Pakistan will hit the road to prosperity in the 2020s
Pakistan has to ease doing business. It has to build partnerships regionally and internationally resolving conflicts.
I am late by a day, at least, in getting back to my keyboard. Dense fog forcing the motorway closure kept me outstation - where I had gone for my daughter's wedding - until the sun I had so anxiously waited for made way for me to travel back home. And here I am, witnessing the year 2019 drawing to a close and hearing the year 2020s loud knock at the door. Eager - as all Pakistanis are - to be out of the fog of worries and take the path to progress during the New Year and the years to come.
Take it, dear readers, as a sort of building a scenario for the next decade for Pakistan.
Let's have a look at whatever is current. The country has until recently seen a drawn-out partisan wrangle, a weak economy, and hence, uncertainty. Acrimony is in currency - more so because of an anti-graft drive. While Prime Minister Imran Khan's party had come to power after the 2018 general elections drumming up its accountability agenda, the opposition parties are crying foul. They say it's not targeting all and is snaring their leaders only. The government rejects accusations that the drive is impacting the economy, calling such allegations opposition propaganda, and says graft is to blame for Pakistan's economic woes.
The economy has had more bad patches than good ones. It's on crutches - more loans than grants. Media is having a bad time financially. Not to mention the challenges to its freedom. Major sports such as cricket and hockey, which would give Pakistanis occasional wins to cheer for, are earning them gloom. Tension with neighbours such as India and Afghanistan is also worrisome. No less troubling are vagaries of the climate change.
Climate damage to Pakistan's crops is rippling through economy. Achieving Sustainable Development Goals or the SDGs such as Eliminate Poverty; Erase Hunger; Establish Good Health and Well-Being; Provide Quality Education; Enforce Gender Equality; Improve Clean Water and Sanitation; Mobilize Sustainable Cities and Communities; Organize Climate Action; and Guarantee Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions -- seem a far cry.
These are the blocks I am putting up the South Asian country's future on. But I won't play a doctor of doom here. Polarization doesn't rule Pakistan every day. And it won't, if accountability sounds more even-handed than it does now. The country is battling extremism and has made headway towards ensuring gender equity. Answering the critics of Khan's anti-graft crusade promoted by Khan who say the economy is suffering as vital projects are put on hold by officials fearful of being caught up in the dragnet, a new decree has eased their fears. The accountability law won't cover them now.
Pakistan's ailing economy has just received a $6 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. Credit rating agency Moody's Investors Services has revised Pakistan's outlook up from 'Negative' to 'Stable' earlier this month in light of further improvement in the country's balance of payments. Khan's government says Moody's decision to bump up the country's outlook has laid a strong foundation for long-term growth. It's long-term and sustainable growth that Pakistan has to achieve to build its human resource providing them access to good education and health. On them depends the country's economy.
Weaning itself off aid, the country needs to move fast but wisely towards trade. Pakistan has to ease doing business. It has to build partnerships regionally and internationally resolving conflicts. It needs to come over the crisis of governance that more often has come up as a challenge to the sustainability of democracy. The crisis is hurting almost every department the country is not faring well in, including sports. Knowledge economy is going to be Pakistan's mainstay. It has to equip the youth - including women - with the latest technologies. It needs to work fast on tourism as well which offers great potential. To brace for the next decade, the country also requires adapting as early as possible to the effects of climate change. And along with a strong economy, devolution will be the key to achieving the SDGs.
During the next decade I see all this happening. The year 2020 will have artisans at work to put Pakistan on the road to stability and prosperity. Out of the fog, into the sun!
- Waqar Mustafa is a senior journalist and commentator based in Lahore
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