Monday, April 24, 2017

Pakistani Diaspora Bucks Global Trend With 2.8% Higher Remittances in 2016

Pakistani diaspora bucked the 2016 global decline in remittances with a modest 2.8% increase over 2015, according to a recently released World Bank report. An estimated $19.8 billion remitted to Pakistan amounted to 6.9% of the country's GDP. This is a welcome relief coming on the heels of the State Bank of Pakistan report indicating the country's current account deficit widened to $6.13 billion or 2.6% of GDP in the first 9 months of fiscal 2017.

2016 Remittances to South Asia. Source: World Bank

Global Decline:

Meanwhile, global remittance flows to developing countries registered a decline for two successive years, said the report.  Remittances declined by an estimated 2.4 percent, to $429 billion, in 2016, after a decline of 1 percent in 2015. India, the largest remittance-receiving country worldwide, led the fall with a decrease of 8.9 percent in remittance inflows.

South Asia Region:

Remittances to India declined by 8.9 percent in 2016, to $62.7 billion, ranking the country as the top recipient of such inflows.  In Bangladesh, remittances declined by an estimated 11.1 percent in 2016. In Pakistan, the 12 percent growth witnessed in 2015 moderated to an estimated 2.8 percent in 2016. Nepal experienced unusually high growth in remittances, at 14.3 percent in 2015, due to emigrants sending financial assistance after the earthquake. In 2016, remittance flows to Nepal declined by an estimated 6.7 percent from the previous year’s high level. In Sri Lanka, remittance growth was estimated at 3.9 percent in 2016.

Next Year Forecast:

The World Bank says the remittance growth in the region is projected to remain muted, because of low growth and fiscal consolidation in GCC countries with low energy prices. An increase of only 2.0 percent is expected in 2017. Bangladesh’s remittance growth in 2017 is forecast at 2.4 percent, India’s at 1.9 percent, Pakistan’s at 1.4 percent, and Sri Lanka’s at 1.3 percent.

Summary:

World Bank report says Pakistani diaspora bucked the 2016 global decline in remittances with a modest 2.8% increase over 2015. An estimated $19.8 billion remitted to Pakistan amounted to 6.9% of the country's GDP. This is a welcome relief coming on the heels of the State Bank of Pakistan report indicating the country's current account deficit widened to $6.13 billion or 2.6% of GDP in the first 9 months of fiscal 2017. Future growth in remittances is likely to remain muted. Slowing growth in such inflows will further increase pressure on Pakistan to work on enhancing exports and attracting more foreign direct investment.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

CPEC and FDI

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Pakistani Diaspora Among World's Largest

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ADB Raises Pakistan GDP Growth Forecast

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China-Pakistan Industrial Corridor

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Panama Verdict; US-India H1B Dispute; Trump NSA in South Asia

What are the implications of the split Pakistan Supreme Court verdict recently announced in Panama Case filed against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by PTI Chief Imran Khan, JI Chief Siraj ul Haq and AML chief Shaikh Rasheed? Why did 3 out of 5 judges not vote to disqualify Mr. Sharif from holding office under Articles 62 and 63 of the Pakistan constitution? Has the Prime Minister not committed perjury, a felony in Pakistani law, by offering multiple conflicting explanations for the source of funds used to buy London flats? Does the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) appointed by the Supreme Court have the independence and the skill set to find credible evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Sharif? Will Nawaz Sharif survive the JIT and serve out his term scheduled to end in mid-2018?


Why has President Donald J. Trump tightened H1B temporary work visa requirements with an executive order calling for "Buy American, Hire American"? How will it impact India, the biggest beneficiary of the lion's share of the 85,000 US H1B visas issued each year? Are these visas being abused to bring in lower paid foreign workers to replace American workers? How will India respond? Will the Indian government retaliate against US products/services imported by India as suggested by the Indian trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman? How will India deal with similar other restrictions on temporary work visas recently announced by Australia, New Zealand and other industrialized nations?

