The life and times of Dr Ishrat Husain

One of the most impactful public servants in Pakistan’s history, Dr Ishrat’s story is a telling part of our economic and national history

In July 2021, nearly a year to this day, Dr Ishrat Hussain sent his resignation to the then prime minister, Imran Khan. For the past three years, he had been serving in Khan’s cabinet as Adviser to the PM for Institutional Reform and Austerity. 

Most resignations from a cabinet position do not come willingly. Sometimes ministers are resigning because they are being scapegoated, at other times they have fallen out with their party, and in some cases they are resigning as the result of some failure.

Husain had the rare distinction of resigning on his own terms. Back in 2018 when he took on the role of Adviser to the PM, he had done so with the understanding that his term would last three years, and that he would retire upon reaching the age of 80. When the time came, he did not try to stick around his position of power. Instead he stuck by his word. 

Thus came to an end one of the most remarkable public service careers that this country has witnessed. From his early days as a civil servant to his time as governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and everything in between, there is very little in the field of development that he has not done or seen. 

Why is it worth looking back at his career? The reasons are two-fold. The first one, and perhaps, the one that is more ‘news relevant’ is that the SBP is currently standing on the precipice of a new governor taking the helm. It is prudent to look back at the tenure of a former governor that was instrumental in shaping the SBP into what it is today, and who also took over at a time when the country was in economic distress. 

As with any public office holder, there has been criticism of Dr Ishrat and his tenure at the SBP. His critics claim that the loose monetary policy he favoured may have left the country with rising levels of inflation and a current account deficit. At the same time his tenure marked an impressive cleanup of the financial sector and the privatisation of the banking system that gave the entire country’s financial climate a breath of fresh air. Those are all aspects that we will dive into deeper in this story. 

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The second reason, which is perhaps the more mawkish one, is that an in-depth acknowledgement of his life’s work is long overdue. In his nearly six-decade long career, he has donned many hats. Whether his decisions were right or wrong, he wore each role with dignity and bore his responsibilities with diligence. In a series of interviews with his close associates, and using the recently published biography chronicling his life written by Sibtain Naqvi, Profit has tried to get a measure of the man, and draw lessons from his rich life. 

The generation that was to build Pakistan 

Place the man in his context: Ishrat Husain was born in Agra in 1941 to a middle-class family of professionals. His father was a lawyer who in December 1947 was forced to uproot the lives of his entire family and move them to Karachi to avoid the communal violence of partition.  

The young Husain arrived in Pakistan at six years old where he began his formal education. He was of the first generation of Pakistanis that were entirely educated in the state of Pakistan. As a newly-minted state, Pakistan was at a stage where the next two decades decided the direction in which its institutions would be erected. Husain’s generation, which was just entering grade school, would be the architects of these institutions. The job of building Pakistan would fall to them.  

From an early age, it became apparent that Ishrat had a knack for learning and his talent was recognised by his teachers and family alike. After matriculating at only 12 years old, he enrolled into Government College Hyderabad where he discovered a passion for debating and became Vice President of the College Council. After obtaining a degree in Zoology and Chemistry, Husain then went on to Sindh University in Karachi to pursue a further degree in Chemistry — which was his original subject before economics. 

It was during his time in college that Husain first truly immersed himself in the growing concerns that were enveloping the then nascent state of Pakistan. Pakistan had been built on lofty ideals, and those that came here after abandoning their old lives in erstwhile British India did so with great hopes of finding a promised land in exchange for their pains. During his time at Sindh University, Husain remained an active participant in real world discussions outside the classrooms, even protesting against Ayub Khan’s One Unit Scheme. Later on in his career as a civil servant, Husain would sit on the One Unite Dissolution Committee. It was also during this period that he realised his passion lay in solving problems. Which is why, like so many other hopefully young men and women, he decided that he was going to become an officer of the Pakistan Civil Service. 

Back in the day, as Sibtain Naqvi’s biography of Husain titled ‘Unravelling Gordian Knots’ explains, the civil service was a very different animal. A very select group of the country’s brightest individuals would compete for a limited number of slots, and the ones who would pass the rigorous examination would then be clothed in immense power and given free reign to run the country. 

Husain sat for the examination and managed to successfully find his way to the Civil Services Academy in Lahore. Here, he was part of the particularly illustrious 1964 batch of civil servants. Among this year’s crop of talent were the now former president Farooq Leghari, former federal minister Abdullah Memon, former governor of Punjab Shahid Hamid, and former secretary general of the finance ministry Mueen Afzal. 

