Nisar A. Memon
06-April- 2020 – Pakistan Observer
“Every crisis has a silver lining”, will this proverbial statement come true for us in Pakistan? Yes, if we analyze, comprehend, articulate the crisis and respond unitedly in a befitting manner. Coronavirus crisis has brought in open the inequalities between haves and have-nots, privileged and non-privileged, urban and peri-urban, rural and urban.
The responses to crisis vary from educated to uneducated, disciplined to undisciplined, selfless to selfish, individualist to collectivist, socialist to capitalist. It is these times, the leaders fall or new leaders emerge. Irrespective of where one is in this global crisis, some common requirements emerge. The first is the public health system which requires medical supplies and equipment for millions, at the same time.
The locked-down of cities disrupting way of life and confinement to homes, requiring availability of food and daily use supplies for millions, with transport system closed, and supply chain disrupted almost coming to stand still. Life is changed and will change after this crisis; we have to brace the changes. As we have been left behind in our development, this is an opportunity to leapfrog in progress by not waiting for changes to confront us but take the lead to bring the changes. Break the begging bowl and be the proud citizens of a sovereign country.
This requires us to be self respecting by being self-reliant in our requirements. Post Coronavirus; we have to look inward and examine all public health system requirements, as well as food and daily use supplies with objective of manufacturing them in the country. Basically; it is supporting the existing industries to upgrade for producing competitive products for import substitution. In addition, encourage new industries to maximize domestic manufacturing to fill other gaps. The small scale home-based industries need to be part of policy towards self sufficiency and job creation, and not part of political rhetoric. Hand in hand, the agriculture and agro-based industries will have to be focused.
The existing education system also has to be aligned. The current engineering, agriculture and business universities are natural allies in these policies to support not only education but research and technology in support of policies. Information technology and artificial intelligence are the vehicles for leapfrogging. Leadership must understand, brick and mortar policies alone are not the solution. Industrial model like Sialkot is the living example of what private sector is capable of doing, even without much of government support. Industries like surgical goods, sports and women-only industries coupled with airport and airline make us proud as sovereign country.
We must build on these models to accelerate much needed export. Let us not be overtaken by emotions or fear while preparing our coming budget. Status quo mindset of balancing the budget to meet IMF loan repayments must be replaced with major effort of import substitution as the key driver. This will help save billions of dollars for our conventional and non-conventional security. One alert, while implementing this policy let’s keep close tab on price mechanism and ensure common man benefits the most. Governments will be on test to use accountability against hoarders and not against political opponents. Change for nation building and not for personal power. If government refuses to sit together with opposition parties, so be it.
Instead of wasting breathe, they should form a shadow government in every national political party to present to nation its proposed budget and see who is better qualified to win the confidence of people. It is also an opportunity for new political aspirants to join in budget making. Quite a few national parties have been in governments in the past, it is time to bring their best now before events overtake them. It is time for action without waiting for any signals to act. Coronavirus is the biggest signal. Let’s use the prism of import substitution in our policy. Import substitution requires more than full involvement of our business houses and new entrepreneurs. The incubators in universities and businesses must be supported not as isolated endeavors but part of policy.
Masks and protective dresses for medical professionals are not high-tech but respirators are, thus acquire it from friends like China and all countries willing for technology transfer. A proud country having developed indigenously the nuclear technology must not be seeking aid even in crisis. Our youth and women can sail us through this crisis, therefore invest in them consistently. Develop the human resource potential as policy and not a knee jerk statement to occupy the space in media since readers, viewers and listeners are intelligent to switch off to real news and news analysis.
Let’s also keep the balance between rural and urban in our policies, and remember the virus has hit hard in vertical urban areas of cities and not horizontal rural areas. The stark realities are that when crisis is global, the necessary goods and services may not be available when and where needed, in short span of time. It is for these times, often referred as ‘war times’ that we need to prepare and even help other countries and people.
In crisis, leaders lead to overcome it and learn the lessons for course correction and adjustment to secure future of their people. An apt reminder: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Abraham Lincoln.
—Nisar A. Memon; former: federal minister and senator.