The constitution of Pakistan is the answer to Pakistan’s economic malaise
Economic progress is inextricably linked with democracy and political stability in today’s Pakistan. It will struggle to achieve sustainable inclusive development without these two vital elements. Freedom of expression, assembly and thought are essential ingredients for the economy not only because they embody social and political progress, but the free exchange of ideas fosters heterogeneous communities that lead to innovation and creativity. Democratic processes provide the contestation of prevailing ideas and practices, as well as entrenched commercial ventures. The constant challenge forces existing institutions, industries, and the broader economy to improve efficiency. Failing to do so, they decline and are replaced by what is more relevant to the present needs of society. Only in such a dispensation does unceasing competition mitigate towards the efficient allocation of resources, opening avenues for different aspirations and the harnessing of the best talent.
Unfortunately, due to a dysfunctional democracy and prevailing political instability, Pakistan faces multiple economic and security crises today. The country is on the verge of bankruptcy and real incomes are being rapidly eroded by crushing high inflation. Letters of credit restrictions for importing raw materials is leading industries to cut back production and in many cases to the complete closure of factories, which, in turn, is increasing unemployment. The government neither has the will nor the popular mandate to undertake the necessary structural reforms to address the deep economic malaise.
Traditional power centers, largely responsible for the current state of affairs, seek a consensus that will negotiate the country out of the present quagmire through dialogue rather than holding free and fair elections. It reeks of desperation to maintain a failed status quo. The consensus that many seek already exists and needs no reinvention. It lies in the constitution that not only reflects the will of the people but also provides the code of conduct for governing the relationship between the state and its people. The constitution alone provides passage out of these turbulent waters.
The government neither has the will nor the popular mandate to undertake the necessary structural reforms to address Pakistan’s deep economic malaise.
Pakistan's constitution was adopted in 1973, and despite undergoing several amendments, remains the defining statement of the country's national identity. Though no humanly crafted script can claim perfection, it guarantees that the affairs of people shall not be conducted arbitrarily at the whims of the powerful or those that have executive authority, but rather by laws that are enacted by a democratic legislature and applied uniformly to all citizens. It outlines the principles of governance and commerce in the country. Representative government and the rule of law are made inviolable. All executive powers derive from the consent of the governed and the executive body is answerable to the people. The challenge remains in the implementation of these principles, where the democratic journey has been interrupted by unconstitutional interventions. That in turn has denied the political stability that is essential for economic progress.
Several countries have suffered from similar military interventions, but those that transitioned to becoming fully functioning democracies achieved sustained inclusive economic growth and social progress. South Korea, for example, was ruled by a series of authoritarian regimes, with frequent military coups and suppression of political opposition. Even when it grew economically, it failed to achieve the political stability that would promote transparency and accountability. However, after years of protests and political pressure, the government announced democratic reforms, including the adoption of a new constitution in 1987 and the holding of free and fair elections. These reforms paved the way for the establishment of a democratic system in South Korea, which has since become a vibrant democracy with a diverse political landscape and robust civil society.
Similar reforms were adopted in Indonesia and several Latin American countries, leading to the establishment of democratic systems and economic growth. After gaining independence in 1971, Bangladesh also had to undergo a period of autocratic rule and failed to take off economically. It was only in the 1990s when the country embraced democracy that it started experiencing economic growth. Today, Bangladesh is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with a GDP of USD 352 billion and a per capita GDP of USD 2400, as of 2021. In comparison, Pakistan’s performance has lagged with a GDP of $305 billion and a per capita GDP of USD 1500 in 2021.
Growing social and political movements, and pressure from international organizations, the United States and European countries have helped in the establishment of democracies across previously autocratic states. While it is not in their mandate, multilateral funding agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF should note that the deep structural reforms necessary for providing macroeconomic stability and sustainable growth can only be attained with political stability, which in turn, is only possible by ensuring that the constitution is inviolable. A vibrant democracy is a prerequisite for inclusive economic growth and social progress.
— Javed Hassan is an investment banker who has worked in London, Hong Kong, and Karachi. He tweets as @javedhassan.