“In every civil service batch back in those days, out of 20 people you would find two to four who were outstanding. The 1964 batch is special because almost all of the officers that came that year were exceptional. If two to four were outstanding out of 20 in other batches, in the 1964 batch 16 out of 20 were outstanding,” says Sartaj Aziz, economist and strategist. 

The academy proved to be a deeply formative experience for Husain. It was here that he first picked up an interest in economics and law, and considered pursuing further education in the field. His batchmates were a diverse young group, with some privileged scions of established families who had studied at Oxbridge and others from a more middle-class working background, the kind Husain came from. Here, he developed friendships that would last him a lifetime, and picked up interests such as horse riding that would otherwise have eluded him.  

As his interests developed as a civil servant, he found himself more and more inclined towards the developmental side of public service. A stint at the then East Pakistan Academy of Rural Development in particular inspired him to take up a career in the development sector. But immediately after graduating from the academy and finishing his training, there was a job to do. Husain’s first posting was as Assistant Commissioner under training in Khairpur district, Sindh. He continued to move around, going first to the sub-division of Nawabshah and then on to the larger Shikarpur area. 

As an empowered government officer in that era, Husain also became a witness to history. In 1969, he was posted in Chittagong at the height of the unrest against the then president Ayub Khan. In 1971, when the country broke into two and Bangladesh won its freedom, like many others Husain found it a moment of reflection as much as one of grief. After all, theirs was the generation that was supposed to build Pakistan, so where did it all go so wrong? Some form of catharsis came in 1971 when he found himself a part of the One Unit Dissolution Committee. This was the same One Unite scheme that Ishrat had protested against as a young college student, he was now helping dismantle as a young government officer. 

At this point, Husain and his superiors both realised that he had a talent for development work. He was a hard-working administrator, but he clearly had an eye for bigger picture stuff. He was appointed as deputy secretary of the Planning and Development Division. This was where he decided that his passion lay in development work, but to move ahead with it he would have to improve his academic qualifications. 

This was a turning point for him and his young family (Husain had married Shahnaz Gill in 1970). Husain could on the one hand stay in Pakistan and continue living the cushy life of a government officer with all of its trapping and privileges. Or, he could study and distinguish himself. He chose the latter. Bothered by his lack of economics education, he embarked on a government-backed programme to Williams College in the United States for a degree in developmental economics, launching an association with the world of academia that lasts to this day.

The economist enters

After graduating from Williams College, Husain’s career in the world of finance and economics took off. Immediately after returning, he got his first taste of Q block when he was appointed as deputy secretary of the finance division in 1972, and within a year he was promoted to additional secretary. 

But the civil service he had returned to was a far cry from the one he had left. In the wake of the first Bhutto administration and the independence of Bangladesh, political patronage was rampant in the civil service. Lateral entry and nepotism irked him, and in his interactions with Bhutto he found many contradictions. Husain has expressed to his biographer, he found that Bhutto was in possession of a brilliant mind, but he could not quite overcome his feudal background despite the popular support of the people he enjoyed.

Around 1976, when Bhutto was at the peak of his power, Husain was a contender for the slot of finance secretary. His education in economics and time at the finance division made him a shoo-in. Yet the promotion was not to be. Perhaps, a little disillusioned by the state of the country, and still hungry to learn more, he decided that if he was going to occupy high seats of power he was going to do it right. He decided to pursue a doctorate, and under the Ford Scholarship went to Boston University for his PhD. 

The original plan was that he would take two years off from the civil service, complete his doctorate and then return to Pakistan to serve. It would leave him a couple of years behind his batchmates in terms of promotions, but Husain was young and had a long career ahead of him. 

In 1978, he returned to Pakistan having completed his doctorate as Dr Ishrat Husain. That is when he was approached by the World Bank. During his time in the civil service, he had interacted with World Bank officials regularly. When one of them suggested that he apply to the bank as a junior economist, he began considering it. It was a risk. The World Bank is culturally very different from the civil service, and Husain would be throwing away a thriving career. But in the process of completing his PhD, he had realised his desire to pursue his interest in economic policy. A firm believer in the free market, the offer was made to him at a time when the Cold War was raging and the world was stuck between two economic systems — capitalism and socialism. Husain wanted to be in the thick of this global struggle, and so against the advice of his family and coworkers he accepted the position at the World Bank in 1979. 

