The other, better Pakistan
On Pakistan’s 73rd independence anniversary, it is easy—and tempting—to focus on the myriad problems facing the country. But it is not all gloom and doom—there are many pluses that continue to keep Pakistan poised for greatness if we look closely enough.
Pakistan is not the only country facing problems. A burgeoning population that recently boxed Pakistan among the top five globally with the most people is especially worrisome considering not just the resources required for their welfare but the challenges in managing their expectations.
Other key problems include an economic mess that has resulted in an economic contraction (negative growth rate) for the first time in over six decades, and the political chaos that keeps governance focus on abstract problems rather than ensuring inclusivity in a diverse and pluralist polity.
Beyond the problems that dominate the media is a Pakistan that unfortunately does not adequately capture the headlines. There is more to Pakistan than the headlines would have you believe and still plenty to cheer about if we choose to see the proverbial glass half full.
Yet others include social instability resulting from closing spaces for freedom of expression and access to information that is emasculating the lines of communications between the citizen and state; and rising regional security tensions that keep Pakistan’s relationships with its neighbors testy and fraught with uncertainties.
But beyond these problems that dominate the media is a Pakistan that unfortunately does not adequately capture the headlines. There is more to Pakistan than the headlines would have you believe and still plenty to cheer about if we choose to see the proverbial glass half full.
A youth bulge, for instance, that is slowly translating into a rise in productivity both in promise and gradually in practice. Over 60 per cent of Pakistanis are under 30 years of age. That is nearly 125 million people starting to unleash their creative and development potential.
Yes, traditional jobs such as government employment opportunities are now no longer a certainty, but therein lies the seeds of entrepreneurship that is becoming discernible in a range of modern customer-oriented businesses and service delivery industry all around. If managed right, over the next decade Pakistan could become a major entrepreneurship hub.
Then there is, now that a critical mass has manifested itself, a vibrant civil society that is leading a resurgence of social rights movements—from transgender rights (giving them identity cards that open up doors to resources and allowing them to be identified in non-binary genders, as well as special quotas in jobs and education) to women’s empowerment (record legislation at the federal and provincial levels translating their rights into legal frameworks) helping them expand their footprint in public spaces, for example in asserting themselves during the annual Women’s Day marches that have completely transformed the debate around gender inequality for the better; and better child protection at least in policy terms through banning of child domestic labor legal protections against sexual and psychological abuse.
These are all big steps forward on the march for a rights-based and citizen-centric state.
There is more to cheer about. Pakistan is an increasingly digital society that is helping bring efficiency to a broad range of socio-economic and governance spectrums—from digital businesses to electronic commerce and finance that is helping millions become self-made entrepreneurs, and from growing e-education and telemedicine.
Over 120 million are connected to the internet—two-thirds of them using 3G/4G. Prime Minister Imran Khan has the fifth highest followership of any politician on Twitter on the planet! Pakistan is more wired than ever and fully plugged into the promise and potential of a connected society.
While the debilitating—and totally unexpected—Covid-19 crisis has dented Pakistan’s socio-economic potential, it is not the end of the world. Six months after the pandemic erupted, Pakistan has been doing better than many countries in recovering from the deep stumble it effected and is on track to regain lost ground.
Even though much of it without the state’s help, the rise in upward mobility lifting millions out of uncertain personal futures before the pandemic, will be back to its pace and scale soon enough and is likely to surpass earlier levels.
The formidable challenges notwithstanding, Pakistan can leverage its many unhighlighted pluses to leapfrog over development and progress barriers. For this to happen, though, there needs to be a greater and conscious collaboration among civil society, political parties, and the media on changing sociopolitical narratives around achievement and development rather than sticking to abjectly defeatist public sound bites that promote fatalism. Pakistan can do better and must. Happy birthday Pakistan!
- Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science.