Pakistan vs India: the widening gap

Published: May 16, 2010

In 1947, Pakistan and India had roughly the same gross domestic product per capita, i.e. the average Pakistani was about as rich (or rather, as poor) as the average Indian. But with the end of British domination and the formation of a new country, this was an era of great ambition.

Alas, things did not work out as planned. Jinnah died a year into independence, a string of successive military defeats by India — including one which led to the loss of our Eastern half — and deep, corrosive political instability and corruption, plus an inability to even remotely deal with the deep structural problems the British never addressed (such as feudalism), have left Pakistan in a terrible fix. Our country is broken.

For the longest time, however, this hasn’t mattered becaus, as it was said to me many years ago, the most important thing is our national security. It’s true — perhaps after hundreds of years of foreign rule we have an excuse to be a little pathological about our security. But surely we should consider that no one in their right mind would want to annex Pakistan. Countries go to extreme lengths to keep our citizens out, the last thing they would seem to want to do is to invade us. Besides, what are they going to take?

Yet, our elite continues to trot out this argument time and time again, stuck in some sort of time-warp, a time when Pakistan could afford self-importance and lofty concerns about its safekeeping. The stark reality — that we have not only hit a brick wall but that we will continue to sink economically, socially, politically, and in practically every sphere of human activity — has been held off by the illusion of Pakistan’s need for protection.

I think I know what will get the attention of our elite. I accept that many people —perhaps the vast majority of our leaders — are only interested in self-enrichment. In Kenya, whenever a new government comes to power they use the refreshingly honest phrase ‘Now it’s our turn to eat’. But there surely must be some who are thinking of a Pakistan a few years from now, perhaps five, 10, or, even 20 years from now. And what will that Pakistan look like?

With some certainty one can predict that it will be a desperately poor country with a largely illiterate population. Its cities will continue to be overpopulated. A small minority will have access to drinking water and a working toilet. The country will continue to produce little art, possess little advanced technology, publish few books and perhaps will continue to have remotely flown toys police our backyards from the skies. It will have a reasonable sized military though, the ‘largest in the Muslim world’ perhaps.

This scenario isn’t going to be a wake-up call to action. But — and here’s the kicker — although Pakistan will continue to be as poor and as miserable a place as it is now, our neighbour India is becoming a dramatically different place altogether. Last year the average Indian made about $3,500 annually. The average Pakistani, $2,000. Ten years ago the disparity was reversed. Ten years from now the average Indian will be twice as rich as the average Pakistani and this gap is only going to widen in the decades and years to come.

India is racing toward economic and social advancement. Its population is becoming richer, more literate, more tech-savvy. And why is this happening? Because China’s awesome economic growth scares the living daylights out of India and this ensures that Indians are fixated by their economic growth in turn. Our former rival has put on running shoes and barely has enough time to check its rear view mirror to look at us, so focused is it on the Chinese panda.

Even though the Pakistan of the future will still be what it is now — and since our leaders can tolerate the present they will be perfectly willing to tolerate this future — what they and any proud, prickly and pathologically paranoid Pakistani might not be able to tolerate is turning up to a party to find out that your former neighbours who were once as poor and wretched as you now seem to have won the lottery. The sad fact is that unless we do something we will soon be alone in our misery and backwardness. Today’s India is not so much disinterested by Pakistan as it is embarrassed by its continued association with us. ([email protected])

Published in the Express Tribune, May 16th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 17, 2010 - 12:12AM

    Much of what you say is true. But India still has the largest concentration of people in poverty in the world. Their 7-8% p.a. GDP growth rate is not going to cut it; they need double-digit growth like China sustained over the next two decades before poverty can come down to acceptable levels.

    You have not seen real poverty until you have been there. It will leave you speechless. Recommend

  • Faria
    May 17, 2010 - 5:08PM

    While I hardly think Pakistan is any more a ‘poor and miserable’ country than India – I do agree that India’s perception of themselves is extremely far better than our own which in itself becomes a kind self fulfilling prophecy. They are successful because they want to be. We remain in a pit of sick self loathing. Until, as Zaveri points out someone emerges who says “Enough is enough.” some one who says “It is our tunn to eat” someone who thinks that this is simply not good enough things will not improve. Leadership is essential.Recommend

  • Calculating_Misfit
    May 17, 2010 - 7:21PM

    Interesting that despite having a higher per person income, India has about the same or more poverty than Pakistan. Does this mean that India is capitalist while Pakistan is socialist? Recommend