The next 20 years of Husain’s life were spent at the World Bank. In his time there, he travelled all over the world consulting developing countries in facing their fiscal demons. He began as a junior economist for Africa and earned glowing recommendations from the Liberian president after his first assignment. 

His second assignment, however, is perhaps one of his most exciting stories. Freshly assigned to Ghana, Husain arrived in a country that had recently been taken over by a military revolution. The Ghanann government was split between socialist and rightist camps, and President Jerry Rawlings had yet to decide whether he would back the United States or the USSR in the Cold War. For a while, Husain found it difficult to get meetings. The internal divisions within the government meant that Rawlings meeting a member of the World Bank delegation would be taken as him favouring the West by a very sensitive socialist faction in his government.  

One evening, President Rawlings called Husain in for an off-the-books conversation. When Husain walked into the room, President Rawlings launched into a long speech about how his country had been looted by corrupt leaders. Almost immediately, memories of the Bhutto era came flooding back. Instead of taking a hardline World Bank approach, he explained to the president that he was from Pakistan where a populist leader had recently come to power and failed in his mission of courting the USSR and giving lip to the States. By establishing a third-world connection, he was able to to influence President Rawlings. 

Of course, the matter was not as simple as that. In the middle, during that World Bank mission to Ghana, Rawlings’ government imploded from within. The socialist faction rose up in arms and gunfights broke out. As the fate of Ghana’s fourth republic stood in the balance, Husain and his bank colleague’s had no option but to play cards and kill the time until calm returned. Eventually, however, President Rawlings managed to consolidate his position as and the bank’s mission in Ghana was a great success. 

The rest of Husain’s career at the World Bank went as one might expect. By 1982 he had completely left the civil service, and was appointed World Bank Representative to Nigeria where he stayed for four years. From 1987-91, he ran the bank’s Debt and International Finance Division. After a successful stint here, he was promoted to chief economist for Africa, where he gained critical experience dealing with the economies of developing countries. He served briefly in East Asia, a region in which he wished he had got more time, before assuming responsibility as Director for Poverty and Social Policy in 1996. In 1997, after a major World Bank reshuffle, he became the country director of Central Asian republics. Over here, Husain’s initial discomfort with socialist modes of planning and thinking turned into a definite sense of distaste for them.

His career with the World Bank after 20 years was reaching a crescendo. The next step was becoming a vice president, and Husain was well on his way to getting there. But then he got a phone call, and the rest is history. 

The phone call 

In the middle of October 1999, Husain was on a work trip in Kazakhstan, when one evening he was awoken by the incessant ringing of a phone after midnight. On the other end of the line was Brigadier S M Mujtaba, who had got through to Husain’s personal line through some common connections. The brigadier informed him that Lt General Aziz Khan, who was then the chief of general staff of the Pakistan Army, wished to speak to him urgently and in person. 

This was only a few days after a military coup by General Pervez Musharraf had removed the then elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif from office and replaced him with himself at the helm of affairs as Pakistan’s ‘chief executive.’ Husain politely informed the brigadier that he was due to meet the president of Tajikistan the next day in Dushanbe, and that he would stop by in Islamabad on his way back from Dushanbe to Washington DC. 

Husain arrived late in Islamabad, and was greeted with unusual amounts of protocol. The next morning, at 7:00 AM sharp, he was driven from his hotel to General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. At GHQ, he was greeted in a conference room by 12 generals, including Aziz. The generals quickly began probing Husain on issues regarding the Pakistani economy, where he stood on them, and what he felt were the solutions. Earlier in 1999, Husain had published his seminal work called ‘Pakistan: the Economy of an Elitist State.’ The generals informed him that they had read the book and were like-minded, and they would require his assistance in executing their economic plans. 

Husain said he would have to go back to Washington DC and mull it over. In Washington, Husain began thinking that returning might be a good idea. In his long years at the World Bank, even though he had not been involved in Pakistan on behalf of the bank, he had been keeping a close eye on happenings at home. “I always found in Dr Ishrat someone who was very interested in what was going on in Pakistan. I met him and other World Bank officials whenever I went to Washington DC, and always found him very anxious to know what was happening. The more I met him, the more I got to know him, and the more I started to appreciate his deep interest in what was happening in Pakistan,” says Syed Babar Ali, a businessman and founder of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). 

In November, Husain had his first meeting with Musharraf. The meeting was brief, and in nearly half an hour the general asked him pointed questions and told him that along with a couple of other contenders, Husain was up for the governorship of SBP. Originally, as those close to Musharraf have explained, Husain was up for the position of finance minister. However, after Shaukat Aziz was appointed to the post Musharraf was still keen on having Husain on the team and decided to throw in his name in the running for governor of the central bank. 