What took President Trump's National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan? Why did Mr. Trump announce his request for increased US aid to Pakistan just prior to General McMaster's South Asia trip? Did General McMaster threaten Pakistan to "cooperate or else" as being reported by the Afghan and the Indian media?

Viewpoint From Overseas host Misbah Azam discusses these questions with panelists Ali H. Cemendtaur and Riaz Haq (www.riazhaq.com)

https://youtu.be/HR8JYfPgFOI




Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Panama Leaks: Did Musharraf Steal People's Money?

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H1B Visa Abuse by Indian Body Shops

Gen H.R. McMaster's Appointment as NSA

Impact of Trump Appointment on US Domestic and Foreign Policy

Talk4Pak Youtube Channel

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bollywood Revenue in Sharp Decline: Down 12% in 2016

Bollywood movie revenue suffered 12% drop in 2016 to $338 million, the sharpest decline ever, according to Reuters news agency. Meanwhile, the global movie revenue rose just 1% to a record $38.6 billion last year, according to a report by Motion Pictures Association of America.

Box office sales hit a record $11.4 billion in the United States and Canada, up 2% from 2015, thanks to blockbusters such as “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” and “Captain America: Civil War”, according to a report in Los Angeles Times.

By contrast, the Bollywood revenue, a tiny fraction of the global film market,  has been in decline since 2014. It fell from $413 million in 2014 to $385 million in 2015 to $338 million in 2016, down 6.7% from 2014 to 2015 and then again dropping 12% from 2015 to 216.

While Bollywood business is in sharp decline, the Pakistani cinema, though small, is growing very rapidly with the explosive growth of multiplex theater screens. Pakistan's "The News Sunday" estimates that box office receipts in the country jumped 28 per cent in 2015 as compared to 2014 and this figure is only expected to grow in coming years.

Here's how Indian media and entertainment analyst Akar Patel describes Bollywood's business opportunity in Pakistan:

"In Pakistan, there is a big market for Indian movies in their multiplexes. For decades this revenue was lost to Bollywood because the movies were pirated. Under former president Pervez Musharraf, the official screening of movies was allowed, benefiting both nations. Today all Bollywood movies are shown there. Unfortunately, the current state of ties between the two countries has been allowed to deteriorate so much that we should not be surprised if Musharraf's wise decision is reversed."

It can be a win-win arrangement with Pakistani artists working with their Indian counterparts in Indian movies and increasing Bollywood revenue from the growing Pakistan market that is already the second largest market for Bollywood entertainment. However, the powerful Hindu Nationalists appear to be succeeding in thwarting this partnership.

If the anti-Pakistan rhetoric and the attacks on Pakistani artists in Mumbai continue, it is very likely that Pakistan will respond by reimposing the ban on showing of Indian films in a rapidly expanding market market for Bollywood entertainment. In addition to increasing estrangement between the two neighbors, stopping cooperation and collaboration will be a significant blow for the entertainment industries in both India and Pakistan.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mardan Lynching; Jadhav Death Sentence; Trump's Early Crises

Why was Mashaal Khan, an Abdul Wali Khan University student, killed by a mob of his fellow students in Mardan? What does this lynching incident say about Pakistani state and society? Is it a failure of the state? Or is it a symptom of a larger societal problem in the country? Do extreme right-wing politicians, media, judges and bureaucrats share responsibility for this ongoing madness of vigilante justice in cases of alleged blasphemy? What can and must be done to stop this alarming slide into total anarchy in the name of religion?

Who is Kulbhushan Yadav (aka Kulbhushan Jadhav or Husain Mubarak Patel)? How did he end up in Balochistan? What was he doing there? Is he a mere spy collecting snd transmitting intelligence to his native India? or is he a covert Indian operative responsible for the deaths of hundreds or thousands of Pakistanis? Why has he been sentenced to death after a field court martial trial in Pakistan? Is Pakistan sending a strong message as a deterrent to further Indian actions to sabotage the strategic China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)? How will it affect future India-Pakistan ties?

