Pakistan's long-term prospects as population grows
By Ahmad Faruqui
Global Beat Syndicate
SAN FRANCISCO--Pakistan, wedged as it is between India, China, Afghanistan and Iran, will, according to a UN projection, be the world's fourth largest country, with an estimated population of 350 million. Current population is just over 150 million.
Normally, Pakistan is only in the news when something bad happens there. Most recently, Dr. Ali Kahn, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, accused of heading up a global nuclear proliferation ring, was featured TIME magazine's cover as "The Merchant of Menace." Other recent news has involved the capture of Al Qaeda terrorists, crimes against women, rampant poverty and the decision by President Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a coup five years ago, to continue as army chief-of-staff.
Small wonder most Americans have a dim view of Pakistan's future.
Pakistan was founded in 1947 by secular Muslim politician Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who saw the new statee as the fulfillment of the vision of the people's leading poet and visionary, Muhammad Iqbal. Sadly, more than half a century later, this vision remains unfulfilled.
One reason for Pakistan's troubled existence is its long-standing conflict with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Separately, in 1971, a civil war led to the secession of the eastern wing of the country and the creation of Bangladesh. Domestically, persistent recurrences of military coups and dictatorships have weakened the country's civilian institutions.
Five years ago, a report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council cautioned that by 2015 Pakistan would experience continuing domestic turmoil that would result in central government control being reduced to the Punjabi heartland and the economic hub of Karachi. A recent update of this report, "Mapping Global Futures," talks glowingly of the rise of China and India during the next half century, but mentions Pakistan only in the context of threats to global security posed by its external and internal conflicts.
Given the lawlessness that prevails in Pakistan today, it is hard to envision a positive future for it in the near term. But it is possible to imagine an optimistic outcome over the long term, when the current oligarchic leadership of generals, feudal lords and corrupt politicians would have turned over.
Three conditions prompt this optimism. With the rapidly growing large labor force projected by the UN, Pakistan will have fulfilled the first of three conditions for rapid economic growth.
A second condition requires that Pakistan raise its investment rate from the current 18 percent of GDP to a level similar to India's 25 percent. This would require substantial foreign direct investment, which will only come if a strong civil society takes root. This means far greater respect for law and property rights, making anarchy, kidnappings, rapes and tortures a thing of the past. As important, the feudal and military elites would have given way to a new entrepreneurial class, and Pakistan's economic managers would, in turn, have to exercise fiscal discipline by expanding the tax base and reducing unproductive government expenditure, especially on the military. Genuine economic reforms that provide significant incentives for private enterprise would have be implemented.
The final condition, involving productivity growth, would require a commitment to education, science and technology. Pakistani universities would have to become centers of learning and attract the best talent from around the globe. The current drift toward extremism on campuses and militarism in the polity would have been replaced with a bias for invention, innovation and commercialization of new technologies.
This long-term vision will require inspired political leadership that represents the people and translates words into action. It will require the institution of checks and balances between the three branches of government and the establishment of genuine democracy, not just holding ritualistic elections.
Most importantly, genuine progress will require the complete transformation of Pakistan's adversarial relationship with India. Gone would be the congenital insecurity and dread of being reabsorbed into the "mother country." Something akin to the Canada-U.S. model would have settled in, allowing defense spending to be lowered to 2 percent of GDP (from the current 4 to 6 percent). India, with it shared history, would emerge as Pakistan's largest trading partner and investor.
Only by radically changing its strategic culture will Pakistan achieve the progressive vision of its founding fathers. Otherwise, it may even cease to exist as a nation state. As Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew noted in his memoirs, "The Pakistanis are a hardy people with enough of the talented and well-educated to build a modern nation. But unending strife with India has drained Pakistan's resources and stunted its potential."