Right after the meeting, in fact, Musharraf asked him to meet Shaukat Aziz. Some difference between the two began to appear right there and then, after Shaukat Aziz informed Husain that he had not been consulted in the nomination for the SBP governorship even though he should have been. 

The meeting over, Dr Ishrat returned to Washington DC and when time continued to pass, he assumed he had not got the job since Shaukat Aziz had seemed less than enthusiastic about the prospect. However, by December 1999 he was given a call to come and serve as governor of SBP, which he readily accepted. Ishrat packed away his 20-year career at the World Bank and made his way back to Pakistan, entering a minefield of economic and political instability. 

State bank boss 

Husain’s tenure as State Bank governor came at a tumultuous time. The country had recently been sanctioned severely for its nuclear tests, and political instability following a military coup always has adverse effects on the economy. When Husain took over, the economy was stagnant, external debt payment difficulties were pervasive, and financial indicators were concerning. Two thirds of the state’s revenues were going towards debt servicing. With exports worth $7 billion and debt servicing costs of around $5 billion, Pakistan was on the brink of default — much like it is today. 

Now, up until this point there was very little inflation in Pakistan. As a development economist, Husain’s philosophy was that there was no point of having low inflation if it came at the cost of having low growth and high unemployment. He was of the school of thought that an economy should be pumped with activity, and business should be promoted to stir it from its slumber. Because of this, as State Bank governor he decided to take a hardline and introduce a very loose monetary policy, and record low-interest rates. 

The plan was simple. If interest rates were low, more people would borrow and spend on investment and business, which would mean employment for more people and the economy growing. At the time these decisions were being taken, money supply was high, global growth led to high fuel prices, and crop failure was leading to high prices of items such as palm oil — more eerily similar situations to today. 

The policies that Dr Ishrat was prescribing to the economy were all going to result in inflation, this was something he knew very well. However, to him, inflation was worth it to fix the stupor the economy was in and create jobs for people who had no livelihoods. As a result of the low-interest rate and borrowing conditions being easier, the number of borrowers in the country went up from 1.1 million people to 5.5 million. The goal at this point was very much to increase purchasing power. As a result, private sector borrowers took up the unused capacity in the economy galvanising different industries. The outcomes were better agriculture, better production, better outputs, and better exports. As a result, growth rate climbed to 8%.  

In 2004, however, the chickens came home to roost. The monetary policy decisions of the SBP meant that inflation was knocking at the doors and was about to become the most talked about point in politics. The general consensus seemed to be that in 1999, the economy was in desperate need of a kickstart, however, it needed to be done so in a sustainable manner. Instead, we might have launched into a boom-and-bust cycle. Economists such as Ijaz Nabi, the economic policy manager for the World Bank in South Asia, said that SBP may have overshot its mark. “It is very important to be very vigilant when you have that kind of expansion. It is very easy to go over the point where you’re just supplying enough credit given the supply of goods. It is very difficult to overshoot and we overshot. That is when inflationary pressures build up.”

To his credit, Husain has stood by all of his decisions. “It was a policy choice. Low inflation with low growth and high unemployment is of no use to me,” he said in an interview back in 2007 after his term had ended and the inflation rate had continued to hike. “If they had wanted a different method to solve the problems of the economy we had back then, they should have chosen someone other than a development economist.”

Throughout all of this, Husain maintained a fierce sense of independence for the SBP, and refused to bend to pressures from the finance ministry or even the prime minister. “There were times when I made an action that the finance ministry or the prime minister disagreed with, but I always maintained that the State Bank had its own role to play, and there were occasions where I have to say Musharraf gave me that freedom. And that is what I needed to successfully do the job,” Husain said in a recent interview with Profit. 

“When I used to make my trade policy after the budget, we always used to have a session with Dr Ishrat. This help was needed from him. He was one of the best governors of the SBP and his inclusion in the institution was very much needed,” says Humayun Akhtar Khan, former commerce minister during the Musharraf administration. “Historically and very much now governors are under pressure from the finance ministry. Ishrat Husain Sahib with a wealth of expertise was part of the overall policymaking of the government and at the same time was also a great defender of the autonomy of the State Bank of Pakistan. I think that is something every governor should try to do.”

