NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 29

A journey from the golden 60s era and beyond

There was a time back in the 1960s when Pakistan was seen as a new and emerging nation with a progressive mindset. Many mega infra-structural projects had been launched including those related to construction of dams and barrages all over the country.

Industrialization was a national priority and related policies were implemented, thus promoting industrial growth, leading to the development of industries such as textiles, cement and sugar, which in turn contributed to economic development and job creation. Pakistan enjoyed a healthy economy in the mid-1960s, with an impressive average GDP growth rate of 6.7%. The Green Revolution of that period saw the introduction of high yielding variety seeds leading to a surge in agricultural productivity. High crop yields were achieved, particularly for wheat and rice, and was a major step towards making Pakistan self-sufficient in food.  All in all, Pakistan seemed destined to become a regional power. Our bureaucracy of those days included ICS and CSP cadre officers whose honesty and sincerity to the country was unquestionable.

Our national institutions also earned international credibility. For instance, Pakistan International Airlines, the pride of our nation, was ranked amongst the top airlines of the world. Even the likes of John F. Kennedy, President of the United States and Queen Elizabeth of England paid tributes to it and preferred travelling by it when visiting our region. The PIA soon gained international reputation as the airline of class, with the USA First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy endorsing the slogan ‘Great people to fly with”.

Countries in the region took Pakistan as a role model. For instance, South Korea adopted Pakistan’s 5-year Economic Development Program to propel themselves to be counted amongst the top industrialized nations of the world. With such a head start, Pakistan ought to have joined the league of Developed Nations by now. However, somewhere along the line we lost our way. Though being a nuclear power, our arrows of prosperity and progress are still pointing downwards, hardly hinging on to the category of a third world nation. Though we have a comprehensive constitution, covering most areas of national interest and importance, equally supported by an elaborate set of policies and guidelines, still, we have fared miserably when it comes to their implementation. This non-implementation of policies and its drastic consequences was clearly resonated In a seminar titled “Lessons from Korean Development” organized by the Planning Commission, in which Professor Jwa Sung Hee, of Korean Development Institute, voiced his remarks that South Korea crafted its plans in the 1960s with the technical assistance of Pakistan planning authorities “but the subsequent years yielded opposite fortunes for both countries due to state of implementation of those targets (ref: Dawn Publication 14 Dec 2013)”,  These cutting remarks back in 2013, and other such observations along the way, should have rung alarm bells deep within our souls. But insensitive that we are, such remarks have no real impact on us as we continue to have a non-serious approach when it comes to policy implementations.

Nowadays, our country is known for all the wrong reasons. PIA’s international reputation has hit rock bottom, due mainly to over staffing, inefficiency, poor customer care, and other negativities resulting in huge financial losses. For instance, the PIA had one of the worst employee-to-aircraft ratios; meaning thereby that it had an unpleasant distinction of being an airline with the highest number of 550 employees on its payroll per aircraft. Recent efforts have been made to bring this figure down to a more respectable level of 260 as part of the on-going reforms, but are these reforms too little too late.  The unbelievable and shocking blunders that our pilots committed, causing the May 2020 crash in Karachi, followed immediately by the startling but candid admission by the Pakistan minister of aviation that more than 30% of our pilots were in possession of fake pilot licenses cast an indelible shadow on the already tarnished reputation of the airline and resulted in banning of the PIA from landing in many international airports due mainly to safety concerns. Whether it survives the onslaught of extreme setbacks including huge mounting debts and financial losses, or goes under the hammer, to the highest bidder, remains to be seen. The current PIA saga was well summed up in a BBC news report dated 20 June 2020 which stated “The PIA airline, which once played a major role in the launch of one of the top Middle Eastern airlines, Emirates, has subsequently gone down the same path to institutional decay as the rest of the country”.

Our Access to Education record is not good either. Up to 26 million of our children do not attend school, which is the highest anywhere in the world. Officially, we have a literacy rate of 60%. But this figure is not realistic as the criteria for declaring somebody literate is a dubious one. The fact is, that we have never accorded priority to the education sector, with only 1.7% of our GDP being spent on education.  which is amongst the lowest in the world. On the contrary, we are cutting back expenditure on education each year. Addressing a recently held National Conference on Education Emergency, our current prime minister announced “I declare from this moment an Emergency in Education all over Pakistan”. It’s good that this Education Emergency has been realized and acknowledged at the highest level. However, we have to go beyond words and take concrete and practical measures to enforce a turnaround.  It won’t be easy and would require a concerted and earnest effort by all concerned, on a scale never before undertaken.  All stakeholders, including educationalists, policymakers, politicians etc. must be on board to make a multi-faceted and unified effort, with a fresh, positive and earnest mindset, if we are to make a difference.

As if this massive untapped resource of 26 million out of school children were not enough, the Human Resource Development problems are further compounded by the gross under-utilization of another human resource, which is the women of this country.  Although Pakistan possesses a huge women resource making up 49% of the population, yet this resource figure is negated by the unfortunate fact that Pakistan possesses a dismal record when it comes to Gender Inequality statistics. So much so that, it was ranked 145 out of 146 countries by the World Economic Forum in its 2022 Global Gender Inequality Gap Index, and 161st out of 191 countries on the Human Development Report’s Gender Inequality Index, thus resulting in low women empowerment, and other negative ramifications that result thereof. According to Nilofar Bakhtiar, Chairperson, National Commission on the Status of Women “the systematic subordination of women is the basis of discrimination in the society, creating a gender gap in each sphere of life for women”. There is thus an urgent need to take cognizance of this pathetic situation and take urgent measures to rectify this much neglected area of concern. As rightly pointed out by Knut Ostby, Resident Representative, UNDP Pakistan, “Transformational change can be brought about for Pakistan’s women by directly and inclusively targeting gender parity stressors with policy solutions and structural interventions”.

A country’s passport is a reflection of the overall international credibility and the global mobility that its citizens enjoy. It’s kind of a status symbol for the country and an indication of how the rest of the world perceives it. Unfortunately, here also, Pakistan fares very poorly. The Henley Passport Index is considered the standard reference tool for global citizens and sovereign states when assessing where a passport ranks on the global mobility spectrum. Unfortunately, here also, Pakistan fares very badly.  It pathetically lies fourth 4th from the bottom, with only 31 countries allowing Pakistani citizens the privilege of travelling without a visa or a voa (visa on arrival) with Qatar being the most prominent amongst them.  It’s really a shame for us to be counted as amongst the least honored and respected of countries, when it comes to international travel and mobility.

In terms of corruption also, Pakistan’s reputation and credibility is deeply tarnished, with the scourge of corruption and nepotism engrained deeply in most walks of life. The country has been listed alongside highly corrupt nations by the Transparency International in its Corruption Perception Index.

It’s about time that we, as a nation, wake up to the harsh realities that we face today. We have no choice but to take cognizance of the predicament that we are in and take urgent steps to rectify the situation, before our options are overtaken by events.


(The author has a Master’s degree from the UK.  He holds corporate membership of a number of professional bodies such as Institution of Engineering Technology of UK (MIET), Chartered Engineer, UK (CEng) etc. He is currently working as a Senior Consultant at the Burki Institute of Public Policy at Netsol. He can be contacted at:  [email protected]