Begging Bowl: Shahbaz Sharif Acknowledges Why World Does Not Respect Pakistan


PM Shahbaz Sharif is facing backlash for blurting what many in the country have known for a long time: “In a moment of despair he admitted that wherever he visits, disdain is written on the faces of hosts. Respecting those who keep asking for loans and rollovers is hard. This, said he, is no way to live and so, “today we have to decide whether to live uprightly or by begging”. Begging is a foul word. But a second whammy followed: “India has progressed ahead but we have been left behind due to our own faults.”


In a recent column, physicist and columnist Pervez Hoobhoy notes, “Those without blinders had seen this coming. No 21st-century country can function on tribal values, an 11th-century Arab-origin education system, and a 19th-century colonial administrative apparatus. Proof: Pakistan is desperate to outsource its airports, cannot run its railways, state industrial enterprises are major liabilities, and it exports mostly primitive items like textiles and leather.”


As Hoodbhoy points out, “Pakistan is seen everywhere as problematic even as major world powers cosy up to India; foreign companies are fleeing skill-empty Pakistan but high-tech semiconductor manufacturers woo India; and Pakistan’s space programme has faded away even as Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan elevated India to the world’s top four space-faring nations.”


Hoodbhoy argues that “Political instability and corruption are important factors but not decisive. How we educate our young is at the core of our backwardness. Snuffing out reasoning capacity and rewarding mediocrity means that even college graduates are unable to read, comprehend, calculate, or innovate. Many become Careem captains and pizza delivery boys. As for Pakistani PhDs: nobody wants them. Last year, overseas work permits were issued mostly to drivers and construction workers. The brain drain of earlier decades has become brawn-drain.”


The fix historically, Hoodbhoy notes is “more useless universities, more highways and roads, buy more Chinese power plants, and, of course, distribute more free laptops. The PM pledged another 100,000 would be given away this year. What the last 100,000 accomplished, no one knows.”


Hoodbhoy warns “Pakistan is not a normal country with normal aspirations. Belief in blind memorisation is unshakeable. All subjects including science and math are taught and evaluated as though they were holy texts. Securing high marks is paramount. But if successful memorisation is all that’s needed for good marks, why master concepts? Public demand for change is weak and so most schools are below mediocre.”


In conclusion, Hoodbhoy writes, “A dumbed-down country lacking geostrategic saleability or oil has to walk on crutches. Our education system is precisely why Pakistan shall return to the IMF for the 24th time next year and, to use Mr Sharif’s words, initiate a new round of begging.”


Author: Ali Chughtai