“Back in the day, the topic of the finance ministry or someone else wielding influence over the SBP Governor was not a critical issue,” he explains further in a conversation with Profit. “This has recently become an issue surrounding the autonomy of the state bank. “In my personal experience with him, I always thought that Dr Ishrat was a man who was essentially a pro-private sector individual. That is also one of the reasons why it grew at such a high rate,” he adds.

Fixing the banking sector 

Perhaps, one of the most significant contributions made by Husain was his assistance in the privatisation of the banking sector in Pakistan, particularly the denationalisation of the gargantuan Habib Bank Limited. Banks had been nationalised and reorganised in the 1970s into five major banking organisations. In December 1999, when Husain took over, public sector banks had more than 80% of the market share and almost all of them were on budgetary support. On top of that, their operations were hindered by bureaucratic inefficiencies since they were government owned. 

“By the mid 1990s the banking sector was on its knees. The World Bank and IMF were both saying massive reforms were needed but the government was not catching on. When Dr Ishrat came in, many of the large national banks were insolvent. He took a fresh look at the entire picture and took a proactive approach in the reforms of the banking sector. He took up a full comprehensive review and addressed the issue really well,” says Zakir Mehmood, former CEO and President of Habib Bank Limited. 

Husain became the leading lightbearer for the denationalisation of the banking sector, after which the private sector got a great boost. His direct rapport with senior bankers made the process much easier than if he as SBP governor had just enforced his agenda. Instead, he held regular meetings with CEOs and presidents and established a direct line of communication. 

The efforts for this had been in the works already, but the process had been slow. “Denationalisation and deregulation were started back in the 1990s for the first time under Nawaz Sharif and Sartaj Aziz in his first stint as finance minister in 1993. HBL was the major denationalisation project that took place in the Musharaff era, otherwise these were policies that we had introduced before. India had also begun the deregulation process in the 90s but the difference was that they stuck with it and we haven’t managed to do the same,” says Humayun Akhtar Khan in a conversation with Profit. 

The initiatives soon came to fruition. Public sector banks were restructured, privatised, and built into competitive institutions, which provided quality services. Lending rates came down to 3-4% from 16-17% which led to a boost in private credit. Non-performing loans were reduced from 26% to 11% and the financial sector became a major contributor to the revival of the economy.  

Tricky waters

Of course, this entire scenario was new to Husain. He may have taken to it like a bird to flight, but the culture in the government was vastly different from what he had gotten used to at the World Bank. It might have been his time in the civil service that allowed him to navigate through political realities and conflicts. 

He had at times a healthy rivalry with Shaukat Aziz. “It was difficult. I myself had become a competitor of Shaukat Aziz in 2004 when the prime minister changed after the resignation of Mr Jamali. Things were easier when he was finance minister because we were still equals, but when he became PM the relationship was not very smooth between us. From what I remember, Dr Ishrat’s relationship with him was not that comfortable either. The good thing was that Ishrat Sahib and I were close to president Musharraf, so there was only so much the prime minister could do to stop our initiatives,” reads a quote from Humayun Akhtar in Sibtain Naqvi’s biography of Husain. 

One former cabinet member from the Musharraf era recalls how there was a sense of rivalry among the many economic managers that the military ruler relied on. “There was always a bit of tension in the Shaukat Aziz cabinet. Of course, it was nothing like what you see these days by that comparison it was pretty tame, but it was still there. Before Aziz became Prime Minister, for example, he had been in the running for the post against Humayun Akhtar Khan. Akhtar was big-hearted about accepting his defeat, but Aziz always acted like he had to watch his back. Dr Ishrat was the SBP Governor, but he was involved in bigger picture decisions as well, and Aziz did not always appreciate that.” 

At the same time, a different member of the Aziz cabinet who was close to the Prime Minister explains that he felt a particular rivalry against Ishrat. “Shaukat was definitely a bit insecure about Ishrat’s position. He hadn’t been consulted by General Musharraf when he had appointed Ishrat, and he also found out that Ishrat had been one of the people in the running for finance minister as well. Musharraf relied on Ishrat for advice, and on more than a few occasions he went against what Shaukat said and preferred Ishrat’s stance,” they said. “Of course, even though Shaukat could throw more weight around as prime minister, Ishrat wasn’t the sort of man to hold back when he had an opinion.”

