Compulsions and Concerns

Sep 17 - 23, 2001

The current argument over the end of nation state and the rise of regional economic blocs has triggered a debate over the very existence of nation state. A renowned Japanese strategist, Kenichi Ohmae has done a good job in initiating this provocative debate. Applying his analysis to Pakistan will not be too wishful as Pakistan is also among the nation states, which are rapidly changing their economic policies according to the global requirements. But for many this "end of nation state paradigm" would not be appealing as it negates the traditional dominance of government over the capital, corporations, consumers and communications in a particular state. Let's just apply the part of his thesis, which only recognizes the rise of regional engines of economy surpassing the legitimate boundaries of a state, and its implications on Pakistan.

Even a very novice learner of our country understands the diversity of Pakistani society in all regards. Keeping the various cultural, linguistic and religious differences in consideration, we have to see how our decision makers can accommodate the wider interests of a globalized economy. Acknowledging very minor issues of a "province" is one thing and broadening the horizons of national economy to reach out for regional benefits is another. Especially if one doesn't see a very promising position of economic well being of populace domestically. Nevertheless our premises of discussion are still realistic as we try to find the scope of Pakistan becoming a part of a regional economy and consequently a catalyst for global economy.

The significance of SAARC to Pakistan is like the relevance of an outmoded manufacturing plant to an industrialist. We as a member of this regional organization could not reap the fruits of economic success due to political conflicts among the members. India and Pakistan being the two significant members could have made a lot of improvement to the fate of South Asia had there been any bold attempt on the part of the two countries. With this scenario any hope of economic well being of the people of South Asia comes to an end. However within this dismal setting there emerges a genuine need to widen the parameters of South Asian economy. This, in reality is not to follow the "trends" but to recognize the very necessities of the people of this potential yet ill-fated region. Reviewing the contemporary strives of different states to accommodate the larger interests of regional prosperity; we must identify the need of enhancing regional cooperation. The EU and ASEAN are the models of such cohesion of geographical units for economic cooperation despite a number of political strains between the states.

What are Pakistan's considerations in this age of globalization for the economic development of the people? Are we ready to accommodate the impending issues concerning the regional development? Are we up to the challenge of placing our political tensions behind our economic concerns? How do we perceive the spread of information technology and its impact on our society? Is this information age threatening our social order? These questions are not mere questions. We have to take them objectively and squarely.

Seeing our performance in retrospect, we can observe few successes and countless failures. SAARC suffered predominantly due to apathy prevailing in both Pakistani and Indian mindset vis-a-vis regional cooperation. There is a long list of issues demanding immediate attention of the decision makers so as to eliminate poverty, cope with unemployment, reduce inflation rate, improve balance of payment and, eventually unfetter the nations from foreign debt. The question is not of demeaning national sovereignty in the name of economic betterment, the focus is to recognize the international pressures on the region both politically and economically in order to maintain its own distinct identity. In fact it is the sovereign status of the region that is at stake rather than the individual nations. The efforts to undermine its independent identity in the name of protection of environment, human rights, intellectual property rights etc should not be taken lightheartedly. This region possesses immense prospects in terms of economic collaboration if acknowledged promptly. The South Asians need not to search for any other platform to present or represent their aspirations of augmenting regional resources in the presence of SAARC. There is a dire need to take some drastic steps to liberalize the national economies and remove all the hurdles in the way of economic growth of the region within the framework of SAARC. In this regard, we already have SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA), which has to be used effectively. Furthermore, the intention of building a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) is also in offing.

We have tested one other regional forum for economic cooperation i.e. ECO which did not prove to be a very beneficial collaboration of the member states. Even after inclusion of Central Asian states in ECO we could not achieve the anticipated results. Needless is to reiterate the importance of strengthening durable economic ties with the South Asian members. With this line of action successfully undertaken, our broader goal of reaping the fruits of economic progress, within South Asia would be accomplished.

Focusing on Pakistan, our decision makers must now broaden their vision and should act boldly upon avoiding political confrontations, which, over a period of time have harmed our economic interests to an alarming extent. True, that national interests cannot be sacrificed for "mere economic prosperity" but this very "trifling" matter is driving the nations all over the globe to join their hands for socio-economic development of their regions. Besides, what is the true explanation of national interests? Most certainly our national interests have to be kept intact and there should be no compromise over the important policy principles, but there is a big difference between sacrificing the national interests and relaxing the strained circumstances. Today, we are bound to succumb to international pressures monetarily due to our poor economic performance and absence of a regional market. What is more irritating than this fact is that national interests are in opposition to people's interests? Our people are truly aggravated due to dreadful economic condition of the country. With an inflation rate of 7.8% and 34% of population living below poverty line, the economic scene is grimmer than ever in spite of the constant assurances of good governance by the present government.

The challenges abound. Not only the economic scene is demanding, the greater test at present is of social alienation threatening the fiber of the society. We can see a different class emerging within the rich-poor gap in our society. These are the people who are well informed, knowledgeable and acquainted with the newest of the ideas. Therefore, apart from economic disparities existing in our society, there exists another pattern of disproportion between the information-rich and information-poor. Thus, now the clash is not only between haves and have-nots. People are nowadays tremendously driven by the much up-to-the-minute information technology. Our society is fairly vulnerable in the manifest flow of information technology throughout the world. We cannot bound our people's mind or limit their likes and dislikes in today's high-tech world. The social glue is already losing its effectiveness breaching definite nature of old norms and unquestioned supremacy of certain traditions. The information technology has particularly influenced the youth. Today's youth is quite ambitious and focused. The sad fact is that his energies are not properly channelized due to the economic reasons. Subsequently, a process of brain-drain occurs and the country loses its precious human resource .

Our ruling elites must realize the urgency of having a greater framework for socio-economic development of the nation. This is not merely a suggestion; in fact it substantiates the need to salvage our crumbling social structure. The economic well being of common men is the determining factor for our development. This is an era of adherence to geo-economics rather than geo-politics. Ignoring political confrontations for pursuing economic strength will certainly be a healthy initiative on the part of our decision makers. Then, one can expect, there would not be any marked difference between "national interests" and "people's interests".