Monday, April 27, 2015

Faith, Hope and $50 Billion

Majyd Aziz

Pakistan’s 200 million denizens, atleast nowadays, are convinced that they live in an unique country and, in their opinion, they are the Almighty’s Chosen Few. It is this conviction that has enabled the huge majority of citizens to bear the disparities in their livelihood, to sustain the impact of natural calamities, to tolerate the perennial shortages of water, power, gas and gasoline, to endure the deteriorating law and order situation, and to put up with the false promises made by politicians. 

At the same time, the nation’s exporters who trot the globe to market their excellent products and services have to, more often than not, stomach the negative image of their motherland. Even before they are able to make their sales pitch, they have to answer about Pakistan’s heavy load of international allegations. Even delegates attending exhibitions, conferences and forums in different countries have to patiently deal with these accusations and brickbats. Terrorism. Extremism. Sectarianism. Human Smuggling. Money Laundering. Narcotics. Environment.  Nuclear Proliferation.

On the diplomatic front, Pakistani officials debate in a manner that is, to say the least, not encouraging and definitely not inspirational. Politicians are still in a juvenile mode, and thanks to TV talk shows, the citizens get their daily dose of hilarity and oral wrestling. Lawyers and jurists have taken to streets or frequently boycott the courts. State-owned enterprises are in a race to hemorrhage scarce financial resources faster than the FBR tax collection. The defenders of the faith have involved themselves in acrimonious demagoguery, confrontational fanaticism, blatant bigotry and organized militancy. For the hapless members of trade and industry, the government officials have become their invisible partners who extract their flesh of blood in advance. It is a rare government employee or a politician who does not roll over with a derisive laughter whenever the term Good Governance is talked about.

What is the future of Pakistan and the way forward? This is an everyday topic of intensive debate between those who manifest optimism and those who are either compulsive doomsday theorists or are sitting in their cozy cubicles at various think-tanks around the world. If there is a Dr Strangelove in the guise of Ajit Duval across the Line of Control, then there is a Karzai mentality west side of the Durand Line. If there is a pseudo human rights activist in Lahore, then there is a misguided liberal fascist in Islamabad. If there is a Baloch separatist safely ensconced in the environs of London or Geneva, then there is a so-called socialist Sindhi nationalist hedonistically enjoying the pleasures of life financed through bullying landlords or traders. They regularly regurgitate venom against the country, against her traditions, and against her importance in the comity of nations. Sadly, they manage to generate detrimental media hype resulting in emboldening their stance against Pakistan.

Pakistan will be a failed state. Pakistan will default on its financial obligations. Pakistan will let the strategic national assets fall into the hands of terrorists and extremists. Balderdash. These scenarios are not going to happen because of the determination and resilience of two prime stakeholders in the country. The Armed Forces of Pakistan and the entrepreneurial spirit and exuberance of the industrial and commercial community of Pakistan. The rallying cry is “When no one can do it, Pakistan can.”

In this chaotic state of affairs, there is a comforting presence of sanity. This is emanating out of the citadels of the guardians of the borders, seas, and the skies. Pakistan is said to be the most geo-strategically situated nation on earth. But this status imposes an onerous burden on the nation’s defenders to deploy personnel in each and every area of the borders. Seldom has any country continuously faced such a sensitive and a tense situation of keeping armed forces on alert at the borders. The highly-touted Global War On Terror has catapulted Pakistan into a frontline state and the ensuing ramifications have created havoc on the fragile threads of the nation’s fabric. Knowingly, Pakistan also suffers enormously as a powerless victim of the proxy war between two large Middle Eastern countries representing the two major sects of Islam. From death of thousands of precious civilian and military lives, to billions spent on this war instead of development of civic facilities, to the creation of local and alien hardcore terrorists, and to the damaging dissemination of anti-Pakistan propaganda by forces inimical to the country’s sovereignty and influence, Pakistan survived, survives, and will survive. This is what makes this nation so great. Oh yes, Pakistan is a nuclear country too. Make no mistake about it.

Commerce and Industry are the precious jewels in any nation’s crown. The crown is not worth its value if these two jewels are not genuine but instead are ersatz replicas placed haphazardly on the crown. Commerce and industry has to flourish in order for the country to earn foreign exchange, have a strong presence in the global marketplace, provide huge opportunities for employment, and contribute to the social welfare of the citizens. Thus it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that commerce and industry are shielded from infrastructure shortages, protected from corrupt, conspiratorial and lethargic bureaucracy, safeguarded from criminals and extremists, and provided facilitation, whether in the financial, taxation, diplomatic, or political domains.

Notwithstanding all such deficiencies, shortages, blockades and other negative influences, the fact is that there is surely a way out. There are many less fortunate countries that are coping with difficult conditions and are managing to come out of their precarious position. There are many less fortunate countries that lack the entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen of the Pakistani businessmen. There are many less fortunate countries that envy the skills, talent and ingenuity of the Pakistani worker and professional. There are many less fortunate countries that are not endowed with a wide array of natural resources that Pakistan has.

The recent announcement emanating out of Chiniot in Punjab is that substantial resources of iron ore, copper, and even gold have been discovered. Massive reservoirs of coal in Thar still need to be extracted and turned into energy. Alternate renewable energy, wind or solar, has gigantic potential. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is showing spectacular results while military courts are being set up to decide the fate of hardened criminals. Politicians are gradually coming to terms with protection of democracy instead of exercising radical adventures. For the first time after a gap of five years, bank financing to the private sector has shown a positive figure. The privatization process is gradually gaining momentum. The local bourses are showing spectacular optimism and foreign portfolio investors are making a bee-line to mop up blue chip scripts. Inflation has been controlled while the deep dip in world oil prices has been a source of relief for the citizens as well as the government. Findings coming out of various studies highlight a bright economic future for the country.

Can Pakistan make it? IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc are cautiously giving a rosy prognosis. Relations with Afghanistan have made a U-turn after President Ashraf Ghani made a memorable visit to Islamabad. Iran and Saudi Arabia are in a race to be on favorable terms with Pakistan. Turkey has renewed her close fraternal ties too. Russia is making overtures to forget the past and instead wok with Pakistan. China is willing to open her coffers to encourage economic prosperity. India under Narendra Modi has, with obvious traditional reservation, sending out feel-good indications. Yes, Pakistan can make it.

Pakistan is once more in the center of the geo-political environment. The world knows that peace in South Asia, in fact even in Middle East, can never be a reality unless Pakistan is stable and prospering. This is the plus point. The world knows that the Pakistanis are resilient and have strong Islamic values. The world knows that Pakistan urgently needs financial outlays to make that paradigm shift towards a better, secure, and vibrant society. There is faith in Pakistan’s capabilities while Pakistanis have faith in their religion and their country. There is hope that Pakistan is the key player in the global arena while Pakistanis have profound hope about themselves and their country. There is global money to lend or aid while Pakistan is struggling with her financial resources. Hence, Pakistanis must sincerely heed the advice of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who said, “You will have to make up for the smallness of your size by your courage and selfless devotion to duty for it is not life that matters, but the courage, fortitude and determination you bring to it.” The message to the international community is that to make Pakistan zoom up on a fast track, all that Pakistan needs is Faith, Hope, and $ 50 billion.

(Exclusive for Special Supplement of 50 years of Business Recorder newspaper)

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