Review of Musharraf's Era on 12th Anniversary of 1999 Coup
Musharraf Government's Accomplishments:
Thanks to the dynamic economy under President Musharraf's rule, Pakistan created more jobs, graduated more people from schools and colleges, built a larger middle class and lifted more people out of poverty as percentage of its population than India in the last decade. And Pakistan has done so in spite of the huge challenges posed by the war in Afghanistan and a very violent insurgency at home.
The above summary is based on volumes of recently released reports and data on job creation, education, middle class size, public hygiene, poverty and hunger over the last decade that offer new surprising insights into the lives of ordinary people in two South Asian countries. It adds to my previous post on this blog titled "India and Pakistan Contrasted in 2010".
The current PPP government summed up General Musharraf's accomplishments well when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Monetary Fund which said:
"Pakistan's economy witnessed a major economic transformation in the last decade. The country's real GDP increased from $60 billion to $170 billion, with per capita income rising from under $500 to over $1000 during 2000-07". It further acknowledged that "the volume of international trade increased from $20 billion to nearly $60 billion. The improved macroeconomic performance enabled Pakistan to re-enter the international capital markets in the mid-2000s. Large capital inflows financed the current account deficit and contributed to an increase in gross official reserves to $14.3 billion at end-June 2007. Buoyant output growth, low inflation, and the government's social policies contributed to a reduction in poverty and improvement in many social indicators". (see MEFP, November 20, 2008, Para 1)
Before the coup, Pakistan was approaching the end of what is now remembered as The Lost Decade of the 1990s when PPP's Benazir Bhutto and PML's Nawaz Sharif played musical chairs, while the economy stagnated and the people suffered.
Summing up the economic situation after the PPP-PML coalition took office in 2008, the Economist magazine in its June 12 issue summed it up as follows: "Before Mr Sharif was ousted in 1999, the two parties had presided over a decade of corruption and mismanagement. But since then, as the IMF remarked in a report in January, there has been a transformation. Pakistan attracted over $5 billion in foreign direct investment in the 2006-07 fiscal year, ten times the figure of 2000-01. The government's debt fell from 68% of GDP in 2003-04 to less than 55% in 2006-07, and its foreign-exchange reserves reached $16.4 billion as recently as in October." Please read "Pakistani Economy Returning to the Bad Old Days".
Criticisms of Musharraf Government:
Among the various criticisms of Musharraf's rule, there are two that particularly stand out:
1. Musharraf's Support For US War on Terror:
Musharraf has been heavily criticized for siding with the United States and angering the Taliban and their sympathizers who have been attacking and terrorizing Pakistani state and its people. As mightily as Pakistan has suffered at the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates since 911, I do believe that Pakistanis would have been much worse off if Musharraf had not sided with the United States when asked after the worst terror attacks on US mainland. The consequences of refusal to help the US would have ranged from direct and massive NATO attack (probably with Indian help) on Pakistan to crippling sanctions and complete political and diplomatic isolation on the world stage.
2. Musharraf's Failure to Increase Energy Supply:
There was double digit annual growth in industrial production in Pakistan from 2000-2007, and the rising incomes and standards of living put pressure on energy supplies, particularly electricity. However, the situation was being managed to assure only short interruptions in supply to maintain and ration insufficient power generation capacity. For example, in June 2007, the power cuts in Pakistan lasted no more than 3 or 4 hours a day. Today, the situation is far worse with 10-12 hrs or more of load shedding every day, in spite of an stagnant economy.
It is becoming increasingly clear that it is the total absence of financial management, not just insufficient installed generating capacity, that is the crux of the worsening energy problems in Pakistan.
Riots have broken out as the Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, finds itself in the midst of the worst ever electricity crisis in the nation's history. The power shortfall has reached almost 9000 megawatts across the country, over half of the total demand of about 17000 MW.
Many public and private power producers have shut down their power plants due to the suspension of fuel supply by Pakistan State Oil, the state-owned oil company, according to a report in the Express Tribune. The oil company is demanding payment of Rs. 155 billion in outstanding dues from the power producers before resuming fuel supply.
Musharraf era was the best era in terms of improving the lives of the ordinary folks in Pakistan since the Ayub-era in the 1960s. Strong economy helped create millions of new jobs and lifted millions out of poverty. Social indicators improved significantly and the the size of the middle class grew dramatically. So why is it that there are so many people who continue to condemn Musharraf?
I think Musharraf's critics can be divided in two categories:
1. Self-serving politicians and their supporters under their patronage who deny Musharraf's accomplishments because any admission of reality would be seen as a confession of their own incompetence.
2. Those who acknowledge Musharraf's economic legacy but would still prefer elected civilian government for ideological reasons. They are perfectly willing to sacrifice economic growth in the hope of hastening a better democratic future for Pakistan.
I, too, want to see a democratic Pakistan, but I strongly disagree with both the above categories. In my view, the best way to usher in genuine and successful democratic rule in any developing nation is to first unleash East and South East Asian style rapid economic growth which was brought about by dictators like General Park Chung-hee of South Korea, Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia and General Suharto of Indonesia. Each of these autocrats served long enough to bring their nations in to the modern industrial era and created a large urban middle class which is now sustaining democratic rule. Until such time as Pakistan has a well educated and politically empowered urban middle class making up more than half of its population, the electoral process will continue to result in patronage-based feudal democracy of the kind that exists today.
Pakistan's Economic Performance 2008-2010
Role of Politics in Pakistan Economy
India and Pakistan Compared in 2011
Musharraf's Coup Revived Pakistan's Economy
What If Musharraf Had Said No?
Political Patronage Trumps Politics in Pakistan
ASEAN Architect Suharto Passes On