Wonderful, Horrible. The best, the worst. Develop, destroy. Go up go down. Good bad. This is not a test of opposites in grammar, but rather a test of intention and perspective in assessing the Pakistani economy. While the world is praising Pakistan’s performance in the most troubled times of the century, local pundits are saying the exact opposite.
The World Bank, World Economic Forum, World Health Organization, Bloomberg, Fitch continue to praise Pakistan’s outstanding response to the global economic ‘crash’, rising global poverty and disappearance of global health. At home, economists/experts/media are crying out about the “failure” of the Pakistani economy. This contrast is bewildering until you understand the politics behind it.
These are unprecedented times. History witnesses how an invisible virus brought down the mightiest. So far, countries like the United States and France are recording half a million cases a day. So far, economies are taking on record debt.
So far, the world is seeing prices rise like never before. So far, businesses are struggling to recover. And this is the situation of the richest, the most developed, the most educated, the most technologically advanced.
And in this scenario, a country like Pakistan with an almost bankrupt economy, few health resources and facilities, a large number of illiterates and poor people leading the way was something that should make our experts and experts happy.
On the other hand, on each of these celebratory news, they have three reactions: deny it, say it doesn’t apply to Pakistan, or just amplify the negativity to dim the positivity. Here are some revealing examples of this contrast:
- Growth hailed versus failure—The World Economic Forum’s latest Country Competitiveness Report hailed the Pakistani government’s management of the economy very positively. “The Executive Opinion Survey is an invaluable and unique source of high quality perception data providing globally comparable proxies for critical aspects of socio-economic developments.
Data shared by the WEF shows that Pakistan’s value scores are improving on more than 148 indicators. On the other hand, if you see some reports from local media or experts, they report “the Pakistani economy in turbulence, growth is not sustainable, the government lacks competence, etc”. With the general public not literate enough to read global reports, the media and local opinions painted a bleak picture of government failure.
- The poor at the center of attention or ignored—Another favorite full-time screaming TV chat material is that the poor are getting poorer and jobless. They splash stories of how the common man suffers. Yes there is inflation and it has affected the poor but every time you mention that some high inflation is not in the hands of the government and you compare it to inflation in foreign, they reject it as not being comparable.
Despite all the noise, the world continues to praise Pakistan’s performance in poverty reduction. “Pakistan has also demonstrated global leadership by placing more emphasis on human dignity and social capital values through its Ehsaas program.” The problem with many local analysts is that many of them think they will only be noticed or sold if they cry disaster.
- Health innovation versus destruction—In the world’s greatest health crisis where the United States and Europe have crumbled and fallen, Pakistan’s performance has become a shining star. All publications and global forums, be it Economist, WHO or WEF, have repeatedly praised Pakistan.
“The world has widely recognized Pakistan’s anti-Covid efforts through a smart lockdown strategy, primarily focusing on balancing lives and livelihoods.” The universal health card system is once again recognized as the first of its kind in the world. In contrast, local pundits have been busy downplaying these achievements, saying they are just slogans.
The government has many points for improvement and the job of the experts is to highlight them and push the government to work on them. There will always be a spotlight on flaws, as there should be. However, completely denying positive achievements and denigrating international assessments is also not fair and just. The government, on the other hand, needs to sift through this “done, failed” smokescreen with a new approach to public penetration:
- Create positive ambassadors—The need is to give a balanced image. Many flaws need to be corrected because many accomplishments need to be celebrated. While bad sales sell in the media, the public is also hungry for good news. Remember how the nation celebrated the performance of the cricket team despite losing in the semi-finals.
The need is to create a whole story of struggle, calamity and then exceptional work in many areas like health, environment and poverty alleviation. This story needs to be told not by experts but by ordinary representatives of society like teachers, doctors, plumbers, etc., to resonate with the public.
- Developing momentum for social change – The major challenge is that for four decades, society has largely witnessed artificial progress. In terms of economy, prosperity, integrity and credibility, both generations have seen that only shortcuts to success work.
The rich and connected buy the good life by hook or by crook. Scammers are super achievers and straight people are seen as losers. This must change. No government alone can change the value system if the people do not want it.
Thus, a program of social revision aided by mosques, schools and community workers must be put in place for “Say no to shortcuts”, “Say no to tax evaders”, “Say no to liars”, etc., in local languages with community champions in each cluster of households to run this down to the household level.
- Make it global, local – Having consistent global recognition is a huge pride factor for Pakistan. The need to create a local understanding of these exploits requires an integrated communications strategy. Local public figures need to talk about how the World Health Organization etc certify Pakistan in areas where countries that are superpowers have failed.
Nations rise and fall with public sentiment and motivation. Constructive criticism is always necessary. But having a constant message contrary to the facts of despair and despondency is like dampening the spirit of the nation where pride and prejudice then become convoluted.
That’s why a balance between the two is imperative, especially at a time when the whole world has gone through a physically, emotionally and psychologically harrowing experience of the pandemic. The very fact that the worst catastrophe, calamity, adversity of the century has been overcome better by Pakistan than most developed countries is the beginning of this nation’s rise.
(The author can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022