A long march has been in progress in Pakistan since almost a month, with the pivotal slogan of the marchers being “Haqeeqi Azadi” (true independence).
Originally, the term “long march” dates back to a strategic journey of relocation by the founder of modern China i.e. Mao Zedong, in October 1934, from his base in the south of China to the north, along with 86,000 party members and fighters. When he reached his destination a year later, he had lost some 90% of them, including his two sons, in battles with the army of the then nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek.
The hallmark of Mao and his party were the land reforms, based on the slogan of “land to the tillers” – they were committed to implement all across China. It later helped them to mobilise the peasantry on their side and prevail over Chiang’s forces in the civil war from 1946 till 1949. Chiang also later completely transformed Taiwan into a modern economy by introducing land reforms there. He had learned their importance from the defeat at Mao’s hands.
Therefore, he introduced them on priority in Taiwan, which gradually emerged as a formidable economy with its current per capita GDP is US$ 33,011. They can also teach a few lessons in diplomacy to us because despite of their political differences with China, more than 40% of their exports, amounting to some190 billion US dollars in 2021, were made to China.
Essentials of the original Long March
Though the original long marcher Mao had liberated Chinese peasantry from the yoke of feudalism; we have not heard our marchers demanding any such reforms, although more than 60% of the households in the rural part of Pakistan are completely landless.
Another factor, which helps in providing independence to an economy, and the associated populace, is the efficiency of its supply chain of energy. However, despite the immense hydel potential, we have tapped only a part of it in 75 years. Similarly, while the rapidly decreasing indigenous production of oil and gas necessitates aggressive replacement of reserves, the E&P activity in Pakistan continues to decline. The MNCs have mostly left the country and we ourselves are deficient in both i.e. the essential financial and intellectual capital. As an evident exhibit of this, the number of oil and gas wells drilled per year – and especially exploratory wells – continues to decrease. We drilled 81 in 2014-15, with 48 being exploratory; however, the number of exploratory wells stood at 45 by 2017-18. It went down further to 37 in 2018-19 followed by 25, 24 and 27in the following years respectively till 2022.
The power sector is not much different. Just during the FY 2021-22, the allowed T&D losses for the public sector distribution companies (DISCOs) were 13.41%; whereas actual losses were 17.13%. The differential cost the nation Rs. 113 billion, which was further compounded by lesser recoveries by ~9.5% and the corresponding loss of 230 billion PKR. Considering the associated benchmarks, the aggregate avoidable loss comes out to be at least some PKR 450 billion year. The annually occurring fatal accidents, in the networks of DISCOS and KE, are another menace. The fatalities were 152 in 2017-18; but 196 for FY 21-22.
Another contributor in determining a country’s relative independence in the global arena is its debts and liabilities – and the capacity to settle them. We observed an increment of PKR 12 trillion in the past one year alone in this respect. Even a small delay in an IMF installment puts the entire economy off balance and arranging fuel on long-term credit is celebrated as a victory. Thus any such movement would be meaningless if not integrated with economic independence, which in turn can only be achieved by rapid industrialisation and value creation.
How a society treats its women is also critical in this discussion. It may suffice to explain the meaning of true independence immediately, if we observe the predicament of any woman stuck in a bad marriage with no source of income of her own. In our case, an internationally established yardstick for the said social dimension i.e. the WPS (Women, Peace & Security) Index for 2022 places Pakistan at 167 out of 170, with Norway at the top. The index is primarily a measure of their education and economic independence. So, another test of any modern political movement is its stance on this critical issue.
In the same vein if we ask a mine worker, true independence would readily mean for him safer working conditions instead of the inhuman conditions he is subjected to work. Pakistan has even avoided ratifying ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines since its inception, because it would compel us to invest on improving the said conditions in the mines, while also granting a number of rights to the workers. This is despite that around150 mine workers die annually in accidents due to this factor alone. Also, coal miners generally start working at the age of 13 and are mostly declared redundant when they are 30 because of the respiratory and other illnesses that they acquire.
The Foremost Essential
Education is a fundamental essential for true independence. A brief comparison of where we stand in this regard, viz-a-viz India and Israel, whom we rightly or wrongly consider to be our arch-enemies, may help.
Starting with a literacy rate of 12% in 1947, we have so far reached to barely 63% – and only 6.1% of the populace has degree or above qualifications. Still, our associated public spending observed a free fall over the past 6 to 7 years. It was 2% of the GDP in FY 2015-16 and stands at 1.7% now with the reduction by at least US$ 0.5 billion till 2022 in the annual spend.
In Israel, the public spending on education remains consistently above 6% of the GDP. No wonder that it’s per capita GDP is 33 times ahead of ours with UNDP’s Human Development Index ranking of 22 with Pakistan at 161. India also appears picking up with its current literacy rate at 77.7% and pertaining annual spend of 3.5% of the GDP.
What is to be done?
In my humble view, any political slogan would mean nothing until it is qualified with clarity of thought and an action plan on the above issues. In this regard, the masses, while making their political choices, would need to be cautious of the fact that societies which fail to fulfill their fundamental needs encourage escapism – such as the public vesting their hopes and aspirations in puffed-up pseudo demigods making sweeping promises; the so called populists. What else should we expect, especially in a society where the culture of inquiry and analysis hardly exists; but 64% of whose population is below 30, which is also not equipped with any knowledge or skills to give them confidence for future.
The anxiety caused by the fast-deteriorating socioeconomic parameters around them and their abject inadequacies to face them, compel them to hanker for hopes to hang on to – even if they are absurd, false and hollow.
Thus, for making their political choices, it is essential for the public to learn to gauge all the political slogans on the yardstick described above – i.e. whether it truly fulfils the characteristics of a movement for ‘Haqiqi’ (true) Azadi.