and a common man who is not a state employee lives a life of a state-less citizen.
I have mentioned debt figures from the years 2006 to 2023 because this is the time when there was no military rule in the country and civilian supremacy was running the state under civil bureaucracy. The most disastrous economic meltdown that Pakistan faced was in the last four years of the PTI government if we review last decade’s figures. I believe that the major reason for this catastrophe was the incompetency of the government rather than corruption.
It is a proven fact by economists and anthropologists that incompetency is more devastating for the governance system than financial corruption. In an article titled “Incompetency is more dangerous than corruption”, the writer rightly indicates that corruption is not a process rather it is an outcome of a process, this is the first mistake we make while dealing with this linguistic unit, semantically corruption or corrupt is either quantifier or qualifier which qualifies a noun or verb, so in simple words, corruption is an adjective or an adverb and always require a host agent to refer to. Corruption itself is seldom used as an action it is always an outcome of an action, that prompts the question of illustrating the actions which qualify as corrupt, usually, the actions which do not follow the designed frame of work and frame of reference for a course of action, these are also known as set rules and patterns based on norms, conventions, traditions, and prescribed law.
When an individual or a system is unable to do an assigned task in the legal or conventional, normative parameters then that individual and system hustles its way around, and that hustling care for no rules and boundaries, the primary objective is to achieve the goal but due to the process which was deviated because of incompetence and incapacity produces corruption as an outcome. If we review the situation, then we have to accept that the incompetency and incapacity of the system is sinking the country but the civil administrative tools are not ready to accept their failure and incompetency.
Fortunately, current civilian leadership understands that there is a dire need to work together by setting aside egos and luckily the military leadership also understands that it must bridge itself where ever it is needed. Now the majority of politicians are quite vocal to accept that the civil administrative system has failed to deliver. Now politicians have also accepted that Pakistan cannot run with a Western kind of democracy where hard lines are drawn for the compartmentation of administrative roles. We have seen the fate of CPEC which was halted for almost four years because PTI had been trying to find corruption in CPEC projects. Fortunately, CPEC is back on track and the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Special Representative and Vice Premier of the State Council of China He Lifeng held meetings with Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and COAS Gen Asim Munir during his three-day visit to Pakistan and he expressed his satisfaction over the pace of CPEC projects under sitting civil and military leadership. It may be mentioned that Pakistan Army looks after security issues related to CPEC projects and Chinese manpower working within Pakistan. During He Lifeng’s meetings with COAS Asim Munir and PM Shehbaz Sharif, it was decided that CPEC would be fast pace to get the desirous results. Meanwhile, civil-military collaboration is moving fast to attract foreign investments in Pakistan after fixing irritants at home. First time in the history of Pakistan the civilian and military leadership have joined hands to get the country from economic lows and the “Land Information and Management System-Centre of Excellence” (LIMS-CoE) for introducing modern agro-farming and utilizing over nine million hectares of uncultivated state land has been initiative and the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) is being established ensure investment security for foreigners and for eliminating impediments faced by foreign investors like changing rules once a political government is changed. Meanwhile, civil and military leaderships have invited top international firms working in the global mining sector to tap natural resources estimated worth US$ 6.1 trillion. The first-ever Pakistan Minerals Summit 2023 with the theme ‘Dust to Development: Investment Opportunities in Pakistan’ attracted international investors, mining industry giants, corporate leaders, and government stakeholders to create a roadmap for tapping into the tremendous mineral riches the Country offers. The Summit 2023 was jointly hosted by the Ministry of Petroleum and Barrick (Barrick Gold Corporation).
The fast pace initiatives taken by the civil and military leadership to take Pakistan out of danger are of course an excellent move for the country but of course not for those who wanted to see Pakistan a “defaulted country” like Sri Lanka because their wishes had washed away in the drain. Would they sit idle and see rising Pakistan? I think of course not and they would definitely strike back to hamper the economic pace that has been role-over by civil and military leadership. What can they do? is a pertinent question. They will surely make a case for the latest development and will say that civilian leadership has surrendered to military leadership which is the reason that the military has been added and involved in all strategically important economic initiatives. They can also claim that Pakistan has shifted far away from a “modern democracy” and would soon be a kind of “hybrid system”.
Interestingly, the civilian bureaucracy that is cunning enough to keep quiet is spreading the same pulse because it is not ready to accept its administrative failure and has fears that later or sooner the public would question the financial and social benefit it is receiving for doing nothing and everywhere men in uniform are rolling the ball to get the results. Moreover, it is no more a secret that foreign investors, particularly from gulf countries had bad experiences of Pakistan’s civil bureaucracy and red-tapism and they are not comfortable to invest further in case the civil bureaucracy will remain sitting in the driving seat. Since the civilian government cannot revamp shrewd civilian bureaucracy and is shy to take drastic moves to control all-powerful bureaucracy, it has opted to keep the civil bureaucracy away from decision-making and even the execution of strategically important economic projects. This is the new “Administrative Contract” that we can also call the “New Social Contract” and this is the most effective and right decision taken by the civilian government because without this new arrangement, Pakistan will not come out of sluggish land the civil bureaucracy had thrown it to stand alone.
There was no other option left for Pakistan except for accepting this new “Social Contract” to save the country instead of giving more time for maintaining the so-called supremacy of civilian administration, which has actually ruined the country of 225 million hard-working people.
I believe Pakistan could not afford the pleasure of standing divided into “civilian” and non-civilian compartmentation and now everybody has to play their role to save the country from the wide-ranging administrative disaster that Pakistan is facing today.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.