Perhaps, no reader will be surprised with the caption of this piece. This heading has acquired the status of a ‘title’ for our beloved country. We were in 1947 at the crossroad of history and today after 75 years of existence, we are still at crossroads. We, as a nation, have entrenched ourselves at the sign-post marked “crossroads”. We have taken a permanent residence at this station of our journey — life.
It is befitting to first understand the word ‘crossroads’. The simplest dictionary meaning is, ‘a road that crosses a main road or runs cross/country between main roads’. It is therefore an intersection — a cross way; a potential turning point.
Our great founder, not paralleled, again by ‘Destiny’, in an interview to the then very exclusive, famous, well known and popular US magazine called ‘LIFE’ had spelt out the challenges, for the new and nascent nation in July 1948. If the readers can access those challenges, they would not be surprised, but amused, for reasons that the challenges of today are almost the same.
It is not the nature of the challenge that would be a cause for the descent towards amusement but the collective stupidity of this now a nuclear-powered country that has done nothing except continually self-inflict wounds of despair upon its potential with all the attending benefits. All have mercilessly dented its spirit and dented its shape. Geographically too, in less than 25 years of independence, through political madness, we lost the Eastern wing of the country.
Crossroads represent both the positive and negative; an opportunity or a crisis. When an individual or a nation is at the crossroads of their existence, the feelings likely to develop are one of being either lost in wilderness of thought or of being immersed in the shifting quick sand of time.
Such scenario obviously unfolds uncertainties. It did so for us. To the emerging opportunities, there was and is tentativeness in response and to the crisis the urge was and is to bury the neck in the sand. The craving is to try something new; so we decide to abrogate the 1956 constitution (first one) and replace it with the 1962 — constitution (?) giving birth to a new political thought of ‘Basic Democracy’. This burning urge to try something new and adventurous resulted in replacing democracy with martial law; and giving preference to dealing dissent with force (the East Pakistan crisis) instead of negotiations.
At the crossroads, if a decision to move forward is to be taken, then a choice has to be made of the ‘direction’ to take or what road to head? Our attitudes determine if the crossroads represents a crisis or an opportunity. Need this scribe elaborate, what the crossroads has meant for us as a nation!
We, as a nation, are running and indeed running very fast and furiously, but do not know if it is the right direction. In the 1950s and the 1960s we were the rising star of South Asia, not because we were politically stable but for the fact that the Korean War and the rebuilding of Europe following the Great War provided opportunities for economic growth. Capital investments were made into various economic sectors by both the local and international investors, inclusive of individuals and institutions.
If we compare through a mere cursory reading of our political history, between 1951-1968 and relate to the period 1989-2023, the similarities of the crisis/conditions are remarkably identical and stark. Political instability has been the hallmark of our last 75 years. The musical chairs then and now are only different to the extent that the music now plays a tad little longer — but not long enough to provide stability.
The frequency of the change of governments in the 1950s following the intriguing assassination of Sahibzada Liaquat Ali Khan prompted Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian PM, to remark, as an answer to a question from a journalist, on why he (Nehru) doesn’t engage in dialogue with Pakistan over Kashmir. He allegedly retorted ‘every time I change my sherwaani (tunic), they (Pakistan) change their government, so to whom should I speak?’
At least the northern part of the subcontinent is homogenous in relation to general conditions but why is it that today India and Bangladesh are doing better than us? Simple. Leadership. Management of resources, particularly Human Resources is the cutting edge differentiating factor. The trajectory of development and growth is a direct consequence of political conditions. They have political stability that is backed with adequate economic policies, which besides being market oriented, are consistent.
We took a planeload of delegates, otherwise called freeloaders to the Climate Resilience Moot, sponsored by us at Geneva — for our current economic woes, we cannot just blame ‘nature’ (climate). Our economic disasters for the last 75 years are all man-made.
Who stopped us from building Kalabagh Dam or other dams? If we did not build proper banks to the rivers and their tributaries, whose fault is it? Misplaced thinking and non prioritisation of the urgent and immediate is the cornerstone of our policymaking. Any good done by one government is undone by the successive government.
For the last nine months in particular, politicians have upped their game of personal interest taking precedence over national interests. It is now more than ever before, that it is my way or the sky (high way) — there are only egos to deal with. There seems no possibility for any of them to show or demonstrate political maturity by adopting the middle road — of parleys and negotiations where the underlining objective has to be the pre- dominance has to be of ‘National Interest’. Unchallenged. Unalterable.
Recently, unfortunately most disgracefully to their invited chief guest, businessmen presented to the gracious Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan a box (calling it a gift!) containing keys purportedly of their business, indicating that these have been shut down. Pathetic behaviour. The decline in social standards of grace and etiquette is not restricted just to the world of our politics, but is now firmly rooted and deep seated in almost every walk of life. This is all the consequence of being at the crossroads!
Regardless of whether the government in Islamabad is an elected or ‘imported’ one, tough decisions to be taken now are an imperative to remain a ‘going concern’. Like an avalanche, the economy is reeling southwards. The foreign exchange reserves are at a deadly lowest level.
In a knee-jerk reaction to the demand for foreign currency, we blocked all imports without giving any consideration to the fact that by restricting raw material/imports, a lot of damage would be caused not merely to the major industries but also to the related peripheral industries.
The supply chain industry is now distressed; entrepreneurs are threatening shutdowns of their factories/businesses, which will lead to severe unemployment.
All stakeholders must join hands in arresting this massive economic decline through a national spirit, built on hope, by setting aside their petty political disputes.
The bureaucracy which is the bedrock of any country’s politico-economic and social policy must not give exception and latitude to politicians; they must recover their lost space. Our founder’s words of wisdom that the bureaucracy is a civil service (servants of the people) must be recalled. It is just the job of bureaucracy to harness diverse political forces towards a single objective of good of the nation. No bending to political forces by the bureaucracy and all other institutions is the need. Enough is enough, as is said.
Will someone rise to the occasion? If not the government, then people may — and that’s a threatening idea. The power of people cannot be tamed, subdued or over powered through force. Imran Khan, take your popularity to new levels of statesmanship by bending backwards to help this nation move forward. Negotiation and dialogue will bring around unanimity for economic growth and development.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023