|Of Independence & Economic Stability
by WAJIHA JAWAID
"The future of Pakistan is really bright, only a sincere democratic leadership is the need of the hour that can pave the way to a thriving and prosperous Pakistan," says Aftab Ahmed Khan, former finance secretary of Pakistan.
Aftab Ahmed Khan joined civil services in 1949. He was the Deputy Commissioner Tharparkar, Sukkur, and also served as Economic Advisor in Kuwait for five years. He worked as Additional Chief Secretary Planning and Development Sindh and Additional Secretary and Chief Economist of Planning Commission. He held some important secretarial posts including Secretary Economic Affairs, Secretary Defence, Secretary Establishment and Secretary Statistics. Other than heading Asian and Pacific Development Centre, Kuala Lumpur, he also rendered his services for World Bank for two years. On Pakistan's 66th Independence Day, MAG had a conversation with him where he talked about current socio-economic conditions of Pakistan. Excerpts:
What are your memories of independence?
Other than joy and celebration it was also a bit disappointing for us because we were not given what had promised. The unfair partition of Punjab and Bengal had put the economical life of Pakistan in danger. Kashmir issue popped up soon after independence which is still a bone of contention between Pakistan and India. In fact, Nehru deliberately created problems for Pakistan and his only agenda was to destabilise Pakistan in its early days so that it could not survive and ultimately merge with them. But it was the dynamic leadership of Quaid-e-Azam and peoples' passion to survive that we came out of tough times with ease.
What does independence mean to you?
At present Muslims are the second largest religious community in India with around 14 percent population but their share in the government jobs is only 2 per cent. They have a limited representation in trade and industry and the survival of Muslim culture there is in jeopardy. On the flip side, in Pakistan Muslims have full liberty to practice their religious beliefs. Our cultural norms are safe and secure. Even the rights of minorities are fully protected here. It is all possible today because of independence which I consider a true blessing that has given us a chance to lead a life of our own choice.
It is believed that the economic stability of state is vital for true independence. Your comments!
There is a close relation between state sovereignty and economic independence. If the country is economically stable then it will never make any compromises on its sovereignty. Moreover no country can make a true progress with a weak economy. We can strengthen our current economic setup by bringing political stability, solving our internal issues and initiating welfare projects.
Since our independence we have been relying heavily on foreign aid, when will we able to survive on our own?
It is an undeniable fact that foreign aid always comes with some vested interests. After independence, Pakistan was facing several problems both internally and externally that provided foreigners a platform to play their game. Understanding Pakistan's geo-strategic significance United States offered economical and military aid to Pakistan and since then we have been relying on their grants and loans. Firstly they used us for the containment of communism in the region now they have some other interests. To survive on our own we have to make our economy stronger by institutionalising democracy in the country.
How can we develop patriotism among our compatriots?
We can develop patriotism by bringing economic stability in the country. At present the pace of our economic growth is very slow. We are divided on the ground of provincialism, some are raising slogans for separate Siraiki province others are demanding the division of Sindh and there are serious issues to be solved in FATA. With all this chaos it is impossible to develop patriotism among the citizens. If the economic condition of the state is stable, people have employment opportunities, the law and order situation of the country is satisfactory and then people will develop love for the state.
It is a tragedy that we give self interest a priority over the collective interest of the nation? What do you think?
To change this scenario, our leadership should have to step forward and set good examples for the nation. In India Nehru ruled the state for more than 17 years and laid the foundation of strong governmental setup. Unfortunately, our leader Quaid-e-Azam did not get enough time to lay the strong foundation of the country and died after one year of our independence. If he had gotten time then, the conditions would be different today.
What has been the role of our leaders during the past 65 years?
As I have mentioned earlier it was very unfortunate to lose the great leader at the early stage. The demise of Quaid-e-Azam was a great setback for Pakistan. Later, another sincere leader Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated and we were left with corrupt politicians that used the power for their own interests. I consider Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a dynamic leader. He was truly a nation favourite leader and had a good hold in the whole state. But unfortunately he took steps that went against him. At present every province has its own political figures and there is no prominent person who posseses the qualities of a true leader.
Are you satisfied with the present political setup of the country?
The feudal elite have a lot of say in our political system. Since independence personal loyalties and family connections have been influencing our political setup. But I believe that in the past few decades cracks have appeared in this rigid system and change is seen coming and now the middle class also has its representation in the parliament which is a good sign. As far as country's current political situation is concerned, election season is approaching and it is a time to wait and see who will get the power this time.
How can we control corruption?
High inflation rate is the root cause of corruption among government servants. Petty corruption in the form of bribery is prevalent in law enforcement, procurement and public services. In our country there is a vast difference between the inflation rate and the rate with which the salaries of a common man increases. To control corruption there should be supremacy of institutions not people. Fair elections should be held after every five years for the smooth transition of power.
Who is responsible for the anarchy and chaos present in our society?
Our history is responsible for it. Political turbulence and insecurity have dominated Pakistan, marked by frequent regime changes and unrest. Had there been a smooth political system this anarchy and chaos would not be here today.
What would have happened if we did not get independence?
Independence was inevitable because British had decided that they would leave subcontinent after June 1948. Partition would have been smoother if there was a fair demarcation of boundaries.
What are the real factors behind the poor economic growth of the country?
The poor policies of our leaders are certainly responsible for it. Our tax GDP ratio is very low as compared to other developing states. Currently it is only 9 percent whereas in India it is 14 per cent. People here do not pay taxes and have no confidence in the government. Our annual growth rate should be around 6 percent for true economic progress.
What are the benefits of developing good relationship with India?
Having good terms is in the mutual favour of both the countries. It will have favourable impacts on our trade regime as it is the best solution to the existing perennial problems festering on both sides of the border. Consumers will have more choices at lower prices whereas manufacturers will have access to cheaper raw materials. New job opportunities will be created leading a way to a prosper Pakistan. When the tension across the border lessens, the defence expenditure will automatically reduce and government can invest money in welfare projects.
What is your message on the 66th Independence Day of Pakistan?
On this Independence Day, we should make a vow to ourselves that we will work for the economic stability of the country and there should be minimum reliance on foreign aid. Sincere efforts should be made to eradicate corruption from the society. Fair and transparent election is necessary to strengthen the roots of democracy in the state.