2021 was tough. Virus became devious and devastating. Inflation sky-rocketed. Production was patchy. Unrest was consistent. And all hell broke out by the experts on how Pakistan was just on the precipice of disaster. Pakistan, despite all the din and cry of ruination actually stood out in many areas. Performance is never measured in isolation.
It is always relative. Relative to previous performance. Relative to present conditions. Relative to competition. Relative to the global standards. That is why the rather all dark, absolutely black picture being painted by the analysts needs to be balanced with real time situational variables. 10 areas where Pakistan stood out in 2021 are:
Uncompromising Sovereignty— “Do more” command was rebutted by “absolutely not”. Change is painful. But leaders who are true leaders take decisions which may be unpopular. Pakistan for the first time stood up to the superpower and refused to give in to their pressure. This has raised the stature of the country in the region and within Pakistan and in the long run averted a repetition of the economic and political backlash we had suffered from since 9/11.
Economic Performance— Written off in 2019 with a growth rate of just over 1% Corona was termed the last nail in this government’s coffin. 2021 was a year of negative growth in the world. Pakistan not only had positive but growth beyond expectations of nearly 4%.
Pakistan registered highest ever exports, highest reserves, highest remittances, highest sales in auto industry, cement industry, tractor industries etc. Pakistan’s declining agriculture sector got a subsidy boost of Rs 1100 billion that tremendously boosted the agri output. The economy is all set to grow 5% in 2022. However, the inflation rate has become very high and will be a big factor in determining whether the fruits of this growth reach the masses.
- Corona Management— The world has reeled under wave after wave in the pandemic. The mishandling of Corona in most waves by the west and in India is stark. Pakistan was given no chance compared to these giants due to negligible resources, scant knowledge and deficient innovation.
But it has stood out. From the WHO to World Bank, Pakistan has been declared as a case study of how to save lives and livelihoods. The Prime Minister’s strategy of smart lockdown has been written and talked about in the whole world. This is the biggest achievement of Pakistan in decades which unfortunately the local media has not really highlighted the way the world has.
Championing Climate Change— With Climate Change a burning global issue, Pakistan that was nowhere a few years ago, has actually taken lead. From being asked to host the World Environment Day by the United Nations to British Prime minister Boris Johnson declaring that countries need to learn from Pakistan, the accolades do not stop. Saudi Arabia has entered into partnership with Pakistan on creating Green initiatives. Pakistan is making great progress on the regional and international level to develop a robust response to the climate change disasters.
Leading in Foreign Policy— Pakistan has made huge strides in restoring its regional and international status. Three years ago Pakistan was isolated with relationship with Iran, Bangladesh and Afghanistan almost acrimonious. India had steadily gained grounds in isolating Pakistan.
The prime minister’s bold call in exposing Hindutva policies of Modi and his inspiration from Hitler hit a cord. Pakistan has restored its relationship with neighbours and become a lead negotiator and partner with Central Asia. On Palestine the foreign minister literally forced United Nations to stop Israeli atrocities. Pakistan has also done what no Muslim country could do before and that is to unite OIC on Afghanistan. The Extraordinary Session of OIC held in Pakistan was a huge signal of the lead role Pakistan is again playing in geo-global politics after decades of being sidelined.
- Social Safety Nets— Scenes of millions on roads being stampeded or dying of hunger and starvation were expected when the first wave came. India became a reality of this apprehension. Horrible scenes of people running for home being walked over or dropping dead dominated the media. Pakistan again shone out.
The Ehsaas programme that gave the poor financial relief became the fourth best poverty alleviation programme in the world as rated by the World Bank. The introduction of Panahgahs, “koi bhooka na soye” programme has made it possible for the poorest of the poor to be fed and have shelter. The transparency of the programme was the hallmark of this project.
- Health Innovations- perhaps the greatest achievement of this government will be the universal health access programme. The health cards are doing what even Obama Care health programme failed to do. It is providing free health care facilities to the tune of a million rupees per household for indoor health issues.
The choice of hospitals include both public and private hospitals. This is a big innovation as this will ease the pain of health shocks in poor people. Other milestones include almost an elimination of polio as only one case of polio was reported this year. Hopefully, after decades Pakistan will be declared a polio free country next year.
Startups’ Phenomenal Rise— Amidst Covid the young entrepreneurs have risen and shone. Startups in Pakistan raised over 300 million dollars till 2021 which is higher than previous 6 years combined. From Airlift to Tazah technologies and from Tajir to Bazaar young people are all producing IT innovations that are attracting and engaging the investors all over. This unprecedented boom is not just a financial boost but represents the raw talent and potential of Pakistan. It has the potential to make Pakistan a hub of innovation, investment and youth leadership center.
Historical Legislation— PTI government passed 100 bills in its 3 years compared to PMLN government’s 69 bills. Not only was the legislation more despite COVID, the type of legislation was also historical. Bills on women like the Zainab Alert bill, Women Property Rights bill, Anti Rape bill, Senior citizen bill were all landmark achievements. Reforms like the electronic voting machine and overseas voting right bills that received huge opposition were also passed by a joint session of parliament.
Sporting revival-Though Pakistan did not fare well in Olympics the performance of its athletes drew a lot of attention to reforming the sports body. Many corporate giants are now willing to invest in these talented stars who need financial support. Perhaps the biggest sporting achievement was Pakistan cricket team’s performance in the T20 World Cup.
Beating India after 13 years in a World Cup and then performing so well thereafter lifted the spirits of the nation. Out of 26 T20 matches that Pakistan has played in 2021 it won a world record of 20 matches. To have almost half the team as match winners like Babar, Rizwan, Shaheen, Shadab and Hassan is a rare achievement.
The real winner in 2021 is not just the performance but the mindset of the leader. Yes, the inflation has over shadowed this performance but relief provided by Ehsaas Ration and Kissan Card, etc, will ease the spike of prices to give way to a more progressive, and prosperous 2022.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022