Pakistan’s positives

Published December 18, 2020
The writer is a former member of the prime minister’s economic advisory council, and heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.
The writer is a former member of the prime minister’s economic advisory council, and heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

THE recent unearthing by EU DisinfoLab of the vast anti-Pakistan disinformation and propaganda network run by India has brought to light a highly-organised, concerted and sustained effort to malign Pakistan internationally. The main aims of this sinister campaign appear to be:

— Defame and discredit Pakistan in international forums and media.

— Shape the international as well as domestic narrative with regard to Pakistan.

— Defang Pakistan’s ability to influence international human rights forums, principally at the UN and EU, with regard to India’s egregious human rights violations in Indian-occupied and illegally held Kashmir.

— Divert Pakistan-bound investment, exports, tourism to weaken the country’s economy.

A concerted campaign has been waged to deflate the morale of the nation.

While the target audience of this campaign’s aforementioned objectives is external, Pakistan’s population is the target for two additional aims of the Indian campaign (which is in the domain of classic ‘fifth-generation’ or ‘hybrid’ warfare).

— Drive a wedge between the populace and the armed forces.

— Deflate the morale of the Pakistani nation.

These two objectives appear to have greater primacy in the Indian calculus. The instruments in this Indian disinformation campaign are not just the hundreds of fake news outlets, wire services or NGOs that have been out-ed, in addition to an army of internet trolls, but co-opted elements in Pakistan’s political parties, mainstream media and its Twitterati brigade.

In this context, the challenge for many Pakistani commentators has been how to highlight shortcomings and fault lines in the polity and economy without playing into the agenda of deflating morale or reinforcing the stereotypical image of the country that is carefully cultivated by its enemies. Guilty of focusing almost exclusively on the negatives in Pakistan’s situation, it is time to make amends. Here are six major positives with regard to Pakistan’s economy that play a huge role in its functioning — and are generally underreported or rarely mentioned.

The payments system: The payments system is the means of exchanging monetary value within an economy and across national borders. An efficient payments system is the backbone of any economy. The State Bank of Pakistan oversees an effective and efficient national payments system, the backbone of which is the real-time processing and final settlement of funds transfer instructions via its RTGS system. In recent years, however, innovative retail payment platforms have been rolled out and supported, such as branchless banking (especially mobile phone banking). Collectively, the payments system infrastructure (comprising large value, e-banking as well as paper-based) handled around Rs550tr worth of transactions in FY18.

Labour mobility: Another under-appreciated facet of Pakistan’s economy is the near-frictionless physical mobility of labour across the country. Unskilled and semi-skilled workers from the northern areas work in Karachi in the hundreds of thousands, while skilled ‘techies’ from Karachi run start-ups in Lahore and Islamabad without hesitation or cultural difficulty. This aspect makes for efficient allocation of labour in different markets, enhancing overall economic efficiency. (We should remain vigilant, however, as labour mobility across different regions of Pakistan will be in the cross hairs of our enemies as they seek to disrupt the process of national integration.)

A vibrant tech ecosystem: Pakistan is increasingly being viewed internationally as Asia’s next big market for tech start-ups. The start-up scene in Pakistan is thriving with many expatriate Pakistanis returning and contributing to its vibrancy. In addition, an estimated more than 10,000 application developers/ freelancers enter the workforce each year. More than 5,000 IT companies based in Pakistan not just export their services to buyers in nearly 100 countries around the world, but are increasingly able to raise capital from venture capitalists and angel investors too. It is estimated that Pakistan earns anywhere from $2bn to $4bn a year from software exports alone, with official figures understated due to many freelancers preferring to route their export earnings as worker remittances. The rise of digitally savvy consumers, broadband connectivity and availability of a strong tech talent base that is still relatively cheaper and more competitive are propelling the growth in the industry.

The Nadra database: With over 100m computerised national identity cards issued by Nadra, covering 96pc of the country’s adult population, citizen information contained in the Nadra and allied databases is a rich source of data (with history) that can be better utilised for more efficient planning or tax profiling etc.

A giving nation: Pakistanis are a generous, giving nation and one can see this all over the country not just in the form of big-name charitable entities like the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust hospitals, SIUT, Indus Hospital, and the centres for the needy run by the Edhi Foundation etc, but in the form of thousands of charities run by individuals and affluent families across the length and breadth of Pakistan.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, Pakistan ranks among the top 10 nations in the world both in terms of number of people helping a stranger or donating money. The vast amounts of zakat and charity that Pakistanis channel to their needy brethren is a huge social support system that buttresses the government’s efforts via the Benazir Income Support Program, Baitul Maal and the Ehsaas programme.

A resilient nation: The resilience of Pakistanis has been well noted globally. Despite the most challenging of economic, social or security conditions over a protracted period of time, millions of the country’s citizens have plodded on, not just earning an income for themselves and supporting their families in the process, but starting social initiatives that have immeasurably helped local communities too.

From the Kiran school in Karachi’s Lyari, to feeding the poor initiative in another impoverished neighbourhood, to driving pink rickshaws and women-only taxis, to driving a truck on the highways — all initiatives and endeavours run by women — Pakistanis demonstrate their ‘hardiness’ and resilience daily across the length and breadth of the country. And through it all, they manage a smile on their faces — and don’t compromise on their famed hospitality.

The writer is a former member of the prime minister’s economic advisory council, and heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2020


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