Is Pakistan ready for a take-off?

Published: January 19, 2016


PHOTO: FILE The writer is the federal minister for planning, development and reform

The latter half of the 20th century has seen many countries successfully emerge as regional powerhouses. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been struggling to make this happen despite being endowed with rich resources. In the 1960s, Pakistan was touted as a rising economic power like Japan but its progress was derailed due to the 1965 war. In the early 1990s, Pakistan again captured the attention of the world when it took the lead in pioneering economic reforms in South Asia. However, this dream once again proved to be short-lived as the country plunged into a decade of political instability. Governments lasted no more than two years, and eventually the country was caught in the talons of martial law. In 2013, the Western media was calling Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world. Just two years later, due to economic reforms and security-related measures taken by the government, Pakistan is being projected as an emerging economic success story by the same media. Today, we are again poised for an economic take-off. The improving security situation, improving economic indicators and the establishment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) offer many opportunities for the country. The million-dollar question is whether we will seize this moment for an economic take-off or will once again squander it.

China-Pak investment: PML-Q refuses to support changes in CPEC

There cannnot be a better analogy to understand Pakistan’s trajectory than learning from the concept of ‘take-off’ in aviation. In order for a plane to successfully take off, besides having a clear runway and favourable weather conditions, in the tug of war between opposing vertical and horizontal forces of lift versus weight, and thrust versus drag, the forces of lift must prevail over weight and the power of thrust must prevail over drag. During a take-off, all the weight on the aircraft must also be stable, otherwise the take-off can turn into an accident. The aircraft cannot take off if its engines are not working in sync to provide the required thrust. An aircraft can land with one of its engines shut down, but it can never take off without all engines working together. If all these conditions are not met, the plane can’t take off successfully.

This example is instructive in understanding Pakistan’s potential for a take-off. Firstly, we are a nation of 200 million people, of which almost two-thirds consists of the youth, with heightened aspirations and expectations. Our institutions are weak due to a fractured political history featuring long shadows of various martial laws. Moreover, due to the lack of investment in human capital over a prolonged period means that we still have high levels of illiteracy, disease and poverty. This translates into a heavy weight of social underdevelopment that has to be lifted. We need an extraordinary force of lift to overcome the drag and downward pull and achieve a successful take-off. We possess a rich endowment base. However, this can only be harnessed effectively by adopting the right strategies and implementation mechanisms with a clear focus on the economic agenda. Additionally, just as an aircraft can’t take off if the runway isn’t clear and is not of the desired length, countries also need to ensure that their policies are sound and provide a consistent and stable span for take-off. Finally, equally important is the favourability of the socio-political weather, as political thunderstorms and social jolts are capable of subverting take-offs.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Lines of development – not lines of divide

The nation’s institutions must work harmoniously to produce the positive synergy required for an economic take-off. It is absolutely critical that all national institutions align themselves with a national vision and function with harmony to overcome the inertia of forces of the status quo to ensure a national take-off. Pakistan is an evolving society in which new power centres are emerging alongside traditional structures of power. After the Eighteenth Amendment, provinces have assumed added responsibilities and roles. Coordination between the federal government and provinces for realising the national development agenda has become critical. The media, the private sector and civil society are new and powerful players in national affairs. The judiciary has assumed a new role in the wake of Judges Restoration Movement. The role of parliament and the legislatures has become critical for effective democratic governance. The civil and military bureaucracy play a key role in our context.

Based on these fundamentals and lessons from our history, in order to ensure Pakistan’s take-off, it is critically important that all stakeholders, institutions and players join hands for a team effort. Political differences must not come in the way of the pursuit of national goals. Vision 2025 has been developed through elaborate and extensive consultation of all stakeholders. It has been approved with the consensus of all political parties represented in the governments of our federation, with the PML-N at the Centre and Punjab, the PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the PPP in Sindh and the nationalist parties in Balochistan. The nation has declared its aspirations and intent to join the league of newly emerging economies with the goal to be among the top 25 economies of the world by 2025. In order to reach this goal, we will need to achieve an annual growth rate of over seven per cent. Though this may seem daunting, with the great dividend of the CPEC in our grasp, this goal is achievable. However, to realise this dream we need to follow the rules of a successful take-off — maintaining favourable political weather, ensuring a smooth platform of consistent policies, and working together as a united, determined and focused nation.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Abid Shah Mashwani
    Jan 19, 2016 - 11:04PM

