As Pakistanis it is rare for us to admit that we need a reality check. How many of us pause to think that the country that Pakistan came out of – India – and the country that came out of Pakistan – Bangladesh – are both democracies but we are not. As Pakistanis we hate comparisons with India but maybe it is time for a comparison with Bangladesh.
In his latest piece, Prof Pervez Hoodbhoy, author and analyst undertakes such an analysis. According to Hoodbhoy, “Bangladesh’s economic growth rate is 7.8 % compared to 5.8% for Pakistan, its debt per capita ($434) is less than half that for Pakistan ($974), and its foreign exchange reserves ($32 billion) are four times Pakistan’s ($8bn).”
Why is that?
Hoodbhoy argues “much of this growth owes to exports which zoomed from zero in 1971 to $35.8bn in 2018 (Pakistan’s is $24.8bn). Bangladesh produces no cotton but, to the chagrin of Pakistan’s pampered textile industry, it has eaten savagely into its market share. The IMF calculates Bangladesh’s economy growing from $180bn presently to $322bn by 2021. This means that the average Bangladeshi today is almost as wealthy as the average Pakistani and, if the rupee depreciates further, will be technically wealthier by 2020.”
Further, “East Pakistan’s population in the 1951 census was 42 million, while West Pakistan’s was 33.7m. But today Bangladesh has far fewer people than Pakistan — 165m versus 200m. A sustained population planning campaign helped reduce fertility in Bangladesh. No such campaign — or even its beginnings — is visible today in Pakistan.”
And, “The health sector is no less impressive — far fewer babies die at birth in Bangladesh than in Pakistan. Immunisation is common and no one gets shot dead for administering polio drops. Life expectancy (72.5 years) is higher than Pakistan’s (66.5 years). According to the ILO, females are well ahead in employment (33.2pc) as compared to Pakistan (25.1pc).”
So what happened to Pakistan? And Why did Bangladesh do ahead?
According to Hoodbhoy, “Bangladesh and Pakistan are different countries today because they perceive their national interest very differently. Bangladesh sees its future in human development and economic growth. Goal posts are set at increasing exports, reducing unemployment, improving health, reducing dependence upon loans and aid, and further extending micro credit. Water and boundary disputes with India are serious and Bangladesh suffers bullying by its bigger neighbour on matters of illegal immigration, drugs, etc. But its basic priorities have not wavered. For Pakistan, human development comes a distant second. The bulk of national energies remain focused upon check-mating India. Relations with Afghanistan and Iran are therefore troubled; Pakistan accuses both of being excessively close to India. But the most expensive consequence of the security state mindset was the nurturing of extra state actors in the 1990s. Ultimately they had to be crushed after the APS massacre of Dec 16, 2014. This, coincidentally, was the day Dhaka had fallen 43 years earlier.”
Hoodbhoy ends by stating perceptively: “CPEC or no CPEC, it’s impossible to match India tank for tank or missile by missile. Surely it is time to get realistic. Shouting ‘Pakistan zindabad’ from the rooftops while obsequiously taking dictation from the Americans, Chinese, and Saudis has taken us nowhere. Announcing that we have become targets of a fifth-generation hi-tech secret subversion inflames national paranoia but is otherwise pointless. Instead, to move forward, Pakistan must transform its war economy into ultimately becoming a peace economy.”