Published Date: Feb 28, 2014
Searching for new economic thinking
The Islamabad-based think tanks are so good at organising idea exchange
forums. It’s another thing that the government seldom pays heed to them.
Earlier this week, a seminar on “Economic Policies for Inclusive and
Sustainable Development in South Asia"–-organised by the SDPI and
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (a German think tank)-–made for some good food
The event featured case studies on the region’s "Economy of
Tomorrow". Mustafiz-ur-Rahman, Executive Director at the Centre for
Policy Dialogue, Dhaka, noted that the Bangladesh had seen higher growth
and poverty reduction in recent, democratic governments. He maintained
that future economic growth depended on consolidation of what had been
achieved: his country has met most of its MDG targets.
"Due to too many deprivations, India is headed towards a
‘middle-income country trap’ if it did not cultivate its own policies,"
was how Dr. Ramgopal Agarwala, distinguished fellow at the Research and
Information Systems for Developing Countries (New Delhi) described
India’s experience, while calling for a new paradigm for “sustainable
Dr. Agarwala strongly advocated a “neo-swadeshi” (modern
nationalist) economic thinking for India if it is to join the ranks of
developed nations by 2050. He explained that this new, indigenous
paradigm stood on pillars such as social inclusivity, a low-carbon
lifestyle, focusing on ‘real investment’ mobilisation as opposed to
speculative finance, and resurrecting public sector governance
Pakistan’s noted economist Dr. Hafiz A. Pasha highlighted that
non-economic factors would overwhelm the tomorrow’s economy of Pakistan.
In his synopsis, matters of security, energy, governance and ecology
needed attention. However, he seemed equally concerned about immediate,
emergency problems that have crippled Pakistan’s economy. In his
trademark witty style, Dr. Pasha took the government to task for its
manipulation of economic statistics.
Ahsan Iqbal, the Planning Minister, lamented that Pakistan is a
middle-income country but has social indicators of a least developed
country. He advocated the need for emergency measures as well as
long-term planning (Vision 2025). He highlighted that Pakistan’s
economic future has great promise in providing regional connectivity to
“3 billion people” residing in South Asia, China and Central Asia.
In the end spoke Sartaj Aziz, a man of profound vision and
wisdom. He may be the administration’s national security czar, but his
grasp of economic policy is also remarkable. The octogenarian really
struck a chord when he said that the “real constraints (to sustainable
development) are political” in nature. Even though economic expertise
and experience are there, roots of the problems are political, he said.
Aziz cautioned that the process of social change must precede
economic change –-otherwise, existing power structures would only grow
stronger, further marginalizing the society’s under-represented and
excluded segments. The Pakistan Movement veteran then delineated his
blueprint for tomorrow’s economy, which required fixing the following
nine areas as prerequisites for sustainable development:
Current skewed pattern of land ownership; nexus between power
structures and the elite’s commitment to country’s development; extent
and nature of decentralization of governance structures; extent of
participation of the poor; degree of tribal and ethnic polarization;
responsiveness and capacity of bureaucratic structures to implement
reforms; civil liberties and freedom of the judiciary and the press;
correct terms of trade for agriculture; and social safety nets.
This exchange of views on growth and development was refreshing,
especially when two top policymakers of the regime headlined the event.
One hopes they will rub off on their colleagues and get some serious
work done in moving Pakistan in the right direction.