Pakistan of What ifs?

If and when in a fix, political parties barely look beyond a day, even to a point when they are counting down the hours; this takes one back to the days of Dharna – the images of the sitting government with two-third majority were pale at its best. But what does that mean for the voters, when Pakistan has had several transformational moments yet it has always fell short of taking a leap of faith. It is so incredibly difficult for the political leadership to disassociate itself from a distant past and the urgent present. So, usually what happens is that we have the military game-theory(ing) over what is considered to be more ‘important’. The worldview of Pakistan is subjected to internal policy uncertainties and therefore lack of institutional decision-making processes. The world is always second guessing Pakistan, and expecting the worse. They are not to blame. While the elite capture can get away with bad governance and institutional decay; the cost is borne by an ordinary Pakistani. To run a country one requires a constant source of longer-term thinking inquiries supported by backward-forwardlooking mechanisms.

However, with the on going Zarb-e-Azb one is somewhat assured that the state is willing to root-out terrorism; but once the beast is killed who would scrape off the remnants of extremism that stems from within. One recent flicker of hope is of resurrection of NACTA’s website. But the National Action Plan is more than just a unit of measuring the state of security within the country; it actually places a far greater responsibility on an already so frail political wisdom (seasonally self-centric) which will is essentially required in the next one decade to carve out a society that is ever so caught up with scheduling its life around the occasional power outages, gas shortages amongst several other mundane issues. The Vision Pakistan 2025 hasn’t move beyond the Ministry of Planning, Reforms and Development; the message has not been passed on to the people who would realize Prof. Iqbal’s dream of a better Pakistan.

There is this lingering fear; that Pakistan may continue to grow old while remaining poor while the writ of the Federation will shrink; confining it to just Islamabad. So from being a middle-income country it is quite possible that this country will still be considered amongst the least developed nations in the near future. Balochistan is still economically fragmented and socially isolated. Sindh is still starving. The political party that produced and implemented the 18th Amendment has yet to be seen benefiting its people in the province. The International Financial Institutions have been classifying Pakistan as part of the MENA-AP region (Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan); what does that mean for Pakistan’s role in South Asia? We are not clubbed amongst the advanced nor are we closing gap in the emerging market and developing economies according to the International Monetary Fund’s Outlook Report. We are challenged between acquiring fiscal space or actually pursuing a robust economic growth strategy; which intrinsically expands market opportunities and thereby create jobs. So while a handful and almost insignificant persons and businesses may benefit from these dynamics a vast majority of the population will remain sequestered.

While, we avowal of CPEC being a game-changer; all we hear is an extreme China-centric narrative, hardly ever do we get to hear what and how will Pakistanis, businesses and people alike will gain from this and whether or not the country has the intellectual resource and institutional capacity to gain from this extraordinary regional economic integration; and while we witness this tectonic shift in global power how all this development will tie-in to the country’s foreign policy; what would be the instruments of the future beyond nuclear deterrence and peacekeeping missions.

According to Prof. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Chairman World Economic Forum we have entered in to the fourth industrial revolution, which is fundamentally the blurring of physical, digital and biological entities. This revolution will change the ways of production, management and governance. The breakthroughs in emerging technologies, concept of decentralization of everything / digitization of everything, nanotechnology, robotics, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), brain science, quantum computing is unprecedented. The future of work will be ghettoized into ‘low-skill/low-pay’ and ‘high-skill/high-pay’.

Impact of which, Pakistan is neither prepared nor cognizant of.

More than two billion of the world population uses the social media, with an another three billion using the internet; learning, sharing, exploiting happening in a digital space rather than the physical is a key trend to extrapolate growth potential. Now according to not so recent data, last updated on October 2014 by the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan; we have an estimated 25 million internet users; with 15 million accessing it using mobile service; while the teledensity as reported by the Pakistan Telecom Authority has reached 62.79% – while mobile subscribers stands at 114.7 (FY-2014-15). The financial sector has gained from such technological advancement however the public service sector has yet to automate and think digital – if this doesn’t happen public authorities will steep further into its own dark future of nothingness and government systems will become irrelevant and obsolete. So, can Futures be at the core of policy discourse for Pakistan with an inherent bottom-up approach?

Along all these “what-ifferies”: Will Pakistan ever care enough? Will we be able to negotiate through uncertainties and rapidly changing realities?

Pakistan has yet to make human capital investment. Other option includes suffering from a lifetime of anxiety and attention deficit disorders diminishing all forms policy-thinking space.

This is an un-edited version. Originally this article was published by the Express Tribune, affiliate with the International New York Times:

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