Sri Lanka’s Downfall and Lessons for Pakistan

Sri Lanka Pakistan


Despite decades long civil war, Sri Lanka ranked 72/189 globally in the human development index category. It has maintained the ranking of 72-20 since 2010, higher than any South Asian country. The small island had a meltdown which resulted from the effects of an avoidable crisis. However, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. And Pakistan has gained an opportunity to gather and reflect on the myriad economic, social and political factors that led to the country’s downfall.

What led to Sri Lanka’s economic and political downfall?

Sri Lankan government was not clean of nepotism. After his overwhelming success in 2020 elections, Mahinda brazenly set up a government in Sri Lanka, appointing himself as the prime minister, his brother, Gotabaya, the president, his brother, Basil, as finance minister and his son, Namal, as the sports minister. It does not end here. His brother in law became the head of Sri Lankan Airlines, and his other son became the chief of staff for the Prime Minister.

Secondly, much like Pakistan, the Sri Lankan government relied on foreign loans for infrastructure projects with dubious economic returns. These projects did not finish on time, were maligned with corruption and contributed largely to Sri Lanka’s unsustainable debt. The government delayed going to the IMF for a bailout plan. The longer they waited, the more strict IMF’s conditions became. 

The government also imposed a ban on imports to promote local goods. One of the biggest setbacks was import of chemical fertilisers which forced the farmers to switch to organic agriculture, causing food shortages and a striking decrease in foreign exchange earnings from agricultural exports.

Lessons for Pakistan

Good governance is essential to a country’s survival. It requires non-corrupt states persons with a clear long term vision for the country. Gotabaya’s departure shows that no leader is invincible. The downfall of most autocratic leaders, especially in electoral democracies comes rather quickly. These leaders rely on ill-informed voters and populist narratives to garner support, but end up weakening independent state institutions, the country’s bureaucracy, and dividing the nation using religion or ethnicities.

Speaking of ethno-nationalism. The strategy shields majoritarian leaders from their poor economic performance. Sri Lanka’s case is a manifestation of how leaders using ethno-nationalism brush aside poor economic growth, high inflation, and multi-faceted deprivation of their population.

The biggest strength of any country is its population. The solidarity exhibited by the Sri Lankan masses regardless of their faith, translated into a new social contract for the nation. It is an important positive lesson for the Pakistani people and the capacity they hold.  




by Amna Sheikh


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