Bet on Pakistan. There will be rich returns

There is much that Pakistan has going for it. But faith in it will be repaid.

Pakistan was created under unique circumstances, without natural and ethnic boundaries and any concept of nationhood. It’s the only country in the world built on the back of democratic processes. The country faced dire conditions, and many experts predicted that it wouldn’t last more than six months. The collective literacy rate was 3% as the colonial education system was only designed for the elite. Pakistan had inherited no industry, barring a cement factory and a few textile units. Both East and West Pakistan had a combined total of 29 industrial units. The country that was never meant to survive now celebrates 75 years of existence and is flourishing. 

Though there has been subsequent improvement in Pakistan’s commerce and economy, a nation’s success is not only limited to this. In the 21st century, the markers of a successful nation entail certain foundational blocks, such as democracy. In a multi-ethnic society such as that of Pakistan’s, democracy is the only way to maintain social cohesion.  Pakistan clearly has the institutional provisions to grow and prosper further. Throughout its politically turbulent history, there had never been a successful civilian to civilian transfer of power. However, this finally changed two elections ago. Pakistan has finally devised strategies to raise consensus for national issues. The legal system, though fraught with controversies such as the Lawyer’s Movement, has birthed a judiciary that is substantively more independent compared to that of 20-25 years ago. Relations between citizen and state are underpinned by tensions, and the role of governance needs to be redefined. However, the institutional blocks are there to positively transform this.

Pakistan is also rich with natural endowments to sustain its population. There’s diversity of climate and plentiful rivers. Pakistan has the ability to generate its own food and power. This population is also an asset that can facilitate its development. I have worked with some of the best minds across the world, ranging from my tenure at the number one Fortune 500 company, ExxonMobil and the joint venture with Mitsubishi (again ranked number one on Fortune 500) to programs at Harvard, Oxford, INSEAD and Berkeley. I have yet to come across a talent pool the kind I find in Pakistan, or in the Subcontinent at large. This can be credited to the mixing of races which has created this exceptional talent pool, similar to the melting pot of cultures that we observe in the USA. The remarkable human talent along with institutional foundational blocks and natural endowments are all there to give another flourishing 75 years. Pakistan will indeed be a success story, it’s the best bet one would make. It will leapfrog from agricultural to post-industrial and knowledge-based society. 

This can be attributed to the large human population and we can already detect signs of this. Pakistan is amongst the 5 big nations of the world working in the freelancing landscape and in the spheres of information and knowledge. Once we invest in the youth of Pakistan and provide them with a level playing field that is characterised by rule of law, mature democratic processes, and freedom of expression and speech, they will showcase the ability to compete with and win against the best in the world. It is also important to supplement this with a competition-based market system. Since Pakistan does not have a transparent democratic system, entrepreneurs face structural setbacks. Real estate has emerged as the most lucrative business as it’s not based on entrepreneurial and innovative skills, but networking and the ability to form connections. It is, therefore, imperative to make our institutional conditions ripe for entrepreneurship. Young entrepreneurs are rapidly emerging in the knowledge-based economy. 2021 was a phenomenal year for Pakistani startups, particularly tech startups. It raised more money from the global market and the world’s best investment companies than it had in the past six years combined. IT exports jumped to 47% in the initial 8-9 months, and continued to grow further by 32%. We were indeed at the tipping point. 

When I was younger, more people sought to leave the country as Pakistan was struggling at the time. However, our nation has finally emerged and found its destiny and voice. Our modern generation will be the most successful. Those who bet on Pakistan will be richly rewarded.

The column has been adapted from a talk delivered by Asad Umar at the #TheNext75 event organised by the [email protected] platform. Asad Umar is the former CEO of the Engro Corporation as well as a former finance minister. 

Asad Umar
Asad Umar
Asad Umar is a Pakistani politician who has been a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan since September 2013. He served as the Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives, from 19 November 2019 to 10 April 2022. He has also served at the CEO of Engro Corporation in the past.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Is this article real ?? There is doom & gloom every where at the moment …All political parties are playing Game of Thrones …None of the political parties has any real concrete plan or the required team for Pakistan economics challenges…..In IT sphere the last 04 governments have tried & failed to bring Paypal to Pakistan….40 million students are still out of school, Quality of education has significantly deteriorated…..Selling gifts of Toshakhana cannot be the solution to Pakistan’s economics woes !!!

    • Even Asad Umar himself tried hard to bring PayPal yo Pakistan and failed. Amazon opened up to Pakistani sellers and quickly became victim of scams and had to shut down thousands of sellers.

      On top of that terrorism is on the rise, investmentss in human capital and infrastructure (digital parnt infrastructure, mass public transport, agriculture, railways, dams) are virtually stopped due to overspending on debt servicing and defense

  2. Same old rhetorics disenfranchised from ground realities. Natural Assets, Human Capital, Youth Future, just needs rule of law. Real Estate is bloated beyond investor appetite, startup scene turned out to be a big fat pump dump money laundering front, same game different name. This country needs a reset button not fantasies.

  3. “Once we invest in the youth of Pakistan and provide them with a level playing field that is characterised by rule of law, mature democratic processes, and freedom of expression and speech, they will showcase the ability to compete with and win against the best in the world.”

    Did not mention elephant in the room, spend less on defense and more on human capital (skills develipment, higher education and health). Also systematically designed reforms to improve upward mobility and reduce elite capture.

  4. Too optimistic in his article and too pessimistic in his talks n actions. A big time failure as a finance minister very much sounds like Alice telling the story of her wonderland. I am surprised to find his write-up in The Profit.

  5. The opinion about the potential of Pakistan is based on the facts from his experience.

    Why do these nay sayer (Indians) so ticked?
    Everyone in the world knows India is #1 scammer country. I bet this will get these ticked even more.

    Yes I would invest in Pakistan.

  6. Yes. More than One-Thousand-Six-Hundred Terrorist Individuals belonging to Pakistan are today part of United-Nations Proscribed Terrorist Sanctions List.

    Apart from this, More than One-Hundred and Twenty Three Islamic TERROR Organizations originating in Pakistan are on United Nations Al-Qaida/ISIS Sanctions List.

    No doubt, ISLAM and the EVIL teachings of Quran are responsible for all this menace across the world.

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