It is tough to challenge the assertion that the energies of Pakistanis, over the past four decades, “have been spent on ideological or political issues at the expense of prudent economic decisions.” Successive governments have rarely articulated a clear, three-pronged vision for economic expansion—liberalization, deregulation, privatization—with the few who have ousted before they could fully implement much-needed reforms. This has left the country in its current state of economic turmoil, with debt servicing eating up an ever-increasing chunk of the annual budget, leaving little space for development and advancement. Rather than addressing these economic matters, multiple presidents and prime ministers have expressed more interest in preserving the “ideology” of Pakistan—despite it showing few gains for the prosperity of the state.
Pakistan has secured 23 bailouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 1958, including six in the past 23 years alone. The global lender’s support does not serve as a budgetary inflow; rather it is the economic equivalent of a sick individual seeking intensive care. Instead of using these bailouts to cure what ails Pakistan’s economy, rulers have increasingly resorted to “ideology,” which has no net positive for the country, and has even played a significant role in endangering minority communities.
What makes the national obsession with ideology even more questionable is that the history of Pakistan shows that Islam was unable to serve as a binding force to prevent the formation of Bangladesh. No state rises merely on the basis of religious ideology, but rather a sustained focus on human development. It is established fact that Pakistan’s reliance on ideology has facilitated extremist groups, who rely on radical views that find support among a populace that now finds the state’s perspective far too tame.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s ideology has fostered a lack of realism that still believes the country can rival India despite numerous indicators suggesting otherwise. To prosper, the country must seek trade ties with all its neighbors—especially India. The template is already there: China, despite its own rivalry with India, has adopted a “pragmatic” approach to their bilateral dealings. Its high time Pakistan does the same.