Pakistan’s economic reforms have been high on the agenda of policy makers throughout its turbulent history, or so they have been claiming during their stints in office. While Pakistan’s road to economic reforms and progress has been quite bumpy, marred by political uncertainty, efforts have nonetheless been made to put the economy on the right track by concerned economists, policy makers and academia.
One such valuable contribution in this direction comes from Vaqar Ahmed in the book under review. Vaqar points to the loopholes in the economic system and suggests measures that would steer the country out of this economic mess that Pakistan has long braved.
While giving his recipe for realising a better economic outlook, the writer shows by his analysis his understanding of the political economy of the country. Reading the book we are able to contextualise the problem. Among other things, Pakistan has had to face discontinuity of government policies on economy as democratic governments were sent packing abruptly by military dictators. Also, democratic governments have their share in destroying the country’s economy by resorting to short term measures of seeking loans from International Financial Institutions (IFIs), such as the IMF and the World Bank.
The author points out in the very beginning that “a key challenge for Pakistan has been the revival of economic growth, job creation, and raising the standards of human development across the country.” Vaqar pins hope of economic revival on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He retains his optimism by enumerating CPEC, remittance inflows, low oil prices, and trade opportunities with Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia as great indictors. At the same time, he is also mindful of the uncertain trade prospects with India, which could be a huge market for Pakistan and vice versa.
In addition to a comprehensive introduction, which explains the objective of the book, the next chapters (seven in all) take the issues one by one and dwell on them at length. The first chapter focuses on why reforms are needed and how, what is the state of the economy and how this book aims to engage with the reader by avoiding unnecessary economic terminology or technical language. Because the main aim of this book, as it states in the first chapter, is to “provide a non-technical understanding of why economic growth in Pakistan has fallen behind that of peer economies.”
The thesis then focuses on other central topics, such as macro-economic policy, tax administration, public expenditure management, export competitiveness, and job creation. The book has a whole dedicated chapter on economic corridors which throws ample light on CPEC and many other regional power projects between Pakistan and Iran and other Central Asian Republics.
Currently Deputy Executive Director at the Sustainable Development policy Institute (SDPI), Vaqar has also served at UNDP as Advisor and has undertaken assignments with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and ministries of finance, planning and commerce in Pakistan. Over the years, he has focused on issues central to the economy of the country, such as macro-economic modeling, inclusive growth, infrastructure reforms, trade and taxation policies, and regional trade, etc.
Each chapter in the book attempts to explain the issue to the reader while giving answers to various questions that may come to the reader’s mind. One of the main arguments of the book is that unless Pakistan is regionally connected, the dream of making it economically vibrant cannot come true.
For this, Pakistan will have to try and address its misgivings and resolve its conflicts with neighbours. Lack of regional economic connectivity has a very negative impact on the overall growth and trade prospects. It has been rightly stressed that the whole Central Asia, including Iran and Afghanistan to the West, and India and Bangladesh to the east offer great promise in terms of economic dividends.
The document is amply marked with many graphs, tables, and charts to help understand an issue with a quick glance. The book has a very useful index at the end to approach a topic, etc. This book will find its place among such authentic works as S. Akbar Zaidi’s Issues in Pakistan’s Economy. The references at the end of each chapter further increase the reader’s inquisitiveness as one finds mention of many other valuable books that deal with similar questions.
By Vaqar Ahmed
Published by Oxford University Press