How is President Donald Trump dealing with Syrian and North Korean crises so early in his presidency? Are the crises changing Mr. Trump? Is he abandoning his isolationist/protectionist rhetoric to deal with the realities of governing? What message did Mr. Trump send by dropping the massive MOAB, the mother of all bombs, in Afghanistan soon after cruise missile strikes in Syria? How will this message be heard in world capitals, particularly in Pyongyang and Teheran who are believed to have weapons development programs operating in underground bunkers?

Viewpoint From Overseas host Misbah Azam discusses these questions with panelists Ai H. Cemendtaur and Riaz Haq (www.riazhaq.com)

https://youtu.be/hu-4TUvgMCE




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Does the US Share Responsibility For the Rise of ISIS?

Impact of Trump Appointment on US Domestic and Foreign Policy

Iran-Saudi Conflict

Talk4Pak Youtube Channel

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Pakistani-American's Tech Unicorn Files For IPO at $1.6 Billion Valuation

Washington D.C. based AI technology firm Afiniti, founded by serial Pakistani-American entrepreneur Zia Chishti, has filed for initial public offering (IPO) at $1.6 billion valuation, according to VentureBeat.

Zia Chishti founded his first company Align Technology in 1997 in Silicon Valley. It creates clear plastic braces for straightening teeth by using advanced 3-D computer imaging. The technology now trademarked as Invisalign has helped millions of people straighten their teeth for a beautiful smile without enduring the pain and unsightly looks of the traditional steel brackets and wires used in orthodontics. Align Technology is now valued at $10 billion.

Afiniti:

Afiniti uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to enable real-time, optimized pairing of individual call center agents with individual customers in large enterprises for best results. When a customer contacts a call center, Afiniti matches his or her phone number with any information related to it from up to 100 databases, according to VentureBeat. These databases carry purchase history, income, credit history, social media profiles and other demographic information. Based on this information, Afiniti routes the call directly to an agent who has been determined, based on their own history, to be most effective in closing deals with customers who have similar characteristics.

Investors in Afiniti's latest round include GAM; McKinsey and Co; the Resource Group (TRG); G3 investments (run by Richard Gephardt); Elisabeth Murdoch; Sylvain Héfès; John Browne, former CEO of BP; Ivan Seidenfeld; and Larry Babbio, a former president of Verizon. The company has now raised more than $100 million, including the money previously raised, according to VentureBeat's sources.

Zia Chishti and Kelsey Wirth
Align Technology:

After graduating from Stanford Business School, Chishti wore braces when working as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. When his braces were removed he wore a clear plastic retainer. He noticed that when he did not wear the retainer for several days his teeth would move. However, putting the retainer back on helped bring his teeth to their desired, straightened state. It was this observation that a clear plastic device was capable of moving his own teeth that led to Chishti to conceive a process that became the Invisalign System.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking:

A background in computer science gave Chishti the insight that it was possible to design and manufacture an entire series of clear orthodontic devices similar to the retainer he wore, using 3- D computer graphics technology to straighten teeth. He and his co-founder Kelsey Wirth started Align Technology in 1997 to realize this vision. The process has now evolved to make extensive use of 3D printing for creating a series of braces to apply gentle pressure to straighten teeth over several months. In 2012 alone, the company printed 17 million transparent dental braces for patients.

Afiniti Target:

Afiniti has deployed over 150 programs for some of the world’s largest businesses, according to the company website.  The company says "we work with some of the biggest global brands across a wide range of sectors, including Airlines, Financial Services, Hospitality, Insurance, Politics, Retail, Satellite TV, Social Media, Telecommunications, and Utilities".

Big Names Board:

The company's board of directors includes heavyweights such as former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar,  former US Treasury Secretary John Snow, Shine Group’s founder and former Chairman Elisabeth Murdoch and Ivan Seidenberg, the former chief executive officer of Verizon Communications Inc.

