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A worth-reading book

Nadeem Ul Haque's unique discourse

A worth-reading book

When clarity is combined with profundity of thought, an intellect is born. Undoubtedly, it is the rarest of traits that even scholars of extraordinary merit must work extremely hard to possess. When the subject of inquiry is the dwindling state of Pakistan’s economy and the state institutions are directionless, a profound discourse articulated with clarity is obviously a boon.

Nadeem Ul Haque presents us with such a unique discourse in his book Looking back: How Pakistan Became an Asian Tiger by 2050, published by Kitab (Pvt.) Limited, Karachi. The relevance of contents and consistency in argument makes one wonder as to why the author didn’t choose some internationally reputed publishing house to publish this. It is surmised however that he wanted the book to be available to Pakistani readers; therefore he went for a low-priced edition of the book. In a mere 225 pages, Haque has said a lot.

A foremost economist with wide-ranging academic interests, Haque earned his PhD in economics from the University of Chicago and worked for International Monetary Fund for an extended period. In Pakistan, he was Vice Chairman Planning Commission and then Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. Very articulate, widely read and extremely charismatic, Nadeem Ul Haque is always open to suggestions and takes criticism with grace. It is ironic that our policy-makers don’t benefit from the expertise of such an accomplished economist like him.

Reverting to the book, the very title of the book is intriguing, with the caption indicating a futuristic projection of Pakistan, imbued with hope. Spelling out the mess that Pakistan finds itself in at present, he anticipates our leaders and policy makers to bring about comprehensive reforms during 2020s in every sphere encompassing the governance, economy and the social sector(s). As a result of those reforms, this country eventually becomes an Asian tiger.

Placing himself in 2050 and imagining all that can be categorised as ‘good’ and ‘auspicious’ happening to a country with a bleak present and not so enviable past needs a bagful of temerity and sanguine expectation. While reading the book, I felt as if Nadeem Ul Haque has severed the connection which binds both past and present with the future. Even the revolutions with their respective agendas to fast-forward the events could not succeed in dispensing with the connection between the past and the present and their looming shadows onto the future.

Haque visualises revolutionary changes, obviously without mentioning revolution, through a comprehensive agenda of reforms within the span of thirty years, that to my reckoning is a big task. With mediocrity ruling the roost in Pakistan, government-run school system being dysfunctional and higher education in a state of disarray, the human resource with the capacity and sufficient training needed for the proposed reforms are really very hard to come by. Thus, foreign consultants and international donors, whom Nadeem Ul Haque has deprecated as nemesis for Pakistan, are in all likelihood, destined to have a field day in Pakistan.

Through the evolutionary method of reforms, human history does not suggest any instance of revolutionary transformation, having ever taken place. Yuval Noah Hariri in his second book Homo Deus and Peter Frankopan in The New Silk Roads: The Present and the Future of the World have also employed a similar technique of projecting a future through the inferences drawn from the study of the past and present. But these authors demonstrate extreme caution in making such a projection of future which is not that consistent with the trends that the past and the present allude to.

In Haque’s analysis, the disconnect between the trends reflected in the past-present and the future is quite stark. Thus, while reading that book, he appeared to me an idealist who wishes his country to be an Asian tiger in 30 years despite the fact that current trends suggest quite otherwise.

Centralised planning as well as execution of plans and policies and stringent tax regime, the author maintains, are big impediments in the economic growth and sustainable development of the social sector(s). Theoretically speaking, there are no two opinions about the efficacy of decentralisation of policy planning and mechanism of their execution. However, the author should have brought out a few examples of the post-colonial states where decentralisation was practised to the best of its effect. India and Malaysia are the two countries with similar past(s) as Pakistan and both have practised centralised planning and import substitution, providing cushion to the local entrepreneurs.

Also read: Back to the future

It was much afterwards that India opened itself to the world market when Ambanis and Bajajs were comfortably poised with their economic resources creating ripples at the international financial scene. Malaysia is still quite centralised with a strongman like Mahathir Mohamad seeing to it that nothing happens that escapes his notice. Even a tiny country like Singapore is highly centralised. The centralisation has paid it enormous dividends and by virtue of those policies, it has made astounding progress.

Scrutinising Pakistan in comparison to the developed economies might lead us to the conclusions, which are not pragmatic. I concur with Haque in his assertion that the policy and planning hardly has any reflection on the society and the vice versa. But the point worth our consideration is the extent to which decentralisation as an antidote to centralised planning, being overseen by the bureaucracy, can yield desired results. I think a serious debate is in order to thrash out the preferable future course of action. Similarly, ruling out rural areas as spaces with no capacity to make worthwhile contribution in economic growth is quite contentious, which needs a thorough deliberation. With all these points of contention, every student of social science must read this book and preferably more than once.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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