The fact that Musharraf relied on Husain for more than just handling the central bank was well known. While Shaukat Aziz may have been the ‘finance’ guy of the Musharraf regime, he was constantly in a bit of a competition with Husain. In a quote from Naqvi’s biography of Husain, Musharraf is reported as saying: “Dr Ishrat functioned beautifully in the State Bank. He was extremely popular both inside and outside of the bank. Whenever we spoke about any financial issues, I used to call Dr Ishrat with the finance minister sitting. I always admired him because he is a person who expressed his views openly instead of beating around the bush.” 

This no-nonsense confidence coupled with polished manners made him a vital part of the Musharraf regime. Of course, Husain has maintained that he was not a political appointment and he was indeed not holding a political office. Despite that, where others might have tried to pin any blame on the restrictions of military rule, Husain has always taken full responsibility for his time as governor and stood by his decisions. 

Shaukat Aziz was unavailable to provide comment on this. 

Swan song? Don’t count on it. 

Many would have hung up their boots at this point. Governor of the State Bank is a pretty high climb, and Husain’s career was secure at this point. He was already 64, and if he had remained a civil servant, he would already have retired four years before at the age of 60. 

He could have chosen to work in an advisory capacity as a consultant or work for the World Bank. Instead Husain went back to a different passion of his — education. From 2008 to 2016, he worked as Dean of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi. IBA had once been a towering institute that produces Pakistan’s business graduates and managers. It had a heyday and was the university of choice for many. However, by the 1990s and definitely by the 2000s it had fallen into grave disrepair in comparison to emerging and rival universities such as LUMS in Lahore. 

Dr Ishrat spent his eight years at IBA gathering funds, developing the curriculum, bringing it up to an American standard, and once again putting IBA on the map as a go-to school for business managers. Husain, it is worth mentioning here, has always been very well liked within the journalistic community. That is largely because anytime a young business or economics correspondent had any questions or needed a comment, he was available to them. This has been the case for a while, and his method of explanation to journalists was always gentle and full of advice. His respect for good journalism is strong, and his distaste for poor journalistic ethics equally potent. It is an extra source of joy for the journalistic community in Pakistan then, that he was also the architect behind the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) by IBA, which is an impressive institute that is investing in a profession that has a rich legacy in Pakistan, but has long been languishing and is constantly under threat. 

As dean of IBA, Husain has maintained the same open line of communication with his students that he did with journalists and bankers. “I was doing my final year project on game theory and couldn’t find an adviser. Dr Ishrat had retired by then, but I emailed him anyway to ask if he would be my adviser,” says an IBA alum. “He had absolutely no need to do this, he could have ignored my email like most professors, but he responded very kindly with a few words of advice before saying it was not his area of expertise so he could not help me. That in itself was very encouraging, and I have a great deal of respect for him for that.” 

“IBA’s transformation could have been earlier but only if someone with the charisma of Dr Ishrat Husain did it. Beyond the fact that he has a very high stature in Pakistan, he wanted to take the institution well beyond where it was and he has been very successful. It would have been a tall order for any other director simply because they lacked the charisma, influence, and sense of mission. All of this was combined in this one person,” says Dr Javed Ashraf, former Director of IBA. 

Perhaps, what is a testament to Husain’s diversity as a man is that in the middle of his hard-hitting career in economics, he is also a man of taste, and in the many institutes he has built one of the most loved is the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), of which he is founding chairman. Right after his retirement as governor, he took over as chairman of NAPA — the brainchild of thespian Ziya Mohyeddin. “Dr Ishrat’s connection with NAPA has been from the very beginning. He was crucial in getting us launched. When the PPP government came in, the grant to NAPA ended and it was Dr Ishrat who got us out of this trying time. I personally learned a lot from him,” says Mohyeddin. 

We have not gone into depth about Husain’s contributions to IBA particularly because that has not been his most impactful position in the course of his very lengthy career, and not quite the most relevant to Profit’s readers. But in short, he very much turned the entire institution around using sheer force, dedication, and his personal credibility. As many have pointed out, he has never been a man to be trifled with or who would easily allow anyone to steam-roll him. 

This has served him well his entire career. In the six decades he spent in different positions all over the world, there are those that would disagree with his decisions and policies. What is undeniable, however, is that he has carried himself with poise and dignity. His role in the history of Pakistan’s economic management has been missed by few, but his entire career is a reflection of the story of Pakistan. As he looks forward to enjoying his twilight years, we wish him a long and fruitful retirement, and hope that he will be accorded the place he deserves in our history. 


Abdullah Niazi
Abdullah Niazi
Abdullah Niazi is senior editor at Profit. He also covers agriculture and climate change. He can be reached at [email protected]



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