All stakeholders agree that Pakistan is currently facing the greatest generational crisis in its history. What started as a political crisis has now metastasized into economic default egged on by a constitutional crisis. Meanwhile, most people are struggling to make ends meet.
Actors across the political class, executive branch, judiciary, and the establishment are focused on saving their own skin rather than addressing the country’s problems.
Those who were supposed to be the saviors of last resort are now part of the ugly fight. The situation has become one of hopelessness and despair, and Pakistan is becoming a laughing stock in the international community.
Many have drawn comparisons between the situation in Pakistan and the one in Sri Lanka or Lebanon. Pakistan is a large country that is weaponized to a large extent and cannot afford social unrest.
The madness must stop. Considering that all stakeholders from within the public sector have become politicized and non-neutral, it seems only one stakeholder is left that can help mediate the crisis: private sector business groups.
In a previous column, I had argued that there are two power hubs in Pakistan that historically had significant influence on policy making and shaping the country. One of them is unfortunately part of the ongoing fight, but the other needs to step up now more than ever. In any crisis marked with great uncertainty, the private sector has the most to lose.
Historically, business groups and bodies have focused on micro-level policies and interests that pertain to their respective businesses or industries, irrespective of the party in power. But the Titanic is sinking, and for business groups with financial interests vested in the country, there are no lifeboats other than a one-ticket to Greater Toronto Area.
The business community needs to demonstrate resolve and place pressure on all stakeholders to do what is needed to put an end to the mayhem.
All businesses, regardless of their partisan and ideological affiliations, should convince power players to work on ending the crisis. The only way out is to determine a date for free and fair elections through mutual consensus. Nothing else can save the country.
Historically, the establishment and the businesses have backed same sides during the time of political crisis, as commercial interests are aligned in the same direction.
Today, after the establishment finds itself backed into a corner, the business community must show unity and exhibit strength. Some businessmen may think that they have no influence, and that power hubs perceive them as rent-seekers who cannot have an impact. But together, they can form a formidable force to become mediators and help find a way forward.
The situation on the ground is dire. People are suffering from the worst round of inflation in history even as power players have completely failed to show sympathy for the misery of the public. The most dangerous development is that the judiciary has become controversial.
At their most basic level, business groups are driven by need to protect asset base. The way things are moving, it seems the majority is going to lose a substantial chunk. One by one, businesses are shutting down, and GDP is likely to shrink. It’s better to raise their voice than to keep on losing their business empires.
People are desperate and hungry with a sense of deep despair which is evident from stampedes taking place at distribution points for free or subsidized rations. Unemployment is growing, and resentment against the rich is building up. It’s the responsibility of the business community to look out both for their workforce and consumer base. After all, in today’s world, we need more than just politicians to solve our problems.
The business community should also work with their foreign partners to help instill some sanity. They should focus on collaborating with stakeholders to create a plan that will be mutually acceptable to all power players. Instead of seeking rent and lobbying for their own interests, they should prioritize structural reforms.
This includes paying their fair share of taxes, moving away from subsidies, and focusing on competitiveness. If the country prospers, businesses will grow, but if the country declines, so will the businesses. It has now turned into a matter of survival, even for the richest in the country.
In conclusion, time is running out, and business groups must act fast. The business community has a responsibility to ensure that democracy is upheld in the country. By working together and focusing on reforms that benefit everyone, we can create a better future for ourselves and our children. It’s time to step up and take action.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023