Of Ethos and Economics – A Pakistan Story – Daily Times

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Your right to know Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Uzair Sadaat

“How did things get this bad for you guys?” is the simple question that echoes in my head courtesy of my Uber driver from the journey to my office yesterday. As we drive through the colourful Camden streets, he comments proudly on the rapid economic growth of his home country – Bangladesh.
The recent inauguration of the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline means that our neighbours have put in place an energy deal, which will transport 1 million metric tons of diesel every year to North Bangladesh. This will help meet the fuel demand of the growing industrial sector and in turn, lead to a more efficient meeting of consumer expectations. The World Bank reports that in the last seven years alone, Bangladesh’s garment industry has increased its annual revenue from $19 billion to $34 billion-a 79 per cent rise. This safely crowns them as the second-largest exporter of garments in the world. In comparison, a slight tilt of the head towards the West reveals a textile industry in Pakistan that is distraught and facing challenges that have no direct correlation to quality. Floods have ravaged cotton fields and electricity costs have shown a sharp incline but most importantly – the policymakers have failed at incentivising businesses to fight for survival. To take one such prominent example, even textile units run by mall-building, bank owner billionaires stay closed as demand remains dismal.
The recent inauguration of the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline means that our neighbours have put in place an energy deal.
These thoughts force me to reflect on the question. While the list of points that could fit the mould as candidates for the answer seems somewhat endless – you really do not need to be an Economics professor to identify some of the key culprits. We can begin with one which I personally find quite humorous: designating a chartered accountant to run the economy as Finance minister. This feels somewhat akin to asking a Microbiologist to secure the Nobel Prize for Physics. While understanding how company financial statements work is surely a useful skill, it is in no way comparable to understanding the complexities of international trade in a volatile global market. To add a punchline to the joke, look no further than to Twitter when the former and current finance minister engaged in an indirect war of words while the receipt of the notorious IMF loan instalment was in jeopardy.
Furthermore, we know political conflict can often spook the market but what do you call the fear resulting from politicians unashamedly going to war over personal agendas? Sure, it would be bad enough if they were only maligning one another but, in the process, we somehow find ourselves at a stage where all vital institutions of the state are a target. It seems now that if the upper echelons of the judiciary make decisions that do not go in the favour of a party’s political agenda – then a derogatory social media campaign will be launched almost instinctively. If the invaluable asset which is the integrity of our leadership figures is a ship that can be sunk so swiftly then how can we convince foreign investors that we are stable enough to safeguard their money?
Speaking of money from abroad, when I first moved to London in 2010 a single British pound was worth 132 Pakistani rupees. We are currently at an astonishing rate of 348 rupees per pound with the 350 barriers looming like an axe above our heads each day. To make matters worse, a large chunk of this devaluation is very recent. One might think that surely policies could have been put in place to stabilise our currency. The answer unfortunately is no from both a design and implementation perspective. A great example is the ‘import ban’ introduced by the new government shortly after their return to power. In layman’s terms, the idea was that banning imports will protect our dollar reserves. In reality, this was an ambiguous policy with little thought given to how to facilitate increased domestic production or which goods were vital imports. As always, it seems that optics for talk show discussions were the priority. In line with this, the implementation was seen to be in full force at airports where chocolates and toys brought in as gifts by overseas Pakistanis were handily confiscated. Imports were banned after all!
I was abruptly brought back to London in the present day as the car stopped to a halt outside my workplace. Of course, I did not share these thoughts with the driver. I am a Pakistani and we have our patriotic pride even in the most catastrophic of times. With a wry smile, I simply nodded and said that no matter how we got here, we must pray for a path of recovery ahead. However, as I wait for the elevator up to my desk it occurs to me that while others around us are busy making deals with new ‘friends’ – we seem to only be interested in creating enemies within ourselves.
The writer is a freelance columnist.

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