  • Usman
    May 18, 2010 - 9:55AM

    Our nation has a habit of hiding from the main issue…with due respect, rather than accepting the fact that India is achieving greater economic growth we are highlighting their poverty levels and unequal distribution of wealth(or whatever the reason India is at a worse state than us)..eventhough India is no ‘standard’ but still we could learn from them. India’s Government is a better planner, they give more importance to training and education of their people, they are now focusing on brand development more, they utilise their media better……..etc. etc.Recommend

  • Juvaria
    May 18, 2010 - 10:27AM

    This article is…really not interesting at all. Perhaps you can tell us something we don’t all already know.
    “With some certainty one can predict that it will be a desperately poor country with a largely illiterate population. …will have a reasonable sized military though, the ‘largest in the Muslim world’ perhaps”
    What do you base this prediction on? Why does your newspaper delight in throwing about statements that lack substantiation?
    And since you seem to hold the view that “Today’s India is not so much disinterested by Pakistan as it is embarrassed by its continued association with us” then perhaps you should visit
    Their Pakistan coverage verges on the obsessive. I have been browsing through this publication for some years now and am constantly surprised by their relentless and biased coverage. (LPG cylinder explosions in cooking accidents are amongst their favourite subject matter). Recommend

  • Calculating_Misfit
    May 18, 2010 - 6:02PM


    Your post is confusing. You argue that the author’s claim that Pakistan despite being a poor country will still have a reasonable sized military is unsubstantiated. First of all this a prediction, so I am unsure how the author can substantiate anything. Also, throughout its history, Pakistan has put military concerns above the concerns of economic development. So the prediction is certainly likely and valid.

    You also argue that the author is wrong because India is obssesed with Pakistan. Is that not what the author was saying? The article was saying that India is not disinterested with Pakistan but did not want to be associated with it. In other words they may take great interest in Pakistan but have no desire to be associated with it (mainly because of Pakistan has become the codeword for terrorism and fundamentalism amongst the rest of the world).Recommend

  • Juvaria
    May 19, 2010 - 11:17AM

    Sorry for any lack of clarity; I was referring to the entire paragraph in which the author contends that “A small minority will have access to drinking water and a working toilet. The country will continue to produce little art, possess little advanced technology, publish few books and perhaps will continue to have remotely flown toys police our backyards from the skies.”
    Assertions like this lack what is key to quality journalism; sharp observations substantiated by solid facts. Both are missing here. For instance, what makes the author assume the country will produce little art? His prediction will become truth but it has no place in a newspaper unless there is some level of substantiation. Is there a correlation between GDP growth and works of art? Does India have much better art school than those Pakistan. If the author wants to comment on military budgets vis-a-vis educational outlay,then he/she would do well to include some budgetary numbers and percentages. Journalists need to have access to reliable information as well as a word processor.
    Regarding your second point; I commented only because the author chose to use the word “disinterested” instead of “dissociated”. Recommend

  • A H Nari
    Jun 10, 2010 - 2:53PM

    I am a British citizen of Pakistani origin. My parents moved to UK from Hyderabad when I was 3. I am electrical engineer and works for an giant Indian company called Kirloskar. I have quite a lot of Indian managers and top executive coming here and interacted and become friendly with quite a few. One of my India friends put the why India is obsessed with economic growth. According to him, India learned from USSR that having a large army is not going to guarantee your security. You have cash in your pocket. Wealthy countries invariably are powerful countries. So in the beginning of last decade they decided that greed is better that ideology. According to me that is very sane course of action. May be the Pakistanis should follow the same path. Recommend

  • ranjak
    Aug 15, 2010 - 9:18PM

    india ventured into the world economic platform in 1991. at that time indian gdp was $312 bn only and now 2 decades after it it is $1.3 tn. that’s a huge jump. china started this whole thing in 1970 and now they are world’s 2nd largest economy. in todays world money speaks and when it speaks it shuts everyones mouth. in india every one wants to earn money and only money. a person in his 30s starts his firm leaving a good job in mnc or IT co. things are rapidly changing and what indians keep in there mind is the bristish invasion and 1962. they dont want anything like that to happen rather they are trying hard to reverse it. recently an indian bought the worlds first MNC, the british east india company and opened up many stores across the globe to sell india made products the only difference is that the money is now coming to india rather then going out. if pakistan wants to be a prosperous country they should take up the economic challenge as tehy take millitary challenge.Recommend

  • Colin
    Sep 7, 2010 - 4:40AM

    I think India’s much of india’s success has to be attributed to them having a secular government. Islamic governments are typically very corrupt and incompetent. When you look what happened to Iran after 1979, their supposed great revolution turned out to be economic suicide.Recommend

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