Jan 11, 2010

Ways to fight debt trap

We need to focus on agro-based industry to maximise the output of this sector in order to improve our economic indicators

Dr. Farid A Malik

Military power alone cannot guarantee independence of a nation if its vital economic interests have been compromised. It is the economic strangulation that has crippled our freedom as a nation. How did we get into this debt trap? Pakistan had no external borrowing till 1958. As a nation we lived within our means and corruption was contained. In the words of Wali Khan, political leadership was by and large clean. Corrupt practices were an exception, not the norm.

In the case of Pakistan, dictatorship and debt are closely linked. With the imposition of first martial law in 1958 the flood gates of economic strangulation were opened as economic management was handed over to the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Traitors and agents were inducted into important cabinet positions. Instead of self-reliance and basic industrialisation the focus was on dependence and imports.

Finally, when Ayub Khan was driven out of power the external debt stood around US$10.0 billion. Yahya Khan's misadventure in East Pakistan caused the economic order to collapse and resulted in the disintegration of Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's elected government focused on basic industrialisation and self-reliance. The entire defense production establishment around Islamabad and the Steel Mills in Karachi were built in this period.

In order to strengthen people's power, the 1973 Constitution was unanimously approved and implemented. The period from 1973 to 1975 saw the rise of democracy and the strengthening of democratic institutions.

Today, the external debt of Pakistan stands close to $40.0 billion. The Afghan wars (in the 1980s and now) have been the major factor for this escalation. By conservative estimates, the total cost of these misadventures has been $50.0 billion. Even if the other factors are not considered the war is deepening the economic strangulation of the country and calls for immediate re-assessment of approach as we are losing on all fronts external, internal, financial, and strategic.

It is in the national interest to have the entire external debt written-off before firing the next bullet as we just cannot afford to continue on this path of confrontation. We must insulate from the Afghan war and consolidate internal security by deploying our armed forces for the defence of the motherland and its strategic assets. We must regain our sovereignty bartered by the successive dictators.

Economic strangulation will eventually weaken the defence forces and render them in-effective. Sovereignty has to be regained and retained at all costs for long-term national interests. We have to find a way out of this mess. As a nation, we may have to face hardships in the interim period but it will ensure long-term sustainability as an independent nation governed by constitutional rule of law.

The entire world is facing shortage of food and fuel. We have been growing food for centuries. Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and has the capacity to sustain our economy. We need to focus on agro-based industry to maximise the output of this sector. After exploiting and manipulating the world oil business the next target is food. Countries that rely on imported staples will be in a difficult situation. Multinationals are now on a land-grabbing mission in third world countries to push the world towards hunger.

Pakistan is blessed with fuel. The Thar Coal deposit in Sindh is the single largest field in the world with estimated reserves of 180 billion tons. If properly exploited, the country can very well become self-sufficient in fuel. The coal can be converted into gas and diesel through established technologies. The challenge is in using these huge natural resources.

In the past, the unnecessary interference of the army in civilian matters has derailed democracy and damaged institutions. Pakistan needs a well-trained military outfit but it must be contained and subservient to the constitution and rule of law. No one will be allowed to derail the democratic process. The civil society and the media will not allow any khaki adventurism as was done in 1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999, which eventually caused economic strangulation.

Democratic leadership is the missing link in our fight for gaining sovereignty. Nations have to sacrifice for their freedom. The founding fathers till 1958 defended the sovereignty and integrity with their blood. Liaquat Ali Khan lost his life. Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy was found dead in his hotel room in Beirut. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sent to the gallows and in the first decade of the 21st century his daughter was eliminated at the same spot where the first Prime Minister of Pakistan was assassinated.

The stakes are high and the future of the country is at stake. Afghanistan is the graveyard of once established empires. The third world countries seem to have no chance to survive in this battleground. Let the bigger players grapple for supremacy while we watch and consolidates out interests. Our borders with Afghanistan should be fenced and mines laid, making it difficult for intruders of various nationalities to enter our homeland.

The short-term economic difficulties can be overcome but firing our bullets for the so-called friend will only take us deeper and deeper into the problems. The interests of Pakistan must come first and should be fully protected by our armed forces. Let us put an end to this economic strangulation and regain our freedom and status as Pakistan.

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