“You tend to hear the worst 5% of the Pakistan story 95% of the time.”
The above is a quote attributed to Pakistani Entrepreneur Monis Rahman in Aug 8, 2011 Forbes Magazine story titled “Want to Start a Company in the World's Sixth-Most Populous Country? Time to Move to Pakistan”.
On Pakistan's 64th birthday today, there is a lot of coverage by the traditional media focused on "the worst 5% of the Pakistan story". To help my readers piece together the full story of Pakistan this August 14, 2011, I am writing today to present some of the key parts of the rest of the 95% of the Pakistan story that gets little or no coverage.
Let's start with some of the key indicators of progress Pakistan has made since independence in 1947.
1. Health & Wealth:
The health and wealth of a nation depend on availability of good nutrition and access to health care and education, which in turn rely on economic growth to support needed public and private social spending.
The most basic indicators of progress, such as the life expectancy and per capita incomes of many nations, have been compiled and brought to life in animations developed by Professor Hans Rosling and posted on gapminder.org.
The Gapminder animations show that life expectancy in Pakistan has jumped from 32 years in 1947 to 67 years in 2009, and per Capita inflation-adjusted PPP income has risen from $766 in 1948 to $2603 in 2009.
Literacy is also a very important indicator of progress. Though the literacy in Pakistan has increased from about 10% in 1947 to about 60% today, it remains dismally low relative to many other nations.
However, a closer examination of literacy data by age groups shows that the literacy rates are rising by every generation:
Over 55 years 30% literate
15-25 70% (Male 80%, Female 60%, UNICEF)
Rural and Female illiteracy are the biggest challenges.
3. Poverty, Hunger and Inequality:
The World Bank ranks Pakistan among lower-middle-income nations with per capita income exceeding $1000 a year.
Pakistan is still a country with significant population of poor people. However, its recent levels of poverty are among the lowest in South Asia.
The 2011 World Bank data shows that Pakistan's poverty rate of 17.2%, based on India's current poverty line of $1.03 per person per day, is more than 10 percentage points lower than India's 27.5%. Assam (urban), Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are the only three Indian states with equal or slightly lower poverty rates than Pakistan's.
Based on hunger data collected from 2003 to 2008, The International Food Policy Research (IFPRI) has reported that Pakistan's hunger index score improved over the last three consecutive years reported since 2008 from 21.7 (2008) to 21.0 (2009) to 19.1 (2010) and its ranking rose from 61 to 58 to 52. During the same period, India's index score worsened from 23.7 to 23.9 to 24.1 and its ranking moved from 66 to 65 to 67 on a list of 84 nations.
CIA World Factbook reports Pakistan’s Gini Index has decreased from 41 in 1998-99 to 30.6 in 2007-8, lower than India's 36.8 and Bangladesh's 33.2.
4. Pakistan's Economy:
Pakistan state was broke in 1947 because India refused to give Pakistan its share of Sterling reserves. The situation was so bad that Pakistani govt couldn’t pay employees. In this first existential crisis, the Habibs bailed out Pakistani state by lending Rs. 80 million, more than half of Rs. 150 million budget.
Today, Pakistan's economy is the 27th largest in the world. As Part of "the Next 11" group of nations, it is one of the top 15 emerging economies (BRICs+Next11) picked by Goldman Sachs. Goldman forecasts Pakistan to be among the top 20 biggest economies in the world by 2025.
Since 2008, Pakistan's economy has been suffering from a serious stagflation, a very bad combination of slow growth and high inflation. But the history tells us that this current situation is not normal for Pakistan. After all, it's Pakistan's robust economic growth that has enabled significant progress based on the health and wealth indicators outlined earlier.
Beginning in 1947, Pakistani economy grew at a fairly impressive rate of 6 percent per year through the first four decades of the nation's existence. In spite of rapid population growth during this period, per capita incomes doubled, inflation remained low and poverty declined from 46% down to 18% by late 1980s, according to eminent Pakistani economist Dr. Ishrat Husain. This healthy economic performance was maintained through several wars and successive civilian and military governments in 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s until the decade of 1990s, now appropriately remembered as the lost decade.
In the period from 2000-2007, here's what the IMF agreed to in 2008 as part of the nation's bailout:
Pakistan became one of the four fastest growing economies in the Asian region during 2000-07 with its growth averaging 7.0 per cent per year for most of this period. As a result of strong economic growth, Pakistan succeeded in reducing poverty by one-half, creating almost 13 million jobs, halving the country's debt burden, raising foreign exchange reserves to a comfortable position and propping the country's exchange rate, restoring investors' confidence and most importantly, taking Pakistan out of the IMF Program.
5. Science and Technology:
Here are some of the facts about Pakistan's progress in science and technology that never make the headlines in the mainstream media anywhere, including Pakistan:
-Pakistan has been ScienceWatch’s Rising Star for scientific papers published in various international journals.
-Pakistan is among a handful of nations with dozens of scientists working on CERN’s high-profile SuperCollider Project. Several SuperCollider components were built in Pakistan.
-Jinnah Antarctic Station puts Pakistan among a dozen nations doing research in Antarctica.
-Pakistan’s IT Industry is worth $2.8 billion and growing
-Pakistan leads the world in biometric IT services with the world’s biggest biometric database.
