Almost all of us, after experiencing the current crisis, agree with slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto when she said, “Pakistan is a victim of its own choices. Democracy is the only solution to Pakistan’s problems, but it needs to be stable and long lasting.”
Looking at the current situations, it seems that there are imminent dangers to the sovereignty of Pakistan due to transitory democracy and as usual, dictatorship. In a developing country like Pakistan decision making regarding its future is a paramount strategy to solve problems and delve deeper into a developmental phase. Unfortunately, Pakistan is a country having multiple stakeholders and interest groups. The vested interests being diverse and incongruous hamper positive socioeconomic development and ultimately plague the prosperity of the nation, especially the destitute citizens. This article discusses the current socioeconomic and political crisis of Pakistan (with causes), analyses events from the past, and draws a conclusion with some recommendations for the future.
Current socioeconomic and political crisis
Pakistan is facing a serious socioeconomic and political crises nowadays. These crises are both the results of poor economic policies and petty politics. The current tensions in Pakistan are deeply rooted in the ongoing political instability that hinders good governance and rule of law. At the same time, poor economic strategies have also put Pakistan’s stability at risk. Pakistan is now facing an unprecedented poverty rates, inflation rates, unemployment rates, and more importantly educational and healthcare challenges.
The International Labor Organization has estimated that the number of unemployed people in Pakistan will reach 5.6 million by the end of this year, which is in line with the unemployment rate of 8.3 percent estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Furthermore, food insecurity, lack of resources and rising debts directly correlate to the increasing mental health issues among people in Pakistan. In the midst of the ongoing protests across Pakistan against inflated electricity bills, a man committed suicide after failing to pay a Rs40,000 electricity bill.3 Moreover, to make ends meet, people are immigrating to other countries by formal and informal means leading to a massive brain drain in the country. Over 800,000 Pakistani citizens left the country in 2022 in search of better job opportunities abroad.
Thus, it is crucial to understand the far-reaching societal implications of soaring unemployment due to ongoing financial stress. Apart from poverty, wealth concentration is another major socioeconomic issue that Pakistan is confronted with. Pakistan has struggled with wealth disparity for a long time, which is characterized by a disproportionately small fraction of the population holding a significant portion of the country’s wealth.
As a matter of fact, according to a report by Oxfam, the top one percent of the population is wealthier than the bottom 70 percent, highlighting the size of the wealth disparity and its grave implications for the development of the nation’s economy and social structure.
As reported by the World Bank, 10 percent of the wealthy households in Pakistan hold 42 percent of the nation’s income in contrast with 50 percent of poor households collectively having 13 percent of wealth which shows a stark difference between the classes.
One of the contributing factors to these disturbing statistics is the economic crisis due to the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few people and their self centered approach leading to such a crisis. This startling disparity in wealth and income distribution fuels a cycle of poverty that gets more and more difficult to break, frequently resulting in higher crime rates and social unrest across the nation.
Apart from poverty, wealth issues, and educational crises, Pakistan is facing different security threats from Tehreek-e-Talban (TTP).
Recently, TTP attacked the northern border of Pakistan in the district of Lower Chitral. This attack has affected the peace in particular areas and has augmented serious tensions and apprehensions among the localities. In addition to this, ethnic war has also started all over Pakistan whereby people demand separate states based on ethnicity. For example, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan are continuously raising this demand of separation. Moreover, people are fighting with each other for their party leaders making the ongoing situation more chronic.
More importantly, our country is under the huge debts which hinder implementation of national policies as per the free will of the state. This dependency badly affects everything in the country. In short, these recent political turmoil makes implementation of productive economic reforms even more elusive.
Unearthing past similar event with successful coping techniques
Pakistan has seen twenty-four governments in the past sixty-five years, including: fifteen elected or appointed prime ministers, five interim governments and thirty-three years of military rule under four different leaders. Liberal economic model and socialist economic models have been experienced. By and large the liberal capitalist model survived successfully in Pakistan. Eventually, Pakistan’s history is filled with governance failures:
The 1990s proved to be a lost decade for Pakistan. Growth in per capita income dropped to slightly over 1 percent. Poverty resurfaced and about one third of the population came under the poverty line of $1 per day.
Social indicators appeared worse than most of other countries of the south Asian region. The country was turned into one of the heavily indebted countries and was declared as one of the most corrupt countries in 1996. The decade of 1990s once again proved incapacity of the democratic government. Civilian rules in 1990s promoted the politics of hatred and nation once again plunged into provincial and ethnic conflicts. The successive governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif failed to improve the political stability in the country and deteriorating economic conditions in the country. These governments had parochial and vested interests and they hardly put serious thought to the economic uplifting in the country. Throughout 1990s democracy failed due to increased intervention of agencies mainly because of incompetence of the so-called political leadership of the country.
Family owned political parties did not meet the criterion to be a political party. Their economic management was interrupted by the family’s influence and Pakistan earned a bad reputation in the world.
In a nutshell, Pakistan witnessed a series of political conflicts and transitions in the 1990s, marked by frequent changes in government, power struggles between political parties, and economic instability. This period saw the dismissal of governments, corruption allegations, and economic crises. The political instability of the 1990s ended up with swift coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. He took some economic related initiatives keeping political tensions normal. Although there were some serious challenges, Pervez focused on political stability and economic development inside the country with strict rules of accountability. This helped in redirecting Pakistan on the path of development and progress to a great extent.
Whenever there is an economic crisis in a country it leads to accelerating poverty and inequality in the country, due to poor economic growth and lack of employment opportunities. The current economic downturn is pushing an unprecedented number of people below the poverty line, due to the ever increasing cost of living over the years. It is estimated 100 million people from the lower middle-income class were pushed below the poverty line that in the previous year due to political turmoil and economic uncertainty. .
This will further lead to a decline in human development across the country in the days ahead. This shows how, at the current time, the authorities’ narrow vision and poor understanding of development indicators. Thus, it is crucial to design strategies considering the social implications of the ongoing economic uncertainty. To uproot these ongoing issues, there must be stable politics and impactful economic strategies in the future.
Pakistan’s future is still under the shadow of corruption, bad governance and misdirected socioeconomic policies. It seems that the inflation rate, economic instability, and political tensions may persist in the longer run. The losing parties may start targeting the establishment and hamper positive initiatives after the elections till they are able topple the government once again. This selfish politics will plague Pakistan until and unless there is a strong government with ultimate power and decision making capability.