28 years to boom or bust
On Saturday, Pakistan celebrated its 72nd Pakistan Day with traditional fervor, handing national awards for excellence to an array of artists, academics, activists, journalists, scientists and entrepreneurs, and conducted a parade showcasing its military muscle. Prime Minister Imran Khan feted his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamed who was guest of honor, and who sang Pakistan’s praises as an upcoming global star.
The event coincided with the release of the World Bank’s seminal report, “[email protected]: Shaping the Future,” which said this year should be seen as the beginning of what could be a breathtaking 28-year race to 2047 when Pakistan will turn 100 years old. The report examines Pakistan’s potential to becoming a global economic, social and political powerhouse and says there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that it is possible for Pakistan to transform itself economically within a generation by following the examples of South Korea, Malaysia and China. The bad news? It’s easier said than done — Pakistan has no time to lose and will need to exhibit tenacity and a great deal of hard work if it is to measure up to the task.
For this, a sustainable growth regime underpinned by four elements is required: investing in people; using resources more efficiently; caring for the environment; and improving governance to support growth and the implementation of a tough menu of reforms. For Karachi and Lahore to be able to compete with the likes of Shanghai and Singapore, urgent reforms will be required to accelerate and sustain growth and transform Pakistan’s economy. Nothing short of a national reforms plan to achieve this goal will do.
Though the country has improved on some of its social development indicators over the course of this millennium, Pakistan does not have a sterling record of investing in its people. A staggering 23 million children of school-going age are still out of school, the literacy level remains below 60 per cent (for every boy educated, two girls are not), women’s fertility and mortality rates are high, over a third of children have stunted growth and the gender wage gap is among the highest in the world. Moreover, income levels are low, and most people can’t afford good healthcare. Without investing in people’s health, education and productivity, Pakistan simply cannot improve its per capita income to over $10,000 — five times the current average — to become a middle-income country by the time it turns 100.
An important way out of Pakistan’s perennial battle between economic growth and population growth is to cut down on the latter. The country currently has the world’s fifth largest population at 207 million and is set to swell to 350 million by 2047. Without urgent steps to expand family planning services and awareness, education and health services will be overwhelmed as will natural resources.
For Karachi and Lahore to be able to compete with the likes of Shanghai and Singapore, urgent reforms will be required to accelerate and sustain growth and transform Pakistan’s economy.
Development is the best contraceptive, and women’s participation in the labor force will have to be enhanced for them to simultaneously become economically productive and financially empowered members of society. The judicious use and maintenance of natural resources, with a focus on tackling pollution, must also become a major priority with improved infrastructure, management and pricing that reflects the cost of services.
Revenue collection and the private sector must be strengthened, the tax net bolstered and tax administration dramatically improved. The private sector needs to be made more competitive through an improved business environment, increased openness to trade and investment, and reforms in the energy sector.
But most important of all, Pakistan will have to dramatically improve the way it governs itself. “Pakistan will need to be both an accountable democracy, where democratic leaders are held to account for their performance, for delivery and for corruption...where democratic leaders can do their job without constantly being on the defensive,” reads the World Bank report. Therein lies the rub for Pakistan.
Can our generals, politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists shun their capture of state resources and legal frameworks and become more accountable? Can they align themselves with citizen needs when traditionally, policies have not necessarily benefitted the general population?
Pakistan’s hope for a bright future when it turns 100 years old lies with committed and capable politicians and civil servants; with strengthened institutions that will withstand turbulence; with an impatient but dynamic youth population that wants to conquer the world; with a private sector seeking greater competence and people that fight for their dreams. They have a 28-year grace period to surprise themselves and the world.