Wisdom in Troubled Times

These are troubled times, or so it seems. The dust over the Panamagate issue had hardly settled in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict, when Pakistan was assailed by the US President for being a safe-haven for terror-related outfits. This was followed by the NA-120 elections and the exodus of the entire former ruling clan to London, United Kingdom – their safe haven. Now we have news that NAB is looking for the Finance Minister with bailable arrest warrants in hand and that he too has left Pakistan. To further compound the situation, it has emerged that the CM Punjab is also on his way to London on September 23rd, with the Court’s decision to bring the investigation report on the Model Town tragedy within the public domain. Add to this list the rumours that others too have left Pakistan, and we see that the entire ruling elite of the PML-N has exited the scene. While praying for the speedy recovery of the former PM’s wife one hopes that this was the only reason for their departure.

During this time one of the premier banking institutions of the country was slapped with a heavy fine of US$600 Million plus and had to shut down its New York Branch over failing to address the regulatory issues over money laundering and compliance. The Bank had ample time to rectify the regulatory shortfalls, yet it failed and finally had to settle by paying US$229 Million and close the Branch. Surprisingly the Bank portrayed the reduced fine of US$229 Million as a big positive. Its brand image has suffered and Moody’s has downgraded its rating.

The NA-120 elections have highlighted some disturbing trends. There were the ‘independent’ candidates campaigning under the banner of newly minted hard right religious parties. And these candidates did manage to rake in votes and gain a foothold in mainstream politics. Hopefully the process, if it is sponsored, will be carefully overseen and regulated according to existing rules and regulations.

These are indeed troubled, unsettling, and potentially dangerous times, not just for the individuals under the hammer but more so for the State of Pakistan.

Amidst all this it was heartening to hear Prime Minister Abbasi, categorically stating in the United Nations General Assembly that Pakistan will not be a scapegoat in the Afghan war and nor will it fight the Afghan war on Pakistan’s soil. Well said, Mr. Prime Minister.  He also needs to be lauded for his adroit handling of the hard questions at his address to the Council on Foreign Relations and the media interaction session. It is also good that Pakistan now has a foreign minister and that he is active.

The media has failed to develop a meaningful debate and discussion over the rapidly evolving situation in Pakistan. Beyond the superficial debates characterized over mundane matters there has been no soul searching or solutions as to what ails Pakistan and what could be the possible remedies. A nuclear weapons state cannot and should not be seen to be in dire political straits. There is an urgent need to rise above Party interests and personal loyalties to address the issues that are causing political and consequently economic stability. Recent positive civil-military interaction and encouraging vibes from Afghanistan, and possibly the US, are signs that need to be followed up.

 All this at a time when Pakistan faces far serious challenges on multiple fronts, including an economy that is fast declining with rising deficit levels. In  recent write-ups  former policy makers have tried to present an analysis of the economic situation in the country, a situation of which they were very much a part till quite recently. They now think that the ‘direction and pace of economic winds point to a gathering storm’. This is the exact storm to which many an eminent economist in the country kept pointing while the former government was executing ill-founded policies and plans, the results of which we are reaping now. At that time the government’s policies were being vigorously defended.

The achievements of the government till 2016 are extolled and then there is reference to the ‘unprecedented surge in fiscal and current account deficits’, forgetting that these are the result of the ill-founded fiscal measures that the Finance Ministry adopted often with utter disregard of the long-term impact of such policies. It is great that they are now able to clearly see what ails the Pakistan economy, and it is unfortunate that they could not see these discernible trends at that time.

Perhaps if such ‘qualified’ people maintained an objective attitude and stuck to professional standards instead of appeasing their masters, Pakistan would not have been in the state that it is in now. It is very easy to sit outside and criticize. It demands a lot more to sit inside and be cognizant of what is right and wrong. There was ample evidence of where Pakistan was headed with the fiscal policies pursued from 2013 to 2017, and there were many qualified economists and managers who kept pointing out the fault lines, yet the government turned a blind eye. It is unfortunate that Pakistan is still floundering with governance structured around fawning followers lapping up to the ill-founded whims of their superiors.  This environment has to change and the sooner the better. There is hope that this will happen soon.

Yet, there are rays of hope amidst all this and there are men and women of high caliber and moral standing. There are institutions that are still functioning on professional footings and there are people who are trying to make a difference be it in the social, economic, security or business sectors of Pakistan. A mostly young population of 208 Million cannot be ignored, it needs to be harnessed and provided a direction. The Pakistan Business Council recently suggested improvements for jump-starting the economy and it is time that the government rises above petty partisan politics and addresses the real needs of the people. The Supreme Court has given direction by implementing and instituting the rule of law and the other state institutions now need to follow that lead and bring about the required reforms. Pakistan needs to find and take heed of the counsel of wise men in these troubled times. Pakistan has to stop waging a war with itself and follow up on the recent declarations to put its ‘house in order’.