As an economist who looks at data, facts, numbers and trends, the news is bad. Pakistan will not be a superpower in the next 75 years. Two months ago, 30 million people were displaced in floods. Nobody talks about this. Pakistan represents a story of decline, and we have figures that are suggestive of this. Pakistan slipped in the human development index: from 154, it is now at 166-167 out of 189 countries. While countries are progressing, we are decaying and it’s imperative that we acknowledge that. In the 90s, we were considerably ahead of Bangladesh and Nepal in terms of human development but now we’re regressing. Pakistan has the lowest life expectancy and literacy rate in South Asia. It is only progressing in population growth, with the highest population growth rate. Bangladesh, the basket of the world in 1971 is today being talked about as the next China. Pakistan on the other hand is being perceived as the next Afghanistan, Sudan or some other country which people can’t even recognise on the map.
Pakistan has the most striking figure in gender parity, where it’s ranked as the second worst country in the world. What good can nuclear weapons achieve in a country where women are treated the way they are? Pakistan has some of the most accomplished women, such as the two-time Oscar winner, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and the young Nobel prize winner, Malala Yousafzai who’s not even allowed to enter the country. We as fathers, brothers, husbands and society as a collective are responsible for this.
We study ‘path dependence’ in economics, which means that one moves ahead from where they come from based on their resources. However, it’s important that we shift our gaze from the past to the future. In order to be on the map 75 years from now, the only solution is better treatment of women. Men alone are useless. Women are the future. The normative assumption is that women empowerment is a Western concept. However, we have the example of Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia, where women receive education, rights and protection. The more women are deterred, the more we regress as a nation. In fact, we won’t be able to progress further in the next 10 years, let alone 75 years without empowering our women.
Secondly, it is crucial that we befriend our neighbouring countries, India and Iran. Our neighbourhood can’t be changed — we’ve had this for 75 years and will continue to do so. It’s important to maintain cordial relations with India. It has the highest GDP growth rate and there is much to be learned from India. Integrating economic ties would be highly productive for Pakistan. China too remains highly dependent on a country that it doesn’t even recognise — Taiwan. It continues to trade with Taiwan and procures its electronic chips. A similar case can be made for Iran. Due to staggering debts, Saudi Arabia, USA and the IMF are able to exert pressure on Pakistan, as a result of which we can’t import oil from Iran. The extent of debts Pakistan is under is utterly shameful and questions Pakistan’s autonomy and independence as a nation . Regional economic integration is key. The European Union is a great example of this. Britain made a huge mistake by exiting the EU. This is not the time for jingoism and nationalism. It’s more important to think of where we are, maintain good economic relationships with our neighbours, and learn from them.
To conclude, without women Pakistan has no future. It is necessary for men to step aside and promote women in all fields- arts, sports, science and technology, education, industry etc. Additionally, we can’t continuously snub our neighbours. We better get our act together as a country if we wish to survive the next 75 years.
The column has been adapted from a talk delivered by Dr S Akbar Zaidi at the #TheNext75 event organised by the [email protected] platform. Dr Zaidi is the executive director at IBA in Karachi.