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The World in Flux and Pakistan (Editorial November 2018)

The World in Flux & Pakistan

How to make lemonade of lemons Pakistan’s location gives it

“A duty dodged is like a debt unpaid; it is only deferred, and we must come back and settle the account at last.” — Joseph Fort Newton

With changes happening at a rapid pace, the world seems to be in a fluid state. A great many developments in the realm of international political economy are aggravating an already perilous condition of the world. The global hegemon, the United States of America, has created “my way or the highway” barriers for many countries. Trump administration’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports and the ensuing US-China trade war, revival of Iran sanctions, standoff between the US and Russia, US withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Human Rights Council, Turkey-US spat, are but some indications where the world is headed to. On top of that, threats of a looming economic meltdown have added to the fluidity of things. All these factors are leading the world powers into an affray where only those with robust economies would survive. Amidst all this ado and brouhaha, realignments in regional blocs and alliances have become the order of the day. Old rivals are becoming partners; Russia and China becoming bosom friends; Russia opening up to Pakistan; Europe increasingly getting alienated from the US and the intriguing power play in the Middle East are just some indication of what fate has in store for the world.

In these befuddling circumstances, the South Asian region has become the coliseum where gladiators, that is, world superpowers, would compete to gain leverage over each other. China’s flagship Belt and Road project, EU’s ‘Connectivity Strategy’ to link Europe with Asia, US’s grant of STA-1 status to India and the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries, recent Russia-India defence deal and, above all, growing world interest in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), have made this region the centre of world politics. The one country that is of pivotal importance in this configuration is Pakistan as all these developments circumambulate this country. To some, it may be an overstatement of facts and even an exaggeration, but that’s the truth no sane person would deny.

And, here is the million dollar question: As they say “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” what could be the right options for Pakistan? What should the country do to effectively grasp and make the most of the opportunities created in these settings?

A precise yet definitive answer to this question is: make its economy strong and robust. But, when the country is reeling under the heavy debt burden – in absolute terms, Pakistan’s gross public debt stood at Rs 25.0 trillion by end-June 2018, as per a report by the State Bank of Pakistan – how it can avoid seeking help and bailout packages from other countries and international financial institutions? The only answer is attracting more and more foreign investment in various sectors of its economy. However, that would not happen unless there is ease of doing business here – Pakistan ranked 147th among 190 countries on World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2018.

Moreover, there is a pressing need to plug in the loopholes of money laundering and corruption which devour billions of dollars of our country every year. Introducing stringent anti-money-laundering measures is in our national interest also because they constitute a fundamental requirement of the FATF in order for Pakistan to be removed from its ignoble Grey List. Besides, corruption must also be weeded out for which a ruthless surgery in the form of a grand, all inclusive operation is inevitable.

It is quite encouraging that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has come down heavily on corruption in the country. Surfacing of mysterious bank accounts – some even in the name of dead persons – speaks volumes about the proactive role NAB is playing. It is a good omen that other state institutions, especially the Supreme Court of Pakistan, are working independently, and in tandem, and seem not ready to submit to any political rhetoric or ‘Doctrine of necessity’– even pressure created by some political leaders fails to deter them. But, this is the point where the role of the executive and that of the legislature becomes the key to a promising future of the country. The legislature should formulate laws so as to build on the initial gains of our state institutions while the executive should also work day in and day out to extend them all the possible support through facilitation measures. Independent, robust and well-performing institutions are indispensable to boost the economy of our country.

No doubt, there would be a lot of hullabaloo from those being investigated on charges of corruption, and slogans like ‘political victimization’ and ‘democracy in danger’ – as quipped by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his address to the nation – will gain currency; nonetheless, this hue and cry must be ignored as the cancer of corruption has spread in the body of our society, and rooting it out would be possible only with a surgery. But, it won’t be an easy task for the government; the civil society must also rise up and strengthen the hands of the government and our state institutions. There may be some troubles in this campaign but as Peter Drucker, the father of management thinking, says, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Perhaps, this is the point in time, the great poet and thinker Allama Iqbal was seeing when he said:

But now come! For ways are changing in assembly of the earth,
And in Orient and in Occident your own age comes to birth!

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