Wali Zahid

Futurist · Disruptor · Visionary

Wali on Pakistan of future

Wali Zahid
Aug 15, 2014
Share on
Wali on Pakistan of future
Wali Zahid takes a macroeconomic view of Pakistan of future for The News on 14 August 2014.

Nearly a decade ago in a leadership workshop, when I first used the Goldman Sachs data of top world economies in 2050 and Pakistan being among the top 20, it came out as a shocker to everyone in the hall of 500 people. Wondered why.

Realised that we are so much consumed by the past mess-ups of 67 years and current ground realities that we fail to look at the optimistic outlook ahead of us.

How are we faring as a nation looking into the future and planning for it? Not an iota of it. Yet. I will quote two sources.

One, Geert-Hofstede Index which looks at country cultures through a 6D (six dimensions) Model. Just before they changed names of some dimensions this year, one of these dimensions was called Long Term Orientation (LTO). Pakistan score on LTO was zero (0). Yes, you didn’t hear me wrong. Zero!

Two, UK’s The Guardian newspaper last year published a Future Orientation Index ranking of current top 45 economies. While Germany was No 1, Pakistan stood at the bottom 45th.

If you ask a person on the street, how they see the future of this country, even the blessed among us would show pessimism, saying it is filled with corrupt politicians, ungovernable masses, dysfunctional systems, broken road and transport infrastructure, decayed farming methods and an illiterate, impoverished, population suffering from malnutrition and ill-health.

You pause and ask the same person how they see the future of their children. They will exhibit pride and optimism how their kids plan to do well in studies and future employment. None of them would say their children would do worse than them.

The contradiction becomes more accentuated if you talk to elite – social, economic, military, ruling, political, bureaucracy. They may have faith in their own future, but not in the country’s future.

Text version of The News article that appeared in the paper on 14 August 2014.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel: Wali Zahid

Check out newer piece: The Pakistan 2050 Opportunity

The first thing that will change in the Pakistan of future is this dichotomy of belief: people will start believing in the country they live in and work in.

In spite of the current substantive issues: the political crisis facing current government, Zarb-e-Azb operation, IDPs, Karachi’s target killings, express kidnappings, extortion, nonstate actors, civ-mil rift, suicide attacks, police incompetence, and the list could go on.

About 20 years ago, I attended a two-week course in peace building in Canada. One of the guest speakers an evening spoke on the difference between decayed nations and developed nations. I still remember when one of the things she mentioned was: decayed nations live in the past; developed nations live in the future.

If you see our national discourse – on TV talk shows, in our newspaper columns, or even this supplement – you will see all talk about the past.

Conversations starting from 1947 when Pakistan came on the world map, or the fall of Dhaka as it’s called. Or, about more recent past, the previous government: Zia era, Musharraf era, Zardari era, or earlier Nawaz eras.

The second thing that will change in the Pakistan of future is we will start talking about our current issues without unnecessary windows to the past. And more importantly, we will start planning for the future – both short and long term. Our talk shows will highlight the challenges we will face in 2025, 2040 or even 2050.

Compare our outlook with USA, for example. American government and firms are already eyeing on African markets because according to a recent report by The Washington Post, the 22nd century is the African century.

Within this decade, you will see road and transport infrastructure in Nigeria (of massive corruption fame) or even in Ethiopia (of famine fame) becoming world class.

Or, compare with the UK. The UK is now working on an ultrafast 5G wireless internet, which according the Prime Minister David Cameron, will download a feature film in less than a second.

Or, compare with China. In 2008, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) was given the assignment to achieve in 10 years all of what Boeing and Airbus achieved in 50 years. As an aviation enthusiast, I can clearly see that the future of aircraft manufacturing is dominated by China, whether Boing or Airbus admit it or not.

When the new government of Nawaz Sharif took charge last year, one of the first things they did was invite 100 or more key ‘thinking’ people – ministers, industrialists, economists, academics, thinkers, media personalities into a hall of Planning Commission of Pakistan to formulate Pakistan Vision 2025. I too participated at the invitation of the Minister in charge.

Must say that the daylong discussion was appallingly below par. Everyone who participated spoke about current constraints, from their narrow standpoints (e.g. a textile owner seeking government support) and hardly anybody had a vision of future for the country.

So much for the exercise. So much for the crème de la crème of 100 people.

The third thing that will change in the Pakistan of future is a new crop of people will emerge – either in-country or from diaspora – who will guide the policymaking forums on what to look for and how.

And now the usual data I share in my talks on Pakistan of future.

According to Goldman Sachs, the world’s largest investment bank, and The World Bank, Pakistan will be 18th largest economy in 2050. This is based on nominal GDP.

VIDEO clip: Pakistan 18th largest economy in 2050 | Wali Zahid | Business Plus TV

Goldman Sachs forecasts get yearly revisions and our ranking may keep on moving down a point or two if our governments fail in doing their job, or the forces of disruption become too huge to manage (as I write this on 6 August, I am anxious about the 14th August Azadi march by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its intended consequences).

In the 2050 world, China is world’s No 1 economy and India No 3. Pakistan is the only large country that borders both. Once the two-way trade eases with India, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is built linking Xinjiang with Gwadar, imagine the game-changing prospects for people and businesses in this country!

In the 2050 forecast, we are ahead of many of today’s European economies and our GDP may come close to that of Canada. So imagine everybody who migrated today to Canada to have a better quality of life rushing to return to country to benefit from the economic opportunity their home country presented in the future. Or Europeans seeking Pakistani nationality like we today seek theirs.

