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A faulty planning paradigm

Our flawed development model focusing on construction of physical infrastructure has failed to improve people’s living conditions

A faulty planning paradigm
We have over-spent on physical development.

What was promised when the campaign for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims was launched? It was a country free from hunger, disease and illiteracy, where fair play and social justice would prevail. But soon after independence what did we see? It turned out to be a security state dominated by civil and military bureaucracy, where people were excluded from all levels of decision-making, hardly bringing any change in their living conditions.

Most unfortunate thing was that instead of adopting a homegrown development model, using indigenous resources for creating social capital, leading to sustainable and steady growth, colonial-era economic management policies were continued which gave priority to construction of physical infrastructure. Current manifestation of this approach can be seen in motorways, expensive metro trains, flyovers, underpasses and other mega projects.

We would have been happy if after spending trillions of rupees (mostly foreign loans) on physical infrastructure, the basic needs of the people were met. But even after 71 years of independence, one third population still lives below poverty line.

What is most worrying is Pakistan’s dismal performance in the social sector: population growing at 2.2 pc; 25 million children out of school (according to Alif Ailaan); continuing wide gender gap; poor quality of education and health; gaps in routine immunization; the worst infant mortality rate in the world; rampant malnutrition and stunted growth in 40 pc of the children.

If human resource development had taken place in earlier years, it could feed and accelerate overall economic progress, but unfortunately our planners chose the reverse course. They argued that infrastructure and industrialisation should come first. If this happens, this will feed into human development, which in turn will reinforce growth, starting a virtuous cycle.

The Harvard Advisory Group’s growth model worked well for some time, and Pakistan was touted as the best performer in the developing world. But soon crisis started developing because of the inherent weaknesses of the model. Ayub Khan’s ‘golden period of development’ was followed by decades of stagnation, and then ‘lost decade’ of nineties. Since then we are seeing repetition of boom and bust cycles.

When questions are raised about our continuing dismal position in UN’s Human Development Index, our policy makers find an alibi in low budgeting allocations, poor governance, corruption and inept bureaucracy. But they never tell us that this is the result of our flawed development model which successive governments have used since mid-50s. They also refuse to accept that social development is not dependent on large public expenditure financed through foreign or domestic loans. It can also be achieved by mobilising local resources, and active support of a committed and engaged civil society and intelligentsia.

Instead of adopting a homegrown development model, using indigenous resources for creating social capital, leading to sustainable and steady growth, colonial-era economic management policies were continued which gave priority to construction of physical infrastructure. Current manifestation of this approach can be seen in motorways, expensive metro trains, flyovers, underpasses and other mega projects.

More important than finding money is the correct diagnosis of the problem which can only be done by involving the communities and partnering with them. Research based innovative and affordable solutions are the key element to solve people’s problem. But what our loan-based social action plans and programmes have been doing is just the reverse. They exclude the communities from all levels of decision-making and as a result fail to understand their needs, priorities and preferences. Almost all these plans are highly centralised and supply-driven and therefore fail to produce the desired results.

Take the example of fertility control. Everyone knows that our population control programme did not achieve its targets, and we continue to have 2.2 pc growth rate in spite of all efforts by the government, international donors and NGOs over a period of five decades.

The current position is that only 25 pc married Pakistani women of reproductive age regularly use modern contraceptives. However, it is generally accepted that there is an unmet demand of 35 pc from married women which is not being met for lack of money.

But the surprising thing is that instead of mobilising all resources to meet this demand, huge sums of money are still being spent on supply side issues like creating awareness and neutralising orthodox elements because of donors’ insistence. They fail to realise that the days when religion was being used as an alibi are long gone, what women now need are cost-effective contraceptives, decentralised services and reliable follow-up.

The second major problem after the demographic time bomb is the unemployable youth bulge. Young population is an asset for every country provided it is properly educated and trained in various skills. In Pakistan, it is going to be a liability, because half of it is illiterate. The remaining half is endowed with poor quality education and bereft of any skills.

This again is a failure of our planning paradigm. For a long time it was asserted that our education sector suffered because of low budgetary allocations. But now we see that all the provincial governments are spending huge amounts of money on education. In addition, HEC and National Commission for Human Development were also given billions of rupees. During the last three decades private sector, NGOs and philanthropists are also doing their bit to improve the situation but unfortunately expected results are missing.

There can be two reasons: One, our planners failed to identify the problems of primary and secondary school education correctly. For example emphasis has always been on quantity, but issues like quality of education, curriculum improvement and gender-gap have been left unattended. Two, there is no national strategy or coherent plan with specific goals and targets. Things don’t add up because all stakeholders are doing things in their own way without becoming part of a larger plan.

Question is what should be done which has not been done previously? Most important thing is that our ruling classes and planners should accept that in countries which are cited as success stories, social development is not a reflection of economic growth alone, they have found alternative routes for it. Secondly, our deeply flawed planning and implementation paradigm should be discarded. There is need to make it people-oriented. Powerful vested interests may oppose it, but unless drastic changes are made, we can’t expect better results.

Thirdly, our planners should realise that during the last 71 years, we have over-spent on physical development (most of which remains under-utilised). It is good to showcase mega projects, new industrial zones etc but where is the manpower to run them. For the last 10-15 years our industrialists are importing technicians and skilled labour from Sri Lanka and Indonesia at high cost because our educational system has collapsed.

Things can change by developing a consensus amongst all political forces and intelligentsia. Many countries have addressed these issues successfully, latest being Bangladesh. We can also do it. Basic requirement is not money but long term planning, political commitment, consistency and continuity.


The writer is a social


([email protected])

Tasneem Siddiqui


  • Instead of Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Pakistan could get personnel from Bangladesh for less. I won’t suggest India; it would be pointless!

  • Abdul Hameed Nayyar

    Poor quality of education is indeed the most serious problem facing Pakistan now. It is the biggest negative exponent that explains the downward spiral movement. The youth bulge with poor education and capabilities will hurt every sector of life in the coming years and decades. The author rightly points to the misplaced emphasis on shiny mega projects instead. I hope the new leadership has sense and time to ponder over the wise words of this article.

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