The Asian Development Bank’s Strategy 2020, which is its long-term strategic framework, has adopted inclusive economic growth as one of the strategic agendas to achieve its vision of an Asia and Pacific region free from poverty. Inclusive growth in ADB’s Strategy 2020 is about economic growth with equality of opportunity. High, efficient, and sustained growth; social inclusion to ensure equal access to opportunities; and social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable and deprived are the three critical policy pillars supported by good governance and institutions for an inclusive growth strategy that aims at high and sustained growth while ensuring that all members of the society benefit from growth. (Asian Development Bank. Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2011: Framework of Inclusive Growth Indicators, special supplement.)
Successive Pakistani governments have, either in their manifestos or in actual policymaking, always parroted the mantra of alleviation of poverty, breaking the proverbial begging bowl, announcing unsustainable social safety nets, and hyping various measures to reduce unemployment. It is so comical when government Ministers as well as an array of advisors and political hanger-ons, with scant knowledge about the dynamics of economics and global fiscal thinking, routinely start singing their rallying songs about the march to economic prosperity. What is agonizingly disconcerting is that the political leadership very casually lose track of their avowed destination and meander into another course. This, primarily, is because of half-baked ideas and projects as well as the sad fact that corrupt elements very convincingly hijack the desired vision and policies. The dependence on those who are not attuned to the positive thinking of the policymakers or intellectuals is a well-established root cause that has left high and dry many workable policies, initiatives and projects.
Every installation of a new government, whether through the yet to be fully developed democratic process or whether through the barrel of the gun, brings about some kindling hope that deliverance is just a matter of months away. Citizens wait with baited breath for resolution of their problems, even though the government in place is still wobbly and trying to find its bearings. Woody Guthrie once said that “Everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it”. Same is the case with Pakistan’s economy. After more than six decades, economy is in the oratory of the leaders but then why is it that things seldom work and the economy is dangling over a quagmire? Are the fundamentals soundly in place or is there this quaint sense of despondency that precludes attainment of objectives in letter and spirit.
There are clear cut aspects of this situation and these must be understood to structure an answer to the deficiencies and shortcomings. There are three basic reasons that have not been seriously addressed over the past many decades and these have manifested into a cheerless syndrome. The sad fact is that inspite of all serious or populist efforts and inspite of countless opportunities to provide quality in life, there is still an obvious environment of disconnect between those in the corridors of power and the general populace. Then there is this feeling of resignation among citizens that their lot will not improve and so they disregard or ignore to take advantage of whatever opportunities come their way and thus the much-needed impetus is missing. The other essential reason is that successive governments, prodded by people who exert influence, do not initiate or pursue measures to shield the citizens, especially the marginalized and disenfranchised, from the onslaught of inflation, either domestically generated or externally influenced, through sustainable, transparent, and egalitarian social safety nets. During the past decades, there have been some initiatives such as Benazir Income Support Program, Yellow Cab Scheme, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Youth Development Program, Sasti Roti Scheme, etc that were target-oriented, intended to yield immediate benefits, and ensuring some long-term developmental progress. However, while these projects managed to bring some change in the lives of the target groups, most of these projects fizzled out due to mismanagement, corruption, non-transparency, and lack of political goodwill.
The ideal combination of assuring, affording, and more significantly, sustaining the programs and initiatives should usher in dynamic developmental dimensions by reducing the vulnerabilities of marginalized citizens, effectively ensuring formidable government-people connectivity, and endeavoring to provide meaningful and beneficial opportunities for all. Notwithstanding this preferred idealism, it has to be understood that the colonial mindset is still rampant in nearly every tier of government and those who wield power and influence have ensured that a Raj like aura hovers over them. Good governance has generally been very nonchalantly sacrificed at the altar of the high and mighty. The Dalai Lama very rightly said that “since early age, I have thought that power in few people's hands is always dangerous." In today’s Pakistan, with citizens availing the opportunity to elect their democratic representatives from the union council level to Parliament, there should have been a paradigm shift in the lives of these denizens. It is still a pathetic scene in the Assemblies and Senate to hear the elected representatives carping and crying lack of physical and social infrastructure and employment opportunities for their constituents. This litany is morosely highlighted each time the Parliamentarians get a chance to speak.
Government schools are turned into stables or drawing rooms of those who wield power in the area, schools are either without furniture or teachers or in many cases minus both, and schools are churning out useless graduates who pass out with scant hopes of advancement. Government hospitals provide shoddy medicines usually procured through non-transparent means or through a tendering process that compels the institution to purchase from the cheapest supplier. Since many hospitals lack life-saving drugs, the family members of poor patients have to source these on their own or watch their loved ones suffer and die in agony. Hospitals have doctors who go on strikes, beat up patients and law-enforcers, and run their own private clinics while still on-duty and still on-call in the hospitals. Each passing day the shortages of electricity, gas, and water get worse and expensive while governmental agencies run out of funds to even fill up a pothole on a busy avenue. Justice is still blind, still delayed, and still a rarity.
There is certainly no comfort for the 190 million people when every global economic and social index depicts a downward trend for their nation. There is certainly no solution in sight to control and eliminate anti-people elements from roaming around brazenly and indulging in deadly criminal activities. There is certainly no rationalization for the juvenile attitude, display of insouciance, and ridiculous utterances of politicians on a daily basis. People-care is never on their agenda. It is always self-interest. This, then, is the time someone reminded Pakistan’s political and non-political leaders of the 1992 campaign slogan of President Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid”.