    Dear Ahsan Iqbal thanks for sharing such a vision and dream, especially for concluding with
    “To realise this dream we need to follow the rules of a successful take-off — maintaining favourable political weather, ensuring a smooth platform of consistent policies, and working together as a united, determined and focused nation.”
    I believe:
    1) to maintain favourable political weather,
    2) to ensure consistent policies, and
    3) to unite the nation

    onus is in the hand of the PMLN government. It is nice that an educated, wise, sane and patriotic politician do realize the importance of all three, and do hope your thoughts and wisdom will prevail in your party, and PMLN will think of the Pakistani nation rather than safeguarding only PMLN vote bank. GoodluckRecommend

  • Parvez
    Jan 19, 2016 - 11:22PM

    What will happen has to be seen, history is not on our side. Pakistan ( people ) may or may not take off but one thing is certain that a handful of our leaders have taken off quite some time ago and today fly high. Recommend

  • khattak
    Jan 19, 2016 - 11:38PM

    Lahore has took off, the rest of Pakistan may or may not. You made miss of an exagerated CPEC, better you start speaking truth to restore your credibility.Recommend

  • Anon
    Jan 20, 2016 - 12:16AM

    with harmony to overcome the inertia of forces of the status quo – What really could embody the forces of status quo than the Sharif family itself?

    The judiciary has assumed a new role in the wake of Judges Restoration Movement – Yes I think we all understand that role very well under this government!Recommend

  • NHA
    Jan 20, 2016 - 1:21AM

    CPEC is Pakistan’s response to Indian ‘ cold start’ military doctrine. In fact it is Pakistan’s economic ‘cold – start’ program. Vow, Bunya caught off guards. Recommend

  • GKA
    Jan 20, 2016 - 3:05AM

    W.W. Rostow published a path-breaking book on economic history called Stages of Economic Growth. In that book he opined that “exports are the runway to industrial take off”. While this was mentioned in the context of economic history and the 18th century industrial revolution, China did the same thing 30 years ago. India is doing the same thing in the service sector.

    If Pakistan wants takeoff it would need to develop its export sector. However to do that it would either need skills in technology or demonstrated abilities in low cost mass manufacturing – neither of which it possesses. To add to that it faces strong non trade barriers in terms of lack of image (refer Obama’s speech), visa restrictions, coupled with shortage of specialized skills and technical skilled and semi skilled manpower

    CPEC while providing a strong stimulus to the domestic market may actually convert it into a captive market for the huge and highly competitive chinese manufacturing industry given the logistic links being created.

    The above article is a bit too optimistic in my view

    Serious responses / critiques would be welcomeRecommend

  • Jan 20, 2016 - 6:13AM

    my dear illiteracy and poverty cannot be fought by asking rich neighbour to invest in your needs reforms,investment and hard work,if this was that simple,Mexico would be a rich country by now having become part of the largest trading bloc NAFTA in 93.euphoria will not lead us anywhereNandipur should be a good example what wrong prioririties and lack of forsight lead to.if you cannot imagine Pakistan producing power from water but imported fuel than please leave the job to someone betterRecommend

  • Tariq
    Jan 20, 2016 - 8:53AM

    Another rhetoric article, well articulated asking populace to come together for CEPC execution. That’s totally absurd only concentrating on a single project to increase growth by 7%, what about the other sectors of economy. As if CPEC is going to provide employment to all unemployed in country. In my view our country has got enough resources to prosper and reach a sustainable economy if only we get rid of corruption, bringing tax reforms, sound and farsighted public investment and equality among individuals, communities, provinces. Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Jan 20, 2016 - 9:52AM

    Pakistan is being projected as an emerging economic success story by the same media.

