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At the edge of the precipice
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Express Tribune
Dated: Sunday, 17 October 2010

Pakistan is in the midst of a multi-faceted crisis of economy, polity and the state. The government faces financial bankruptcy, yet it needs about 25 billion dollars for the post flood reconstruction. With a negative per capita income growth rate and food inflation rate at a historic high, poverty and unemployment are rising rapidly, while critical shortages of electricity, gas and irrigation water constrain an economic upturn.

The economic crisis has occurred in a political context where resurgent Baluch nationalism, persistent Taliban terrorism and incipient anarchy are placing severe stresses on state and society.
The democratic government which is supposed to address these formidable challenges is facing corruption charges and its governance capability is being questioned. It is not surprising then that the shadow of ‘the man on horseback’ has once again begun to fall on the fair face of our battered land.

Precisely because of the grave crisis, democracy for all its faults, is still the only hope of building a better future. The collective national effort that is now required to pull the country out of the crisis can only be done through a legitimate government. At the same time only a democratic federal structure can express and give balance to provincial aspirations. Finally only a functioning democracy can hope to attract the massive inflow of foreign aid that is necessary to prevent economic collapse.

So what is to be done? The government must put the democratic house in order: (1) It must reduce the size of the present unwieldy cabinet and drastically reduce its operating expenses. (2) A strong financial management system must be put into place to prevent leakages of donor funds. (3) Stop the hemorrhaging of the fiscal system by restructuring and privatizing the state owned enterprises that are generating annual losses of Rs.300 billion. (4) Undertake power sector reforms to end the energy logjam. (5) Undertake changes in the institutional structure of both governance and the economy whereby all of the citizens rather than a small elite have the opportunity to participate in the process of governance and growth. (6) Unite, not divide the democratic forces by respecting the verdicts of the judiciary.

Pakistan is at the edge of the precipice. Pulling back requires the government to undertake these tasks by putting public interest above private gain. Equally the military must know that its best interest lies in preserving the Constitutional order. They have no future without Pakistan. The survival of every organization of the state and indeed of society, in this critical moment, lies in strengthening, not destabilizing democracy.

Dr. Akmal Hussain is Distinguished Professor at BNU and has authored/co-authored 30 books on development policy.

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