As an economy, we have made a bit of improvements lately.

The country rating from Negative to Stable by Moody’s and similar upgrading of rating for five Pakistani banks (ABL, UBL, HBL, MCB, NBP) is a welcome beginning. This trend is expected to continue.

In the Frontier Market Sentiment Index, reported by Wall Street Journal in June, Pakistan is ahead of every other country in terms of the number of multinational companies newly taking an interest as an investment destination.

Sentiment towards Pakistan improved by 5.6 percentage points, putting it ahead of Africa’s rising stars Nigeria and Kenya, which each saw sentiment improve by just over four percentage points.

In a CNNMoney 74-country ranking in July, Pakistan emerged as the 4th best performing global stock market. In the report measuring stock market gains in 2014, only Argentina, Denmark and India were ahead of us.

Pakistan’s military is rated as the 15th most powerful military in the world, according to the Global Firepower Index 2014. We are also one of the nine nuclear nations in the world. So, apparently, no one will look at us with a ‘dirty eye’ (taking the pun with maili aankh, the Urdu equivalent).

We also see an effort to modernise the road and transport infrastructure in large urban centres.

Karachi, which is set to become the 7th largest megacity by 2030 is likely to have its own green line at a cost of Rs 15 billion and a decent circular railway which is being revived with Japan’s help.

Plan for Lahore-Karachi motorway has been approved and work kickstarts this year. Following the Turkish city transport model, cities like Lahore, Islamabad-Rawalpindi and Multan are slated to have modern Metro bus service as a means of public transport.

Solarisation of public and private projects can be seen in various parts of the country.

As the total fertility rate is falling in most of world, it is rising in Pakistan (besides Africa). As mentioned above, Africa is using this population surge to its advantage. China and India used their populations, 1.3 billion 1.2 billion respectively, to their advantage.

Indonesia, the fourth most populous country, is using its over 250 million to its advantage to become the largest Muslim economy in the world by 2050.

Hopefully, Pakistan too could benefit from its population surge. To many critics of large Pakistan population, today’s star economies like Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Spain, Sweden are not in the top 20 is precisely because of their smaller numbers then.

Combine that with increasing average life expectancy, which in Pakistan stood at 65 in the latest 2014 WHO report.

Although the current state of medical practice in the country is viewed very poorly in an April 2014 BBC Urdu report and if we can come around that, things may look very very differently.

In a 2014 World Bank ranking, we are world’s least expensive country. And according to a 2014 report by The Economist, London, Karachi is world’s least expensive city.

This means that even if people earn low wages, they can still afford meals, shelter and clothing.

On many other fronts, we have been performing poorly, very very poorly.

For example, we are housed in the world’s most corrupt region, South Asia, according to the 2014 report by Transparency International. Sadly. Corruption is present in our daily life.

Just like we are seeing China’s former security chief Zhou Yongkang being investigated for corruption in the country’s biggest political takedown, I foresee improvement on that scale as country’s electronic and social media becomes brutally critical of the democratic governments.

Pakistan is nearly at the bottom of Global Innovation Index 2014 (134 out of 143 countries).

For example, in Education, we are at 141 out of 143. In Institutions category, we are at 135. In Political Stability, we hit the rock bottom at 143. In Rule of Law, we are at 122.

My expectation is that as our economy stabilises and matures, we will improve on all seven indicators.

For that matter, we are nearly at the bottom of every other index. Take for example, world’s fragile country index, which measures internal turmoil. We are 10th most fragile country (until last year, it used to be called failed-country index). In the Good Country Index released in July, we are ranked at 106th. Poor again.

Since we are not just good at fighting each other, we also take shots at others too when the opportunity presents itself. Thus, the global ecosystem does not view us kindly.

Global Peace Index 2014 ranks Pakistan as the world’s 9th least peaceful country. Similarly, in a June 2014 global survey (Country Ratings Poll of 24 nations conducted by GlobeScan/Pipa), Pakistan along with Iran was ranked as most-negatively-viewed country.

My feeling is that with increasing social media attention and a global push for ‘behaving’ in an ecosystem of peace-loving and economic-development-driven nations, we will mend our ways.

We will become selective in choosing our battles – whether internal or external. Our election agendas are likely to become economic reform than political point scoring.

Even if we are unable to attract foreign tourists in the near future, as stability returns to country and household incomes increase, our domestic tourism to Northern Areas will boom. This itself will create new windows of opportunity and economic activity.

I see a Pakistan of future which has abundant opportunities because it will have lots of people (call them consumers if you will), neighbouring world’s two biggest economies and gelled into a supply chain that’s unmatchable by any other country on earth – raw materials or value-added services.

In management speak, when financial results are impressive in a year, we use a phenomenon called ‘because of’ versus ‘in spite of’.

The earlier means: this happened because of the new (read: capable) CEO or management team. The latter means: it still happened in spite of (read: poor) CEO or management team.

Pakistan is set to rise and become a liveable, respected nation by 2050 – either because of or in spite of.

God has taken the decision. It’s up to the stakeholders in the country what route they want to take.

See you in 2050, in sha Allah.

PS: Never mind that 2050 is too far away. With increasing life expectancy, if you are 50 today and don’t die of being run over by a bus, you may still see 2050, God willing. Your retirement plan and readings need to be elaborate. Make one now.

Share on
Wali Zahid

Wali Zahid

Wali Zahid is a longtime China watcher and a Pakistan futurist. An award-winning journalist, he writes on issues of significance to Pakistan and CPEC & BRI.

Related posts