    By ‘same’ media I hope you mean Pakistani media, as no other media gives even a passing reference to Pakistan, unless it is terrorism related.Recommend

  • Saad
    Jan 20, 2016 - 9:53AM

    “Take off”?? Is he serious?
    If Pakistan’s economy doesn’t collapse under the weight of debt, that will be a great achievement. Cooked up numbers will only go so far.Recommend

  • Aleem
    Jan 20, 2016 - 10:24AM

    Pakistan always prepared strategic development plans those always ended up with big failure due to political, military and bureaucratic incompetence ,corruption and kickbacks. The vision 2025 is again on just table meetings. There is no execution on ground except CPEC due to Chinese push. GOD knows, if Pakistan let them ever complete it. Corruption and money borrowing is in its peak in current government. No focus to strengthen any civil institution rather asking military to perform all security duties. Judicial system is still at their worst.
    Good luck Mr. Ahsan Iqbal. Just pray to GOD, so he made favorable environment for your plane to take off because if you evaluate it as per the competence of leadership and priorities, we will face another big failure soon. Recommend

  • Rehan Naseer Cheema
    Jan 20, 2016 - 12:38PM

    This Article is a clear depiction that my nation still got competent and patriotic Politicians in it’s ranks.May your dream comes true Ahsan Iqbal.Recommend

  • Shakti
    Jan 20, 2016 - 12:50PM

    @NHA: “CPEC is Pakistan’s response to Indian ‘ cold start’ military doctrine.”
    Do you even know what “cold start” means? Your post doesn’t make sense at all.Recommend

  • Asim Ali
    Jan 20, 2016 - 2:41PM

    Take Off? Name one University of international repute set up in 30 years of rule by PML (N). The only way to take off is to invest in education. The government schools are non functional, a bulk of private universities are churning out clerks. Sher Shah Suri built roads, 500 years ago. Had he set up a University as was done in Western Europe, we would not be in the hole we are in. Recommend

  • Woz ahmed
    Jan 20, 2016 - 6:06PM

    CEPC is shrouded in mystery , no one knows the real deal, but there is no doubt the guaranteed beneficiary is China, hopefully Pakistan will gain to.

    This week a Finish company bid for a solar project in India through a reverse auction and the price per kW is 6 US cents. QASP under CPEC is 14 US cents.

    Power plants are being built at $2 million per mw whilst the world average is $1.6m, also as these are Chinese technology, you would expect the cost to be below the world average.

    Only time will tell, but the lack of transparency on all fronts, is a real danger to any potential takeoff of our economy.Recommend

  • buba
    Jan 20, 2016 - 6:38PM

    Is Pakistan ready for “take off” – nope. There is still no long term planning or economic analysis on major projects. Expensive power plants are built without considering whether transmission lines are capable of the additional power – converting power plants to coal without considering whether the railways are suitable for transporting coal – entering into IP contract without performing feasibility study or having a clue where to get the funds to build it. The list can go on and on.Recommend

  • AnisAqeel
    Jan 20, 2016 - 7:37PM

    Sir, are you sure what an economic take off means!!! It can be a wishful thinking but it seems we are still far, far away from most of Pakistanis thinking where education and opportunities are scarce commodities with abundance of lawlessness, fanaticism and self destruction in pocketing illegitimate opportunity exists in abundance,
    Currently China, India and Brazil are in take off period, do we compare ourselves to that levels. It may take at least a decade to improve to that level if we honestly work hand in hand in all fields of life and that could be quite a difficult achievement and quite wishful as well.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jan 20, 2016 - 8:05PM

    When Rulers are not able to implement NAP which they themselves coined, chances of consensus on any other issue looks distant. Unless the orientation changes and resources are channeled to develop human resources rather than accumulate military assets, economic progress will remain a high hurdle. A change in mindset needed can come only from an comprehensive overhaul of the education sector that encourages youth to ask questions and challenge every narrative not based on scientific reasoning. Recommend

  • Jan 20, 2016 - 8:40PM

    The real prosperity comes through education, making policies that are long terms and setting right priorities. The dilemma with Pakistan is that every government thinks short term and to win next elections. All the projects that PLMN has started, they are short sighted and aim is to win next elections. There leadership has no vision where Pakistan should stand in next 20-30 years.

