Live Challenge: The Future of Pakistan to 2060

A daunting challenge, many have struggled to imagine a future of Pakistan beyond an electoral cycle or a human life or even unmet visions. The trouble is that collective foresight and intelligence is missing from our political and institutional systems. Foresight that enables a country to build, and for stronger relationships and alliances amongst leaders from across organisations and sectors, demonstrating clearer intentions and commitments as to what these leaders need to do and as a result of which initiatives and actions are designed co-creating better futures.

As the rhetoric goes, Pakistan is in a unique situation in the region. ‘Hybrid democracy’, ‘failed state’, ‘the world’s most dangerous country’ – in recent decades Pakistan has been categorised and de-categorised so it can fit the informed paradigm for strategic thinkers.

Pakistan is undoubtedly a young nation. It is apparent that the country’s democratic structure remains highly uncertain due to sovereign debt crisis, weak and polarised political leadership, diminishing confidence in state institutions, criminal injustice, oppressed freedom and decaying rule of law. Close to 70 years, Pakistan and its people have come a long way in militating global affairs.

The question is: are policymakers, legislatures and political groups equipped to shape the future of the country, which will inspire the next generation and enable it to enjoy a secure and prosperous Pakistan beyond an electoral cycle? Can they realign themselves in an effective decision-making process, by developing shared understanding of global uncertainties and political despondency?

‘The future of Pakistan to 2060’ in its current state serves as a working paper that highlights the essential narrative required of a secure and prosperous Pakistan with a positive regional influence, demonstrating leadership in the Muslim world and inspiring the next generation. The principle idea of this paper was not to predict the future, but to bring people on board to draw out perspectives, establishing logical sequences to challenges, determining relationships between drivers, and identifying certain high-impact events.

The challenges that seemed to concern people the most included leadership, religion, economy and security. There were differences in perspectives between the generations. In Pakistan’s case engaging with the next generation becomes an important entry point.

Preliminary research was conducted to check and test assumptions about Pakistan’s future among the ruling elite and wider society, explore perceptions of Pakistan from both inside and outside the country, and identify future risks and opportunities.

As a result four scenarios emerged for the country in 2060: i) low citizen empowerment, regional integration; ii) high citizen empowerment, regional integration; iii) high citizen empowerment, regional fragmentation; and iv) low citizen empowerment, regional fragmentation. These scenarios were based on impact and uncertainty. The drivers of change were composed of demographics, urbanization, macro-economic conditions, resource availability, climate change, technology, religiosity and ethnicity.

Policymakers and the political leadership in Pakistan are either incompetent or incapacitated to cope with the challenges confronting the nation due to rapid globalisation, economic interdependence and the changing nature of global affairs. The country begs for ‘meritocracy’ where there’s an institutionalised capacity to devolve the decision-making process.

Nepotism has destroyed the state-run institutions; the public faces the brunt of dishonest and corrupt officials at the highest levels. Research and several discussions have indicated that there’s an overwhelming need for institutionalising foresight techniques, tools and technology in policy formulation, planning and decision-making processes; allowing different stakeholders to explore emerging ideas and values reflecting on medium to longer-term strategic research, analysis and planning contributing to policies that are dynamic, resilient and transcendent.

In South Asia, the complete lack of visionary leadership is a serious challenge. While President Ziaul Haq drove this country in a reverse gear the consequences of which linger in the form of ethnic conflict, sectarian violence, radicalisation, oppression against freedom of expression, and exploitation of minorities.

Equally to blame is Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Historic precedents have demonstrated that religiosity does not let nations become pragmatic; corruption and perceived corruption reduces investment, which makes them less competitive and less efficient.

Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country, and if the population – which is projected to exceed more than 250 million by 2030 and up to 335 million by 2050 – presumably grows at that same rate, then it will be a tough battle for the leadership to overcome the dramatic challenges that come with the uncertainty that climate change, geopolitical difficulties and social and cultural isolation pose.

Currently, we have a population of 198 million people, with a median age of 22, 63 percent of the youth is under the age of 29 years, making Pakistan as one of the youngest nations in the world. If this invaluable human capital is not leveraged in achieving its optimal potential, then with deteriorating service delivery, unemployment and injustice will further frustrate the coming generations which will become the gravest challenge for state institutions – ultimately undermining the political system.

The country’s elite captures determining the economic growth model have mostly benefited the rich more than the poor; institutions retreating from providing essential legal assistance, collecting taxes and security have severely discredited the socio-economic and political outlook of the country. Pakistan already has a fragile political system; and while the philosophy behind strategic depth is hugely out of fashion, the country in the information age has failed to integrate the role of its institutions with the growing needs of not only its population but also in aligning itself to the global knowledge-grid.

In order to secure stability in the region Pakistan, the Kashmir region and India must chalk a way forward. Complacency towards diplomatic obligations will lead to further internal misfortunes. Lack of public funding, appalling institutional capacity in service delivery, access to justice, and extremism – already a bane of contention – will further fuel internal crisis.

As the state loses its relevance, it has created room for many of the non-state actors who are essentially plugging in the loopholes. While incompetence can be one of the reasons, the country needs to learn to start paying for itself. Masooda Bano has, in one of her writings, highlighted the failure of development funds channelled through non-governmental organisations eroding cooperative behaviours rather than strengthening initiatives amongst the state, community and individuals. A serious issue that goes unaccounted for in realpolitik.