By Ali Raza Merchant
In the 60’s, Pakistan was an Asian Tiger which was more progressive than Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and India. Our textiles were the best in Asia and competing with highly industrialized nations. Karachi was such a modern city that expatriates working in Gulf countries came down on weekends to unwind and socialize. Some expatriates also had their families settled in Karachi, as Dubai and other UAE states did not have the desired standard of living.
In the 70’s, our education system was so impressive that we had a number of foreign students enrolled in Karachi University. With Lahore taking lead as the cultural capital, I’m sure many foreign students were also enrolled in leading institutions there too. We had a vibrant film industry and PTV dramas were a class of their own. Even politically, Pakistan had the right ingredients to build a strong foundation for a progressive ideological nation. Some of you who were born in the 90’s will be surprised to know that Pakistan was more progressive than India as we had open trade with other nations and had a lot more exposure.
Fast forward to 2017, go to any known brand store in North America and see where the goods are coming from and you will get a shock. In Canada, most of the textile goods that I see are made in Bangladesh or India. In the past 3 plus years that I have been here, this ratio is constantly increasing and it is very rare to see a ‘Made in Pakistan’ label on clothes. My heart bleeds to see this. Having been born, brought up and educated in Pakistan, I know the potential of Pakistanis. We are smart and emotionally intelligent individuals that is why there are so many successful Pakistanis in North America, Europe, Middle East and the Far East. Despite this, as a nation we have failed miserably to showcase our abilities and convert Pakistan into a progressive economy.
What Happened Here?
I feel it is important to trace the reasons for the current state of affairs and also look at the gaps that need to be filled, if Pakistani’s want to play in the major leagues. In my opinion, the worst time in Pakistan’s history, other than the fall of Dhaka was the 10 years of General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. This was the period when we took a nose dive to a politically, religiously, economically and culturally regressive nation. Under Zia’s rule, we not only saw guns and drugs resulting from the proxy war in Afghanistan, but we were also divided as a nation with different ethnic and regional backgrounds that led to violence. The sectarian and linguistic divide that was evident in this period only fueled more hate and dissension amongst each other. No wonder, we were so easy to be exploited as patriotism was at a low ebb and we still have to recover from that dark period of our history.
In the late 80’s and 90’s, we ended up in a deadlock between a weak political environment and strong armed forces that kept attacking the other under fear of losing power. This battle is still very much in play as we have a highly insecure political set up in place, which keeps getting frequent pressure doses from the Army to tow the line. Let me assure you that such a fragile power structure only brings more selfishness and immaturity in leadership. Our graph of corruption is continuously on the rise and we are yet to learn any lessons from our past.
What We Need to Do?
I was informed by some ex-colleagues in Pakistan that there are some new initiatives in businesses to infuse new ideas such as Careem which is an international business venture. Similarly TPL has launched local maps for all major cities etc. Coke Studio is another success story that holds our heads high in the international fraternity. These are all good efforts of trying to build concepts and businesses, yet not good enough to put Pakistan on the global map as a success story. The worst part is that we did not build on our strength in textiles and lost a great opportunity in being a leading value added textile county. When it was time to invest in textile education, we did not even have one university offering a degree program in textiles. We did not even offer an engineering degree in textile manufacturing, designing, dyeing or printing. How can a nation have a thriving industry with worldwide export and not have a plan for developing human resource for future needs?
To me, this is one of the main reasons for the poor economic performance of Pakistan. We have never had a clear vision of what would be our main income generating businesses. We have the advantage of being an English speaking work force, with a clear accent and high IQ yet we did not invest in building a service economy to generate enough business and human resource for call centers. There is still a large need for services globally and we continue to develop a national priority to build a conducive environment to capitalize on this opportunity. I am sure if we only put some intelligent people to work this out and implement the recommendations with honesty it can bring a positive change in the economy.
Another area that requires development is leadership. We lack a formal system and structure which develops leaders with vision to build businesses on new ideas. There needs to be a lot more initiative for providing financial support through venture capital that encourages the millennial generation towards entrepreneurship. Furthermore, leadership should also be formally taught and developed instead of letting everyone learn and evolve by making the same mistakes. With so many proven international programs available, it only requires affiliations to bring them over. It is no rocket science.
Why have we not developed a culture of accountability where every person is answerable for their actions? How can a nation progress without institutions that are independent yet held accountable to prove that their existence is warranted. What stops NAB, FIA, Police, CBR, National Assembly, Senate, Supreme Court, Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister to prove their progress twice a year? How many times have we seen that extremely poor performance has no lawful impact on the leader of a particular institution? This can only happen in a country where the people are also not interested in asking for their rights as citizens and there are no repercussions for not delivering on promises and commitments.
When such is the state of governance, how can we expect that businesses will display ethics and values of accountability? It is only natural that our businesses also use this as an opportunity to exploit customers, investors and financial institutions to their benefit. The worst part is that nobody gets punished for acts that are criminal, whether white collared or otherwise.
How can we stop this spiral of negative influence that has spread far and wide? This can only be improved through improving education and implementation of law. Both these aspects have to be done in tandem as legal accountability enforces changes in moral values of a society. Why is it that the same Pakistani drives carefully in Dubai or USA whereas they don’t give a hoot when violating a traffic signal back home? Simply because, they cannot bribe the police in countries where law is enforced. This is a shameful admission of the ground realities today.
I have been privileged to teach at the university level in Pakistan in addition to having many interactions with Pakistani youth. They are such bright people who deserve to be given an environment which is fair, unbiased and progressive. We can’t keep harping about CPEC and not do anything to create enough opportunities for employment and human capital development. Let me assure you that having an intelligent work force are a double edged sword and it back fires when the leadership cannot put them to productive use. Once you lose the idealism of the youth they turn to all kinds of negative roles that destroy the society in fragments.
There is still time; your role as a Pakistani needs you to stand up for your rights. If a large majority of people show a combined strength it can influence the most powerful of institutions and leaderships to come to their senses. Make the leaders accountable but remember accountability starts from self, family, community and eventually at a national level. Be willing to play your part and sacrifice.