Summary:

Zia Chishti is a serial entrepreneur of Pakistani origin. Prior to Afiniti, he founded or cofounded Align Technology, OrthoClear and The Resource Group (TRG). Afiniti, Zia's latest venture, has filed for IPO to raise additional funds at $1.6 billion valuation.

Related Links:

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Pakistani Brothers Spawned $20 Billion Security Software Industry

Pakistani-American Ashar Aziz's Fireeye Goes Public

Pakistani-American Pioneered 3D Technology in Orthodontics

Pakistani-Americans Enabling 2nd Machine Revolution

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Yet Another Honor For Malala

Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 and survived to tell her story, has become a household name in the West. She and her family have found a new home in Birmingham, England.

She has been honored with some of the highest international awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Last week, Malala was named the youngest ever UN Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on girls' education.

Refugee Crisis:

While Malala has been widely celebrated in Europe and America, the West has not been so generous to the refugee children from Syria and other war-torn nations who are suffering an ongoing tragedy. Very few refugees have been accepted in the West and there's growing opposition to accepting any more. Meanwhile, the greatest burden of hosting refugees is being born by those who can least afford it.  As of the end of 2015, the top 6 countries hosting the largest number of refugees are all majority Muslim nations: Jordan (2.7 million), Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.5 million) and Iran (979,400).




Underlying Causes of Terror:

What is the reason for this? Is it easier to make ourselves feel good by saving one girl without dealing with the underlying causes of terror that produce the Malalas and others like her?

US Berkeley's Smirti Joneja answers it well in a piece she wrote for the Daily Cal. Here's an except from it:

"Swallowing Malala’s story is much easier than casting a critical eye on the role the West has had in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria, which has contributed to a significant portion of the suffering that the people in those respective nations are undergoing. U.S. policy supported the rise of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, precursors to the Taliban, supporting radical jihadism and Islam as a retort against the Soviet Union and communist ideologies. Furthermore, U.S. military operations in Pakistan have ended thousands of innocent lives — actions that have gone largely unpunished and relatively unnoticed while the victims and their families have been sadly forgotten. It is not just the Taliban that is committing crimes against humanity. If the Western world wants to celebrate and take part in Malala’s advocacy for justice, it must first recognize all the different parties who have infringed on that justice, including its own policies — both historical and ongoing. Justice can’t be served selectively, for such justice really isn’t justice at all."

White Savior Complex: 

Assed Baig, a freelance journalist, has accused the West of "white savior complex" in describing how Malala has been co-opted by the white world since being shot in Pakistan. Here's what he wrote in an Op Ed in the Huffington Post:

"This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalized. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armor to save her."

Summary: 

It appears that the West has co-opted Malala rather than dealing with the underlying causes that produce Malalas.  While recognizing that the West does suffer from the "White Man Savior Complex", I find such concerns overblown and fundamentally off the mark. I think Malala is a great ambassador for Pakistan doing a great service to Pakistan women who make up half the population of the country. My hope is that her celebrity will help increase focus on girls' education in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Malala Inspires School Enrollment Surge in Pakistan

Malala Yousufzai 

Does America Share Responsibility for the Rise of ISIS?

Female Literacy Lags Far Behind in South Asia

Burka Avenger

Out-of-School Children in Pakistan

Malala Moment

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pakistani Stock Market Still Offers Great Value After Stellar Performance in 2016

Pakistan's KSE-100 continues to offer attractive valuations for investors in 2017.  Its equities are trading at a forward price-earnings ratio of just 9.1, according to Pakistani brokerage firm Arif Habib Limited.

Pakistani shares are on offer at a deep discount to the Indian shares trading at 17.3 price-earnings multiple. While India's stock market is among the world's most expensive, the Pakistani market is among the cheapest.  Pakistani shares are now trading at 47.3% discount to Indian shares.


