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Scorecard at seventy

In a few weeks, Pakistan will turn threescore years and ten or 70 years old. How has it fared over the years? Has the balance sheet been evenly spread  or it is tilting downwards? We have managed to get it right in six areas and have failed in six others.

Let us proceed chronologically. The Indus Waters Treaty 1960 that guaranteed the supply of water in the three western rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab – can be viewed as a success. However, it is only a marginal one as this was not the best deal that we could have struck. We have seen countries like Israel often denying waters to lower riparians. Eugene Black, a former president of the World Bank, is reported to have told former president Ayub Khan, that the treaty was the best arrangement that Pakistan could get under the circumstances. If it wanted more water, Pakistan would need to go to war with India, win it and subsequently demand access to water. If we have not followed up to secure more reservoirs, it is entirely our fault.

The second success that I wished to include was the consensual constitution agreed to in 1973. But I did not. Pakistan has regretfully lived without a constitution before and after 1973. In any case, the nation is not too enamoured of a constitution that is largely irrelevant for the poor and marginalised sections of society. The needs of the majority have been ignored. Therefore, I decided to replace it with the successful nuclear deterrence that the country developed through the dedicated efforts of its scientists and all those who exercised power for close to half a century in different spheres.

Surprisingly, due recognition has not been provided to the third success – the Water Apportionment Accord among the provinces 1991 – even though it is arguably one of the most phenomenal developments. It is difficult to forget the rancour that existed among the provinces before this settlement was reached. A visionary leadership resolved the incipient water crisis and paved the way for water-sector project development. This settlement now needs to be incorporated within the constitution, even if the latter’s text does not give effect to its obligations.

The fourth success involves establishing the writ of the state. In many respects, the early summer of 2009 was akin to the autumn in East Pakistan during 1971. The state was crumbling. However, the sacrifice of the uniformed forces made the difference. Faith in the country was also rekindled when a million people who were displaced from Swat found shelter in the adjoining districts.

The people of Mardan, Charsadda and Swabi should be awarded the Hilal-e-Istiqlal – much like the Sargodhians were after the 1965 war with India. Thousands of poor people in these districts shared their resources and belongings with their displaced guests – even a small juice packet or a guava. The spirit reminded us of the empathy shown by Pakistanis with the victims of the earthquake in 2005.

The next ray of hope came in 2015 with the CPEC projects. This investment appears propitious. The high-speed Karachi-Peshawar Railway Line, the motorways along the length of the country and hydel power projects augur well for the future. Diamer-Bhasha, Dasu and Munda-Mohmand water-sector projects are likely to be ‘game-changers’ – cliché or no cliché. Let’s not forget the need for a railway line on the right bank of Indus from Peshawar to Gwadar.

Lastly, the efforts made by our farmers and labourers to ensure the country’s self-sufficiency in the provision of food and maintain a steady flow of abundant foreign exchange are particularly impressive. The green revolution should have been followed by the white (milk) and, of course, horticulture and literacy revolutions. Admittedly, food security eludes many and one-third of our food supply is lost owing to poor governance. We should, however, spare a thought for the Pakistani farmers and labourers who are always on the receiving end of the patwari, thanedar and various leeches.

As for our failures – in terms of severity, if not chronology – the secession of East Pakistan after 24 years of Partition has been the most grievous loss ever. Today, it does not matter whether the main cause was structural or individual. There were ways to avoid the humiliation and the memory is disturbing. The old country was substituted by the ‘new Pakistan’. No one bothered to understand how new or how different this new country was.

The artificial creation of One Unit Scheme in 1956 – a political ploy to offset East Pakistan’s majority by amalgamating the four provinces into West Pakistan against their wishes – was a daft move. It caused unnecessary administrative chaos and political alienation. Fortunately, this is now a closed and past transaction.

The third misstep – which was arguably one of the most cardinal sins – was to initiate the war in 1965 with India. The war adversely affected us despite the valour of our pilots, troops and young officers. The economic take-off was aborted, investment potential was ceased and the gate was opened for East Pakistan to separate. The Kargil War in 1999 was another disaster. Two generals – one of whom imagined he was a field marshal – were responsible for this. Ours were raw when it came to war.

The fourth failure has been the absence of good governance since Partition. In theory, effective governance is easily accomplished. All it requires is inclusive political will, administrative determination and effective accountability. This has been largely lacking over the years. The insecurity of life, liberty and property and the poor dispensation of justice right from the thana, tehsil and kachery is the cause for real despair. Even now, the high courts seldom deliver. And when they do, it is at glacial speed.

The fifth failure is the limited focus on the development of human resources. This remains baffling as everyone knows that focusing on this area will steer progress in all fields. The poor literacy rate, an inadequate health cover, the low priority for family planning activities and the inability to provide drinking water and sanitation services is not understood. In addition to this, scientific, technical and vocational education has been neglected while the focus remains on general universities. Every KP district has what is called a ‘university’ churning out half-baked degree-holders whom no one wants to employ. This is the sad reality. Similarly, the failure to protect our environment and not adhere to scientific land use planning is also not understood. The future is surely going to punish us all.

And the final failure – for which there is no excuse – is our inability to sufficiently exploit the country’s water, power and minerals resources. The fault for not building the Kalabagh, Diamer-Bhasha, Shyok, Akhori and Munda-Mohmand dams lies solely on us and not with our stars. Each of these projects would have contributed billions of rupees worth of water, power and employment assets to the economy annually. With the multiplier added, this could be three times as much. Lately, there has also been progress on some water sector projects.

So what does our scorecard look like? We know that many countries have achieved twice as much as we have in nearly half the time. Does this mean that we have lost the first match by an innings? Keep your fingers crossed as there is hope on the horizon. The next 70 years already look auspicious in many ways. The worst is behind us. Let us pray that the ‘sins of our fathers’, as the saying goes, are not perpetuated. Pakistan Zindabad shouldn’t just remain a throaty slogan.

Durrani, Shakil. Scorecard at seventy. The News, July 12, 2017.

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