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Freedom from the shackles of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

Presently, Pakistan seems to be suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ – a psychological condition wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands. The obsession and the unwavering trust in multilateral agencies, including IMF, and the traditional foreign bilateral partners, particularly Saudi Arabia and the strings attached with the helping-hand ever extended by them in the past bears testimony to the fact. The first issue is that they follow their own template to address our economic challenges whilst our issues are very unique (like a typical emerging market country) and it doesn’t necessarily fit into the stereotype constituencies set by these agencies for the other countries, albeit emerging ones. The fact is that they could only provide a plan and attach certain terms and conditions with it which may or may not be in the best interest of the country and its people.

The second most important aspect is that the foreign policy of Pakistan shall be in sync with the economic agenda. This also seems to be a victim of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. The result is that we have become ‘in love’ with our captors as that provides us a temporary respite for our circular economic problems which keep on cropping up every now and then. These breathers invariably come with conditions, which at times are unreasonable and not necessarily in our favor but we tend to accept them due to our physiological break down that the problem of all our ills are offered by our traditional captors.

The country needs to break free from shackles of these captors. The sooner we get ourselves free the better it is for our sovereignty and national interest. The challenging bit, however, is that there are no, or at best very limited, short-term options available to address our economic woes. The fact is that for the implementation of reforms even immediate term is three years or beyond. The public expectation management in this respect is crucial. The economic and political managers must inform masses that only medium-term solutions will bear sustainable development results.

Unfortunately, most of our economic actions are driven by external account exigencies. In the immediate future, the only promising element is harnessing of Worker Remittances’ through banking channels. In the medium term, import substitution (local E&P exploration, mining, basic engineering, etc.) and structural changes in exports (promoting value addition) are the only promising options. All government actions shall move in this direction to achieve the desired results even in medium-term to long-term. The key, therefore, is that we need to develop our own indigenous economic revival and management plan. We can’t continue to be banking on our ‘captors’ for the solutions of our freedom.

Most importantly, the onus of execution of the plan rests with us and our economic and political managers only. This has been our biggest deficit which leaves us vulnerable to arm-twisting by our captors. This is what our history says and this will continue to happen in the future too until and unless we have our own indigenous plan in-place with full commitment and buy-in from all stakeholders. In other words, we need a much needed ‘charter of economy and reforms’; otherwise, in the absence of that we would continue to wonder around and remain hostage to ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

Pakistan is presently standing on the cross-roads where there is no other way out to address peoples’ economic miseries, and bring them out of the poverty line, but to religiously undertake structural changes which means taking difficult, or rather courageous decisions within the confines of law and ethics. Out-of-the-box and aggressive decision-making are the prerequisites to achieve structural changes which, unfortunately, have limited allowance under the current public sector environment. While lack of available human capacity is an issue across the board; however, the prevailing system needs a shake-down, and in fact may require to be erased, and start afresh, in some cases. This also leads to a big deficiency on the ownership of affairs and problem-solving approach within the public sector officers and professionals which has become more pronounced of late.

The writer is a Karachi based freelance columnist and is a banker by profession. He could be reached on Twitter @ReluctantAhsan

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