NON-FICTION: BEYOND THE WALLS OF THE FORT

Published April 25, 2021
Far from the fort — poor children look for fruits from trash thrown by traders in a fruit and vegetable market in Lahore | Dawn file photo
Far from the fort — poor children look for fruits from trash thrown by traders in a fruit and vegetable market in Lahore | Dawn file photo

How do we make sure that everyone in Pakistan has a certain level of ‘well-being’ by 2047? This is the question Kazim Saeed addresses in Dou Pakistan: Har Pakistani Gharanay Tak Khushhaali [Two Pakistans: Prosperity for Every Pakistani Household]. It took him almost 600 pages to answer it and, hopefully, he will follow up with another book to continue some of the discussions he starts in Dou Pakistan, especially in the areas of governance and policy implementation.

Saeed feels the 2047 target is achievable. Not easy, but doable. This is a message of hope, and he definitely wants his readers to keep it squarely in mind as they go through the book.

Dou Pakistan is a special book, and for a variety of reasons. First, that Saeed chose to write it in Urdu. Most books on Pakistan’s economy and development have been written in English, but the author’s explicit aim is to reach a much wider audience in Pakistan.

But it is not just the argument for reach. Saeed also wants readers to understand the concepts and terminology used in economics and development literature when people talk of growth, development, well-being and so on. Consequently, whether it is gross domestic product (GDP) or net enrolment rate (NER), Saeed takes the time to explain, in detail, what such concepts mean, measure and signify, and how we should understand, use and talk about them when we talk of development. This is a significant contribution by the author, as most books just assume a level of understanding from the reader or, at best, provide a short definition of the concept and then move on.

For Saeed, if all Pakistanis are to be involved in thinking of our future, it is important that they understand the language and meaning of the debate in the development area.

For further clarity, the author illustrates each concept with examples from other countries. This, in some ways, is the backbone of his book. The international examples show the paths others have taken, show that Pakistan can do it too, and exhibit the potential impact on the well-being of Pakistanis.

A pioneering book discusses concepts of economics and development in everyday Urdu language, and how to change policies to bring prosperity to the majority of Pakistanis by 2047

Some transformations — in education, health, poverty reduction, inequality reduction, economic growth and income generation — happened over the short span of a few decades for the more successful countries. This gives hope to the author that, if Pakistan were to follow similar but locally contextualised options, transformation is possible for us, too.

Do you live within the walls of the fort, or the city, or outside it? Saeed uses this analogy from Mughal times to illustrate the class, inequality and inclusion/exclusion story of Pakistan. In Mughal times, people living in or near the fort were richer and more politically connected. They had access to facilities of all kinds and enjoyed a better standard of living. As you went out of the fort, and then the walls of the city, access to services and better opportunities declined. People were poorer as distance from the fort increased. The villages were worse off.

Saeed takes this as a pretty apt picture of today’s Pakistan. The few who have wealth, human and other resources, and access to the corridors of power, are doing very well. Their children, barring low-probability events, will have a bright future as well. These are the people living in the fort.

Those in professions and other middle-class areas are the ones living near the fort, or in the city. But the vast majority of Pakistanis, with little or no access to basic services of any quality, and no steady and adequate sources of income, are similar to the larger populace of Mughal times, living outside the city walls or spread around the rest of the country. They are poor, economically very vulnerable and, more discouragingly, they and their children cannot hope for a better future if policies do not change radically.

Saeed’s point, in a nutshell, is that we need to break down these walls and expand access to services and opportunities to all Pakistanis, irrespective of where they are.

Inheritance (wealth), education, a steady and large enough income and access to people in power are, for the author, essential for ensuring current well-being and for ensuring opportunities for future generations. But for people living outside the fort and the city, these are not available.

Twenty million-odd 5-16 year-olds are out of school. The majority of children who are in schools — barring the three-to-five percent attending costly private schools — receive poor quality education. Income and wealth distribution continue to become more skewed in favour of a small minority at the top. The growth process stands stalled and we are not generating enough good-income generating job opportunities. Access to power is limited to a few in Pakistan’s elitist society.

For every important area of the economy mentioned above, Saeed provides an analysis of the current state of affairs and gives — through examples of other countries — pointers on how to change the status quo, and explains why it is important to start changes now if we hope to ensure well-being for all Pakistanis by 2047.

But where there is a rich discussion of policy, I do feel that Saeed does not go into the details of the political economy of change and governance issues. Even if we know what good policies for an area might be, being able to implement them is another story. It is not without reason that some writers, with reference to the education sector, call Pakistan a ‘graveyard of reforms’.

Given how power and policymaking are structured, and given levels of competence and other issues such as corruption, how do we implement policies that favour the public and will, for sure, hurt the interests of the currently privileged? These aspects of governance and policy implementation are not discussed in enough detail in this book. This is why I mentioned earlier being hopeful that Saeed will follow Dou Pakistan up with another book — again, in Urdu, I hope — that will talk of policy implementation, governance and political economy issues.

It bears repeating that Saeed’s choice, and use, of language is very interesting. This must have taken a lot of thinking. Which words should be used in Urdu as they are used in English? Which should be translated as phrases in case there are no adequate single word substitutes, and where should one use Urdu words? Dou Pakistan provides a good mix of these choices.

What is clear is that Saeed’s main aim, and rightly, is to ensure that readers understand concepts fully and well. Sometimes that means extended discussion of concepts. The language, generally, is the Urdu we use every day. No formal or difficult wordage here. This is definitely needed as Urdu readers, now, could get turned off easily if the language is too difficult — we live in times when even the language used in our national anthem is considered too difficult, and some even wonder if it is Urdu or Persian!

I do hope that lots of people in Pakistan read this book and engage with the ideas given in it. Without popular support for change and larger consensus, it would not be possible to implement the fundamental changes that Saeed hopes to do. I also hope Saeed will produce another book that looks at political economy of change, implementation and governance issues; this is needed to take the conversation forward.

If that book is also in Urdu, uses language as effectively as Dou Pakistan does and is as comprehensive, we will have the possibility of generating robust discussion in society on what needs to be done to ensure the well-being of each and every family in Pakistan.

The reviewer is a professor of economics, senior research fellow, and interim dean at Lums. He can be contacted at faisal.bari@ideaspak.org

Dou Pakistan: Har Pakistani Gharanay Tak Khushhaali
By Kazim Saeed
Pakistan Publishing House, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9694190990
600pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, April 25th, 2021

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