-Top-selling Blackberry application was developed by a Pakistani company Pepper.pk
6. Arts, Literature & Culture:
There has been an explosion of the uniquely Pakistani arts and literature:
-Sachal Orchestra, a Lahore Jazz Group, is topping western music charts
-Regular book fairs, music concerts, fashion shows & theater group performances
-UK’s Granta Magazine Special Issue Highlights Successful Pakistani Authors’ Books Published in Europe and America. Examples: Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows), Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Nadeem Aslam (The Wasted Vigil) who have been making waves in literary circles and winning prizes in London and New York.
7. Heavy Manufacturing:
Pakistan has a significant heavy industry today. For example:
-Autos, Motorcycles, Tractors, Buses, Trucks (Auto Sales Up 61% in July, 2011)
-Nuclear Reactors (Khushab)
-Unmanned Drones (UAVs)
-Ballistic and Cruise Missiles
8. Natural Resources:
Pakistan is rich in energy and mineral resources.
-US Dept of Energy estimates 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas mostly in Sindh. And there's good potential for shale oil in the country.
-Vast coal reserves at Thar for cheap electricity
-Huge deposits of copper, gold, iron and rare earths at Reko Diq, Dilband and Saindak in Balochistan
-High sustained wind speeds of 13 to 16 mph along the Arabian Sea coastline
-Lots of sunshine everywhere all year round
-Significant hyrdo energy potential
9. Strong Society:
The Habibs bailed out Pakistani state in 1947.
Now, let's see how Edhi doing it in 2011. Here's quote from Anatol Leiven's "Pakistan: A Hard Country":
"There is no sight in Pakistan more moving than to visit some dusty, impoverished small town in arid wasteland, apparently abandoned by God and all sensible men and certainly abandoned by the Pakistani state and its own elected representatives- to see the flag of the Edhi Foundation flying over a concrete shack with a telephone, and the only ambulance in town standing in front. Here, if anywhere in Pakistan, lies the truth of human religion and human morality".
Lieven says Pakistanis donate 5% of the GDP for charitable cause, making Pakistanis the most generous people in the world. As a benchmark, philanthropy accounts for 2.2% of gdp in the United States, 1.3% in the UK, 1.2% in Canada and 0.6% in India.
10. Weak State:
Unfortunately, Pakistani state, run by politicians and their hand-picked civilian administrators, is weak, incompetent and ineffective.
The Pakistani military and the civil society bails out the state each time it is found lacking. Examples include the earthquake in 2005 , Swat takeover by Taliban insurgents in 2009, and massive floods in 2010. In each of these cases, the politicians and the civilian administrators abandoned the people and the world media declared Pakistan a failed state on the verge of total collapse. But they were proved wrong.
The military launched the rescue and relief efforts by deploying all of its resources, and then the NGOs like Edhi Foundation stepped in to help the people stand on their feet again.
While the worst 5% of the Pakistan story gets all the headlines, the reality of Pakistan today as vibrant society and a strong nation gets ignored by the mainstream media. The real story of Pakistan is the resilience of its 180 million citizens who continue to strive to make it better and stronger.
The Taliban who get all the coverage do not pose an existential threat to Pakistan. Generations of military families have periodically fought FATA insurgencies. For example, Shuja Nawaz, the author of Crossed Swords says that his grandfather, his uncle and his cousin have all been deployed in Waziristan by the British and later Pakistani governments in the last century and a half. American withdrawal from the region will eventually calm the situation in Waziristan, and the rest of the country.
Climate change and the growing water scarcity are the main long-term existential threats to Pakistan and the region. Water per capita is already down below 1000 cubic meters and declining
What Pakistan needs are major 1960s style investments for a second Green Revolution to avoid the specter of mass starvation and political upheaval it will bring.
Note: Click here to get a pdf version of my presentation at P.A.C.C. in San Jose, CA.
Here's a video of Riaz Haq's interview on Aug 14, 2011:
Wide Angle Zoom: Formation and Future of Pakistan by wbt-tv
Ishrat Husain: Structural Reforms in Pakistan's Economy
Pakistan's Economic Performance 2008-2010
Incompetence Worse Than Corruption in Pakistan
Pakistan's Circular Debt and Load Shedding
US Fears Aid Will Feed Graft in Pakistan
Pakistan Swallows IMF's Bitter Medicine
Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy
Pakistan's Energy Crisis
Karachi Tops Mumbai in Stock Performance
India Pakistan Contrasted 2010
Pakistan's Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised
After Partition: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
The "Poor" Neighbor by William Dalrymple
Pakistan's Modern Infrastructure
Video: Who Says Pakistan Is a Failed State?
India Worse Than Pakistan, Bangladesh on Nutrition
UNDP Reports Pakistan Poverty Declined to 17 Percent
Pakistan's Choice: Talibanization or Globalization
Pakistan's Financial Services Sector
Resilient Pakistan Defies Doomsayers
Pakistan's Decade 1999-2009
Pakistan's Other Story
South Asia Slipping in Human Development
Asia Gains in Top Asian Universities
Pakistan's Multi-Billion Dollar IT Industry
India-Pakistan Military Comparison
Food, Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan
Pakistan Energy Crisis
IMF-Pakistan Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies