Recently, we celebrated seventy-five years of Independence. Throughout the year, there were conferences, motivational speeches, recounting of stories of sacrifices made by the people at the time of partition, and promises to make the country great. Thus, there was a display of pomp and optimism by the government, but it was soon followed by the worst economic deprivation, hyperinflation, and breakdown of law and order in our seventy-five years of history. Now, instead of promises of a better future, sermons are delivered about living a monastic lifestyle and being content with the vagaries of life. To add insult to injury, religious edicts are invoked to buttress the sermons. However, all of this feels like déjà vu, at least to my generation and the generation before me, and serves as a premonition of even worse times to come.
In the late seventies, I was repeatedly inculcated - during my primary and secondary education - with the fact that Pakistan partly inherited (not made) one of the largest irrigation systems in the world, courtesy of our former colonial masters, who tamed the mighty rivers of Punjab through barrages and dams, and utilized these waters through a network of canals to irrigate lands in Punjab and Sindh, thus turning these regions into the breadbasket for the whole of the sub-continent. I learned ad nauseam that soon, using this irrigation system, an agricultural revolution would come to Pakistan, and no person would sleep hungry. However, seventy-five years of existence begs the question if we have improved, at any level, this inherited agricultural system. Further, cyclic shortages of wheat, sugar, and other edible items belie the agrarian country claims in educational curriculum and political discourse.
During Higher Secondary and Intermediate studies, I was informed that with new government policies, Pakistan is at the cusp of a technological revolution. In the late 1980s, foreign companies started manufacturing (actually importing and assembling) automobiles, followed by ‘manufacturing’ of consumer items such as televisions, air conditioners, fridges, and refrigerators. However, even in the year 2023, the quality and reliability of these manufactured items are such that foreign companies cannot export them to their own countries. Further, the recent import restrictions to curb account deficit and arrest dwindling dollar reserves have laid bare the shallowness of our industrial policy and manufacturing industry.
Moreover, over its seventy-five years of existence, Pakistan has amassed billions of dollars of debt, which were purportedly borrowed to improve the standard of living of ordinary citizens of Pakistan, improve local infrastructure, and provide better health and educational facilities. However, Pakistan has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world and is among the few countries in the world where malaria, tuberculosis, and polio are still prevalent. Thus, while a selected few have prospered, a Pakistan for all is still a dream for more than two hundred and thirty-one million ordinary citizens of Pakistan, and they are being repeatedly told that they should be ready to make more sacrifices for Pakistan.
Presently, there has been an increasing Chinese footprint, with keen interest in investing in the agriculture sector. We have been inundated with the news that new investment would help mechanize the agricultural sector and introduce new, more robust seeds for increased productivity. It has been reported that Pakistan has successfully produced six inches of chilies to be exported to China, which will help to earn valuable foreign exchange of a few million USDs, thus probably implying that the much-promised agricultural revolution is finally around the corner.
While countries like Vietnam and Malaysia made policies to industrialize and are now considered among the industrialized states of Asia, we are, after seventy-five years, in billions of dollars in debt, have a crumbling infrastructure and manufacturing base, and are trumpeting chili production. It is time to take cognizance of the impending disaster looming before us and make effective policies to reduce our non-development expenditure, give respite to the citizens, and take concrete steps for industrialization led by our local entrepreneurs and investors.