October 2, 2010

Why do we become so poor under “democratic” governments?

The US has no option other than to bail us out. Because it
knows we'll screw it over if it didn't.
(Photo:  Changinguppakistan.wordpress.com)
It’s not a rhetorical question. Consider history; since the creation of Pakistan, we have only begged and then re-begged the IMF to ‘bail us out’ whenever there has been a period of democratic rule. The most consistent period of democratic rule in our history has been the decade of 90s so let’s use that as a focal point. Both the PPP and the PML – N governments failed miserably at managing the economy and by 1999, we were about to default and renege on international commitments.

So the natural question then is why are we so prosperous under dictatorships? Well for those of you, who do not believe in luck, just consider the following. Barring Ayub Khan, both Zia ul Haq’s period of rule and Pervez Musharraf’s period of rule came at a very opportune time for the country. In Zia ul Haq’s time, the US poured billions of dollars into the Pakistan economy because it had to wrestle the Soviet Union in the world’s favorite playground, Afghanistan. During Musharraf’s stint, the War on Terror was launched which effectively meant a constant stream of lucrative contracts, outright cash payment orgies, and money generation (basically the US’s own money) for Pakistan. In both instances, economic benefits were reaped by the masses. However, they were not so visible during Zia’s time, as they were during Musharraf’s. As far as Ayub Khan is concerned, he was the champion of the fabled ‘Green Revolution’, which was an economic boom in agriculture. However, even then a favorable foreign policy coupled with a graceful period in relations with the US meant plenty of aid found its way to Pakistan.

But there has to be more than just US money to our economic woes, right? Well yeah, there is. The fact is that when the army is in power, there is a marked difference in the way the economic future is demarcated. In Musharraf’s case, he was able to broaden the tax base of the country and ensured that a future growth plan was constantly revisited and reviewed. The same cannot be said about the democratic governments of Pakistan. Consider the current PPP government: Not only does it have no idea about the future of Pakistan’s economy, it also does not know what to do with the present state of economy. It does not know how to stop the economy from stagnating, or how to kick start it to put it back on track before the rot sets in; and apparently, it does not even care to care.

Compare this to the 9 years when Musharraf was in power and you will know what I mean. Another important factor is that during Musharraf’s reign, the common man could see a visible difference appearing in his daily routine. Inflation was getting everyday stuff dearer, but wages, benefits, bonuses and profits were also increasing in a proportionate way. There is no doubt in my mind that there was corruption in Musharraf’s time as well, but the fact remains that it was hidden, and nobody really cared back then about the corruption happening because everybody’s life was so much better. Compare that to today and you will see that there is visible corruption staring at us from everywhere we look, almost as if taunting us. It is tantamount to putting salt on our wounds; just consider the fact that the government has reportedly decided to spend Rs 3 billion on luxury suites for the Parliamentarians, yet Raja Pervez Ashraf has the guts to stand in front of a TV camera and proclaim that since we are a poor country, we cannot afford to fulfill the power grid capacity and requirement.

Now I know there are those who are going to cry out that the Musharraf government manufactured its own facts and figures, and that there was no real growth in the economy. The fact of the matter is that real economic growth occurs when you, yourself, can feel the growth's effects. We all felt those effects, including you. And besides that, the first finance secretary, and Shaukat Tarin himself have acknowledged the fact that the economy grew to a level that has never been seen before in Pakistan on TV, and to a letter to IMF asking for a 'bailout' respectively. So in essence, the PPP government agrees that the economy it inherited was in a fantastic shape, but that it's incompetency led to it's crash.

The kleptocratic nature of dogmatic ‘democratic’ regimes always leaves us with the begging bowl. Apparently, it is so much easier to beg the world rather than do something about it internally. What Musharraf, or Ayub Khan for that matter, did was to initiate broad ranging policy reforms which presented a fundamental shift from the way democratic governments think when they’re in power in this country.

What the aforementioned army generals did was to work towards a point where Pakistan could be self-dependent, self-reliant, and self-sufficient. And even if they did not work towards that goal, they certainly portrayed their intentions in the right light, and as most of us now know, image perception is all that matters in the world. Sadly, our democratic regimes have never displayed the zeal and zests required for such endeavors, or even pretend that they would like to see the economic prosperity of Pakistan. Just recall the statement given by Ishaq Dar, the first Finance Minister of this government when it took power; that the Pakistan economy was based on fake facts and figures. This one statement alone caused capital flight, frightened the investors, ensured prospective investors did not inject any money into our economy and lo and behold, we are witness to the results. Even if I were to believe his statement, what kind of diseased animal talks like that to the international press? He should be charged under Article 6 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for high treason, because his statement has almost led to the bankruptcy of Pakistan.

This article is not a justification of military takeovers, rather it is just an attempt on stating what is obvious; that we have not had the same level of economic prosperity that we can attain and maintain when the democratic governments are in power; that we always go down on bended knee in front of the IMF and World Bank whenever the PPP or the PML –N are in power; that they have never focused on education or healthcare like military regimes have. These are all facts. When Musharraf built the National Monument in Islamabad, it became a top notch tourist attraction. When this government builds the Benazir Monument, I know I for one will only curse this incompetent bunch of loafers ruling over us even more. I think most of us will. Try asking yourself why we would do that.