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TEXT: Since childhood we grew up listening about the assets we have been bestowed with. Fertile arable land and different climatic zones, rivers and streams fed by glacial water, great mountain ranges and coastlines, so on and so forth as if the nature was a little biased towards us. Not just the natural assets, expanding middle class and youth are powerful drivers of change.

We are a resilient nation who has proven to remain resilient in the face of natural disasters and extremist attacks. Pakistan is at its 76th and this occasion gives me an opportunity to think to myself that after all these years why didn’t we progress the way we should have.

We are one of the most populous countries of the world and the count is rapidly increasing. Also, around half of the population is younger than 25 years of age. Every year, a large number of youngsters enter the working age while what we observe is private and government sectors failing to provide opportunities equal to the demand.

Poverty, a constant foe, affects a substantial portion of our population. The vision of a free nation is to flourish while we see a situation otherwise where people are marred by bitter realities of economic disparities. We are deprived of basic necessities.

More than 241 million people, who call Pakistan their homeland, do not get equal opportunities. Women labour force participation in our country is barely 25 percent, which is well below the rates for countries with similar income levels. This I count as a one of the most important reasons behind why we are not matching with the pace of other developing countries in terms of growth.

This not a hidden fact that gender equality improves productivity and development outcomes while we continue to deteriorate in this domain as well. The formula is simple: a family of 4 with 2 working members is far better than the household with 1 working member and 6 dependents on him.

Lack of the required political stability has adversely affected long-term planning and sustainability that also created uncertainty for foreign and domestic investors both. The disease of corruption has reached an advanced stage. Hindering effectiveness of public services and misallocation of funds have eroded trust of public in institutions.

Terrorism perhaps is also one of the major obstacles to Pakistan’s progress. Our judicial system, which is supposed to be a pillar of fairness and justice, struggles to provide timely and equal access to citizens. Delay in justice along with apprehensions about impartiality lead to disillusionment and frustration among people.

Justice delayed is justice denied is a maxim that resonates profoundly in the context of our country and feels tailored-made for us.

Cultural heritage is a treasure that reflects artistic achievements, history and values.

Taking example of our neighboring country India which has successfully leveraged its heritage to create a global identity, which doesn’t hold true for us despite the fact that both the countries share an almost identical culture when it comes to artisans, artistic traditions, etc. Extensive diaspora has played a central role in promoting its culture creating a bridge between India and the world. Cultural diplomacy also takes credit.

Foreign brands flock to India as India has become an attractive destination for collaboration and business expansion offering a combination of cultural diversity, talent and market potential, creating a win-win situation for both. Lower production costs and craftsmanship make India an appealing destination that improves profit margins along with providing opportunities for Indian artisans.

Unfortunately, despite being ideally geographically located, we face a challenge of regional integration. We have limited trade alliances with our neighbors, one of the reasons being hostility. We are losing our market share; despite having the potential, we are failing to identify ourselves on the globe as we cannot brand ourselves.

Developing nations through their products, their demand and trade alliances are making themselves identifiable on the global map while we are losing the ground. Discussions are encouraging but now it’s the time to act.

First and foremost, we need to do better in terms of education. School enrollment is dropping with each passing year and the figures for girls dropping out of school are even more alarming. This is the weak foundation we are relying on for future.

A stable political environment is important for progress since it allows for the execution of the development policies and sound decisions.

We are a nation born out of fervor of independence and freedom. A country endowed with natural resources, rich cultural heritage and resilient population has not reached its full potential that the founders of this country envisioned at its inception.

Even after coming out of the captivity of colonial rule, we still find ourselves captive in multifaceted challenges that hamper our social, political and economic progress. After all, liberation is not just the action of setting someone free from imprisonment, slavery, oppression, or freedom from foreign rule; it's the act or fact of gaining full social or economic opportunities for all. On this occasion, the first thing to do is to think hard about whether or not we treasure or value our freedom in the true sense of the word.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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