In spite KSE-100's major run up of 46% in 2016, far outpacing India's Sensex's 2.57% rise and MSCI emerging market's 8.42% increase, Pakistani equities (PE ratio 9.1) are still cheaper than Asian emerging markets (12.1) and China (11.9), according to published data.

 Pakistani shares are now trading at 47.3% discount to Indian shares, 31% discount to Asia Emerging Market index and 23.5% discount to Chinese shares.

Consumer confidence index in Pakistan jumped five point from the prior quarter to reach 106 in Q4/2016, according to Nielsen’s global survey of consumer confidence for 63 countries released recently.

Source: Nielsen

Here's an excerpt of Nielsen's report Africa/Middle East region that includes Pakistan:

"Consumer confidence in the Africa/Middle East region declined in the fourth quarter, falling four points to 83, the lowest level in more than three years. Confidence was highest in United Arab Emirates, which held steady from the third quarter at 108. Pakistan was the only country where consumer confidence moved in a positive direction, rising five points from the third quarter to 106, the highest score for the country since it was added to the survey in 2008."

The share of Pakistani respondents worried about job security dropped to 21%.  51% of Pakistanis said they are optimistic about better job opportunities in the next 12 months, according to the survey.

“The findings of the consumer confidence reflect a favorable atmosphere in Pakistan. The set of factors that influence the confidence levels of Pakistani consumers goes beyond economics and business, and is reflective of improved security conditions, increased energy availability and low inflation rates,” reported the survey.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has also led to a higher activity in large-scale manufacturing and construction, opening more investment opportunities,” said Nielsen Pakistan Managing Director Quratulain Ibrahim, according to Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper.  “We hope to see this optimism among Pakistani consumers during the coming months.”

Pakistani banks have boosted lending to businesses and consumers. Large-scale manufacturing sector borrowed Rs. 225 billion in 2016, up from Rs 119 billion in 2015. Consumer loans have jumped from Rs. 29 billion in 2015 to Rs. 70 billion in 2016. Auto financing soared 32% to Rs 30.7 billion in 2016, according to the State Bank of Pakistan as reported by Daily Times.

Pakistani consumers and businesses are feeling increasingly confident with improved overall security, rising foreign and domestic investments and  better employment prospects. They are earning, borrowing and spending more to further stimulate the economy thereby creating a virtuous cycle. Low oil prices and relatively subdued inflation are also helping. It's now up to Pakistan's political, economic and military leadership to maintain this growth momentum.

Related Links:

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

US Missile Strikes in Syria; US Mediation in India-Pakistan Dispute; Bannon’s Future

Did Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad really use chemical weapons against his own people? Are US Missile Strikes on Syrian Shayrat airbase justified? Why did Russian President Vladimir Putin stand by and watch his Syrian ally punished by US missile strikes? What is President Trump’s strategy in Syria beyond these limited strikes? How will the Trump Administration deal with ISIS in Syria? How will Russia and Iran react to further US involvement against their ally Assad?

What did United States’ UN Ambassador Nikki Haley say about the Trump administration mediating between India and Pakistan? Why did India immediately reject it? Where will this initiative go from here? How will Lisa Curtis’s appointment as South Asia director of US National Security Council impact President Trump’s policy in South Asia given that she co-wrote a paper with Husain Haqqani that is highly critical of Pakistan? Would President Trump's Pakistan policy be better or worse or the same as President Obama's?

Why has President Trump’s close aide Steve Bannon been bumped from the US National Security Council headed by General HR McMaster? Is there any truth in rumors of Bannon’s clash with President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner? Is Bannon about to be completely eased out of the White House? How will such an exit change the White House?

Viewpoint From Overseas host Faraz Darvesh discusses these questions with regular panelists Misbah Azam and Riaz Haq (www.riazhaq.com)

https://youtu.be/wN5B7QWKT1Q




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Obama's Parting Shot Against Pakistan

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Talk4Pak Youtube Channel


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Pakistani Students Team Wins First Place in Stanford Design Contest

A 3-person team of Pakistani students, including a female student from Islamabad's National University of Science and Technology (NUST), won first place in a contest organized by Stanford Center of Longevity. The team's entry is a device they designed and prototyped that enables tremor patients to perform daily routine tasks.

The Purpose: 

The purpose of the contest is to encourage innovation to help improve the quality of life of aging populations in the West and the rest of the world.

The 2017 Stanford Longevity Design Challenge had the following goals:

1. Create well-designed, practical solutions that address key issues associated with aging

2. Encourage a new generation of students to become knowledgeable about aging issues

3. Provide promising designers with a path to drive change in the world


2017 Stanford Longevity Design Challenge Winners
The Winners: 

NUST's Hooriya Anam, Awais Shafique, and Arsalan Javed defeated teams from around the world with their anti-tremor prototype project TAME. The team from famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) placed second while Virginia Tech team stood third, according to results announced by the Center.
NUST's Stanford Challenge Winners From L to R: Arsalan Javed, Hooriya Anam, Awais Shafique

The Competitors:  

In addition to NUST, MIT and Virginia Tech teams, there were other teams from Cornell University, University of Sao Paolo Brazil,  China's Beijing University and Silicon Valley's Stanford University who also competed in the contest.

The winners received $17,000 in cash prizes along with paid travel to Stanford where they presented their designs to industry, academic, and government leaders.

College and University Enrollment in Pakistan:

Wins such as the Stanford Challenge are the result of improvements in higher education in Pakistan since the year 2000.

There are over 3 million students enrolled in grades 13 through 16 in Pakistan's 1,086 degree colleges and 161 universities, according to Pakistan Higher Education Commission report for 2013-14.  The 3 million enrollment is 15% of the 20 million Pakistanis in the eligible age group of 18-24 years.  In addition, there are over 255,000 Pakistanis enrolled in vocational training schools, according to Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA).

Graduation Day at NED Engineering University For 1300 Graduates in 2013
Pakistani universities have been producing over half a million graduates, including over 10,000 IT graduates, every year since 2010, according to HEC data. The number of university graduates in Pakistan increased from 380,773 in 2005-6 to 493,993 in 2008-09. This figure is growing with rising enrollment and contributing to Pakistan's growing human capital.

Source: UNESCO's Global Education Digest 2009






Higher education in Pakistan has come a long way since its independence in 1947 when there was only one university, the University of Punjab. By 1997, the number of universities had risen to 35, of which 3 were federally administered and 22 were under the provincial governments, with a combined enrollment of 71,819 students. A big spending boost by President Pervez Musharraf helped establish 51 new universities and awarding institutions during 2002-2008. This helped triple university enrollment from 135,000 in 2003 to about 400,000 in 2008, according to Dr. Ata ur Rehman who led the charge for expanding higher education during Musharraf years. There are 161 universities with 1.5 million students enrolled in Pakistan as of 2014.

R&D Investment: 

Rise of research and publications at Pakistani universities began during Musharraf years when the annual budget for higher education increased from only Rs 500 million in 2000 to Rs 28 billion in 2008, to lay the foundations of the development of a strong knowledge economy, according to former education minister Dr. Ata ur Rehman. Student enrollment in universities increased from 270,000 to 900,000 and the number of universities and degree awarding institutions increased from 57 in 2000 to 137 by 2008. Government R&D spending jumped seven-fold as percentage of GDP from 0.1% of GDP in 1999 to 0.7% of GDP in 2007. It has since declined as percentage of GDP.

Summary:

Pakistani students, scientists and researchers are continuing to produced highly recognized and cited research in spite of serious economic and security challenges. Enrollment in higher education is rising and giving a boost to innovation. With better policy focus and more investment in higher education, Pakistan  can make an even greater impact with its young demographics.

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