Opinion: What keeps Pakistan afloat?


WEB DESK: Pakistan is a dysfunctional country. It lurches from crisis to crisis. The fear in the international community is that Pakistan will implode with resultant consequences.

Nobody wants Pakistan to implode, not even India. We now have enough empirical evidence that the civilian government structure in Pakistan is not adequate for modern management. So what essential elements keep Pakistan afloat? Precisely the following:

The military The Pakistan army has been a major player since 1947, either overt or covert; sometimes they have overreached. But the overall consequences of the military presence have been to ensure the shaky stability and survivability of Pakistan. In itself, the Pakistan army is a credible institution. It is only when they overreach and meddle when problems arise. At the junior level the Pakistan army boasts some of the best fighting forces in the world. The Pakistan jawan is invincible.

The NCO Corp. Is good. Young officers up to the level of colonel are disciplined and efficient. We have repeatedly witnessed that when there is a crisis, the army needs to be called in, whether it be to fight terrorism, stabilise Karachi, manage earthquakes, floods etc. There is a fallacy that the Pak military consumes too many resources. This is not correct. The Pakistan military budget is smaller in percentage terms compared to others. In 2015 the US military spending was USD 645 billion, China USD 102 billion, Russia USD 60 billion India USD 38.5 billion, and Israel USD 19.4 billion. Pakistan military is definitely not overmanned. It only has 642,000 personnel under its flag. China has 2.8 million (regular and reserves), The US has 2.3 million (regular and reserves), India has 2.4 million (regular and reserves), North Korea has 2.5 million (regular and reserves). The omnipresence of the Pak military is a reality recognised by our international friends like the USA and China. They are aware that no project or initiative can make headway in Pakistan unless it has the blessing of the Pakistan military. I for one, sleep soundly knowing that the strategic safety of Pakistan is ultimately in the hands of the military. I do not trust the politicians.

Agriculture The second saving grace for Pakistan is that it has a large agricultural base. It can feed itself with an exportable surplus. If Pakistan was a non agricultural economy, like Japan, it would have perished years ago. The irrigation system that the British left us has been a great boon for Pakistan. The annual agricultural output of Pakistan in 2015 was USD 43 billion. That of China was USD 735 billion. India’s was USD 306 billion. In the same period Pakistan produced 24.2 million tonnes of wheat.

In the sugar stakes Pakistan produced 4.7 million tonnes of sugar (Brazil 37 million tonnes, India 27 million tonnes, China 11 million tonnes). In cotton the crop is showing a declining trend. Last year Pakistan produced 2.294 million tonnes of cotton (china 7.4 million tonnes, India 6 million tonnes). These are good numbers for Pakistan. However a word of caution – the policymakers of Pakistan, are neglecting the agricultural sector. More needs to be done; otherwise the agricultural sector will become weak and anaemic.

Overseas remittances Pakistan has paltry forex reserves. Exports are only USD 24 billion. I was in Vietnam in October 2015 and was surprised to learn that their exports were USD 165 billion. Pakistan’s forex reserves are due to the remittances of overseas Pakistanis. Last year they remitted USD 12.268 billion. Add another USD 2 billion through informal channels. Overseas remittances are a phenomena that play a major economic role in many countries. In 2015 the remittances to

India were USD 63 billion, China USD 61.3 billion, Mexico USD 23.5 billion, Philippines USD 23 billion, Egypt 14.3 billion, and Bangladesh 12 billion. The non-resident Indian (NRI) is a strategic asset for India. Apart from channelling money, the NRI are in very influential positions as doctors, scientists, corporate chiefs, academia, etc. For Pakistan, not so. However it must be recognised that the USD 14 billion that is remitted to Pakistan each year, keeps the economy afloat. The above triad keeps Pakistan afloat. If any one of these elements were to malfunction, it would threaten the very existence of Pakistan.

(The writer is the former Executive Director of the Management Association of Pakistan)

Source: Business Recorder