Volume 22 Issue 9, September 2018


One way of looking at the way Imran Khan and his associates would change the old Pakistan into something new -- naya, as they like to call it -- is to look down the road ahead, say, ten years from 2018. Speculating about the future is something economists do regularly. For several years, the World Bank, in its signature document, the World Development Report issued every year, used to have a section devoted to thinking about the future: where the world was likely to be five to ten years from the time the report was written. The Bank seldom got the future right and some of us in senior positions convinced the management of the institution to drop that exercise.

The IMF continues to indulge in this practice of medium-term forecasting in its World Economic Reports. It also forecasts the future of individual countries, building scenarios for them based on the likelihood of adoption of the policies it deemed appropriate for them to follow. When it analyzed the situation after what are called "Article Four" consultations, it forecast the future of the country it was reviewing. It does this when it reviews the progress -- or lack of it -- being made by the country in which it has a program under implementation. In this respect, economists stand apart from other social scientists: sociologists, political scientists, and historians among them who analyze the present and the past; they seldom care to worry about the future. In this work, I will adopt the economists' approach and speculate how Imran Khan may leave Pakistan once he has done his tenure as prime minister say, for ten years.

At this time in Pakistan's political life, the 2018 elections should help to answer a number of questions concerning the future. What would happen to the five-way division in the political spectrum? There are three mainstream parties, the PTI, the PML (N) and the PPP. These generally accept the system they are working in and use to gain power. Then there is a cluster of parties on the extreme right of the political spectrum who believe that the system needs to "Islamized" without defining what that implies. And finally, there are small parties that represent the narrow interests of the ethnic groups who they believe have not been well-served by the structure in place.

Would the elections solidify the divisions or bring about some mergers? To answer this question we must understand the enormous demographic change that has occurred in the country over the time it has existed as an independent state. Pakistan's society has been shaped by migrations, two into the country, one with the country, and the last from the country to the world outside. I have estimated elsewhere that some 35 percent of the country's population is descendant from the people who came into the country from the outside, first from India and then from Afghanistan. They have reshaped the Pakistani demographic landscape. And then there is large-scale migration from the countryside and small towns to large cities. The Population Census of 2017 got wrong the proportion of the population that is urban. Under political compulsions they have kept the proportion at 35 percent or so. I believe it is between 50 and 55 percent. Of Pakistan's 210 million people, 110 million live in urban areas. Of those in the urban areas, one third is in the megacities of Karachi and Lahore; another third is in the next six cities in size. About 45 percent are in the rural areas. The urban population is disproportionately male and young. This is Imran Khan's vote bank.

In a country where history has been so volatile, it is exceptionally difficult to think way into the future. But such as an exercise is helpful since if the view of the future, done responsibly and intelligently, helps to focus on the overall good that can be achieved. Such an approach identifies the areas where, in volatile societies, steps can be taken and measures adopted that would yield stability and certainty about the future. The move forward in the direct direction would require the adoption of appropriate public policy action and personal behaviour.

Strong men (and women -- think Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto) leave their mark on societies for the simple reason that they have the courage, will and power to bring about change. There can be no doubt that Imran Khan is such a leader. He has displayed the ability to lead not only on the field of cricket but also in the field of politics. Once he settles down, he should -- perhaps would -- focus his attention on three areas: steadying the economy, improving relations with the country's neighbours and stabilizing the political system. In addition to these three areas, he needs to give a great deal of attention to meeting the aspirations of the youth. By making the correct moves in these three areas, he should be able to deliver to the youth what they want from the Imran Khan government.

I have a few suggestions to make about the three areas. There is a lot of talk of going back to the International Monetary Fund to get some emergency capital provided to the economy. The financial difficulties Pakistan is said to face would justify such a move. Some of the writing on the subject is meant to discredit what the Chinese are trying to do in the country by way of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor investment program. It is said that the Chinese money associated with the CPEC is coming in at exorbitant rates and would cause the country to go bankrupt. My view is quite the opposite. The Imran Khan government should appoint a high-powered body to develop and implement the program. Properly done, it should be able to add 2 percentage points to the country's growth in ten years. The new government should also draw up a plan at improving the fiscal management system. Avoiding paying taxes should be treated as a serious crime. We already have a global income system of taxation which should be seriously implemented. If that were done the amount of capital fleeing the country would decline.
Once the CPEC network of roads and railways is in place, we should enter into agreements with the neighbouring countries to use it to transport their goods and commodities across the Pakistani territory to points beyond. This way Pakistan could become an important hub of road- and railway-based system of international commerce. The country would draw enormous benefit from following this approach.

Finally, the question of making the evolving political system stable. Imran Khan's rise to the top has been facilitated by the use of confrontational politics. This has worked for him but he should now develop an approach based on collaboration. Regular attendance in the National Assembly, the use of the Council of Common Interests and redeveloping the Planning Commission so that it begins to work to formulate policies and design projects. The pursuance of whims needs to be taken out of the system of policy-making as it would help enormously to set the country on the right footing. In sum, I believe that under Imran Khan's guidance the country is well-positioned to move forward and proceed in the right direction.

The writer is a professional economist who has served as a Vice President of the World Bank and as caretaker Finance Minister of Pakistan. He can be reached at sjburki@gmail.com
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