Pakistan at 70: Can Pakistan Become an Asian Tiger?

 Copyright: Hudson Institute

Copyright: Hudson Institute

“India and Pakistan now have been independent for 70 years and their trajectory matters for the rest of the world” said Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, to open the discussion about the present and future trajectory of Pakistan. After contextualizing the fragility and instability of the economy, Ambassador Haqqani presented a very positive perspective regarding the future of the economy: Dr. Nadeem ul Haque’s book Looking Back: How Pakistan became an Asian Tiger by 2050. Haqqani alsointroduced Marvin Weinbaum, Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the Middle East Institute, who also presented his view and opened discussion on the book.

In words of Ambassador Haqqani, Dr. Nadeem ul Haque’s unique view opens the debate by “creating a fictional story of Pakistan success”, targeted to a young public and anyone interested in a “revolution of thoughts” that would lead to a change in Pakistanis mentality, and at a later stage, would make Pakistan an Asian Tiger by 2050.

Dr. Nadeem ul Haque describes his book as a transportation in time. He affirms this is a valuable exercise, usually done by experts to predict the tendency that the economy will follow, but this time in the form of a fictional book. “We get to 2050, Pakistan has become an Asian Tiger, all good things are happening”, there are modern cities and many other good-looking indicators that show economic growth. A UN commission evaluates what has happened and finds that, by 2020, Pakistan still had a lot of issues, so what changed? He transports us to 2020, a year with high population growth rate and where social indicators show that Pakistan’s economy is very fragile. Social indicators describe the country as a “fragile state”, which make necessary a $15 billion study to understand what is happening. The results: even with the negative statistics, the young population has positive effects as it leads to entrepreneurship, migration and a growing middle class. Nevertheless, there is high growth volatility and productivity decline.

Dr. Ul Haqueexplains further that before the reform, the government is not making good policies. However, two agents of change appear: leadership by the openness of academics and funding from Washington. Both agents are analyzed with a methodology to “look at the system as a whole”, the idea is not to push the economy in certain direction but to follow its direction. Networks, in which debate is incentivized, emerge by 2023 to 2025, and the government starts to be questioned. The conclusion is that the government is thought of as benevolent instead of predatory. When there is a crisis there are no reforms, so Pakistan gets a bailout and then continues badrent seeking policies. This situation eventually leads to a crisis again. Austerity transformed Pakistan into a fragile state. After understanding the problematic, the book shows a reform period from 2028 to 2030, it includes changes in the colonial legacy and breaking rent-seeking behavior. It emphasises that understanding social mobility and land distribution is key. From 2029 to 2031, the cities develop and vibrant markets appear. The society becomes inclusive and Pakistan transforms into a more secular state thanks to the arrival of new alternatives. Dr. Ul Haque ended his speech emphasizing the importance of learning globally but acting locally.

The second panelist, Marvin Weinbaum points out the importance of understanding the context in which Pakistan now exists. Heargues that the book provides a guide that encourages development, but it does not include all the potential that is needed to arrive to that reality. Some key elements that were not discussed in the book are how the obsession with India ends, how the region in which Pakistan is located contributes to the evolution of the country and how transformations include social changes, all of which are crucial for a real change.

To conclude, Ambassador Haqqani raised the question of how the changes proposed by the book could adapt to real life in a context where elites are not willing to lose control, and where there is military power and “emotional distance” from the people when discussing the future of the country. The audience contributed to the discussion by asking questions about the importance of this conversation for the public in Washington DC, the barrier of proposing changes based on unreliable datacollected in Pakistan, and the importance of quality of governance.

Dr. Ul Haque concluded the discussion by answering these questions. He stated that ideas are the motor of change. He affirms that history has shown us how every change has been preceded by thinkers who understand the possibilities and the context, and that is the only way to produce a change. He sustains that to end corruption the system of governance needs to change. The evolution that he proposes is not linear but offers several directions and solutions that do not need to happen in a certain order. Regarding data, having quality data per se is not the only important thing, but to have data that contributes to the academic discussion. “We cannot intervene everyone, we need to understand what is intervention, how do we make policy”

To watch the discussion, click here.