    China is financing CPEC because they will gain more benefits out of it instead of Pakistan. Though it will benefit Pakistan as well, but what our government has plans to develop our own industrial sector? What we are doing to provide energy to factories? Do we also care about our industries and growing our exports OR we are just interested in getting a new road from China to Gawadar?

    Our political leadership should sit together and make long term policies for education, health, infrastructure, social and industrial development. Those policies should be enforced and followed by all governments.They need to create a system that makes sure that all polices are enforced and executed.Recommend

  • abhi
    Jan 20, 2016 - 8:42PM

    One road can change the fortune of a country.Recommend

    Jan 20, 2016 - 10:20PM

    Lack of transparency will kill Pakistan’s takeoff……….Nandipur Power Project is a classic example……Sharif’s cannot be expected to be transparent…….if you look at their track record……Recommend

  • S Qureshi
    Jan 20, 2016 - 10:33PM

    Each of 106 districs in Pakistan, and districts in AJK, GB and FATA require a university, a medical college, an engineering university and a full size hospital. Each district should be connected with express way/motor way and railway line. One air port for 3 nearby districts. Sell PTV, Pakistan Radio, PIA, Sell Pakistan Railway, Privatize all airports, sell Wapda, Sell all Gas companies, sell national bank, sell ports and even privatize post office. Give land to people to set up industry or other enterprise for 99 years at rs. 1 per year. Govt should just regulate. You can see the results after 5 years.Recommend

  • Khalid Saeed
    Jan 21, 2016 - 12:30AM

    one or two capable ministers in a cabinet can hardly contribute towards bringing any change to be happened in Pakistan. If we look at the history of other South East Asia countries who became economic tycoons, had only one thing in common: Visionary leadership. Malaysia and Singapore are best examples. Do Pakistan has visionary leadership in the current regime? Answer is definitely no. Sharif brothers priorities are designed to be re-elected. Both brothers are completely deprived of any capability to be visionary, except in terms of road network. PPP is even worse. The vision of PPP leadership is confined to one agenda, how to save the money in foreign bank and how to live protected life in Dubai.Recommend

  • Jan 21, 2016 - 8:00AM

    When Mr. Ahsan Iqbal talks or writes there is nothing new or oriented towards people’s benefits. It is the same old dreary homily we hear about ever since the PMLN-PPP Combine took over. Salams Recommend

  • NHA
    Jan 21, 2016 - 9:49AM

    To put it simply, CPEC, at this point in time, is (i) land connectivity between China and Pakistan , and (ii) one-time big investment in energy infrastructure by China. The first will provide a passage to both Pakistan and China for trade and transportation, and the latter will help Pakistan overcome energy shortages.

    It is up to Pakistan , especially, the provincial governments , to put up economic-cum- industrial zones along the length of the corridor. Here investment can ome any country, individual or company.

    why is this fuss . Recommend

  • observer
    Jan 21, 2016 - 10:52AM

    “Is Pakistan ready for a take-off?”

    Take of to where? if it is to the 7th century, it has already taken off a long time ago and will surely land in the destination in the near future.Recommend

  • Asif
    Jan 21, 2016 - 12:00PM

    All indicators for this nuclear powered State is bottom 5 percent in the World. When you are at the bottom of the barrel it does not take much to move up. Recommend

  • pakistani1414918
    Jan 21, 2016 - 10:07PM

    Industrializing the Gulf of Oman areas in Balochistan is a bad idea and will have environmental consequences. Gwadar will become another Karachi if they don’t stop growing it.Recommend

  • NHA
    Jan 22, 2016 - 12:26AM

    To sum up- This nation is destined to rise and is already on that trajectory. All new countries make mistakes, some due to lack of experience and some under coercion (involvement in Afghanistan was one). Looks lessons have been learned.

    60 % youth , when equipped with skills and competencies will lead to heights. Recommend

  • nasser
    Jan 29, 2016 - 7:06PM

    There is never a TOO OPTIMISTIC attitude to anything. Optimism is the first runway for take off. However having people like you with such pessimism in Pakistan, I myself do not feel very optimistic about it. Recommend

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