Development / 18.01.2017

By Anjum Altaf How does one get a grip on the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its associated investments without any hard information except for the hype? In the absence of any mechanism for credible evaluation I suggest we hold it up against a historical parallel and see what emerges by way of tentative conclusions. Some discussion grounded in real experience may be better than taking sides in the dark. Around the turn of the twentieth century the British invested vast sums of money in the part of the subcontinent that now comprises Pakistan. Amongst these investments were the network of canals and barrages, the post and telegraph, and roads and railways. All included it would have likely added up in real terms to be bigger than the $56 billion associated with the CPEC. What came of all that investment and what economic transformations did it sustain?...

Development / 16.05.2016

By Anjum Altaf How much of a useful story can be told with very few numbers? Look at just one indicator of public welfare, the Under-5 Mortality Rate, in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh: 86, 56, and 41, respectively in 2012. The U5MR, which gives the number of children dying between birth and five years of age per 1,000 live births, is a very useful indicator because it captures the effect of many risks to life that occur during the crucial first five years of life – disease, poverty, malnutrition, etc. What should jump out at the reader is that the 2012 U5MR in Bangladesh is less than half that in Pakistan? Asides from asking how that is possible, this striking statistic should trigger a whole host of related questions. Let us examine a few obvious ones by way of example. Is it the case that this difference is related to...

Development / 03.04.2016

By Anjum Altaf I had proposed a civil society initiative to constitute a People’s Planning Commission as a possible check on wasteful expenditures of public money by the state (Taj Mahal and the Planning Commission, The News, March 25, 2016). The responses received suggest that readers are in agreement with my critique of the existing Planning Commission but skeptical of the recommendation for civil society activism. The reservations extend from questioning the very existence of civil society, to pointing out its fragmentation, to asking whether it has any way of choosing qualified individuals. These are legitimate questions, and given that I believe civil society activism to be virtually the only mechanism for moving forward in Pakistan, the onus of arguing the case is on me. The concept of civil society is simple. Subtract from our universe the spheres of the state and the market along with their associated...

Development / 28.03.2016

By Anjum Altaf and Nadeem ul Haque Should PIA, a State Owned Enterprise (SOE), be privatized or not? It is poorly run, losing a great deal of money, and a drain on the budget. But what does that have to do with PIA being a SOE? Therein lies the real question and some answers to our particular predicament in Pakistan. If one were to line up all potential services with the smallest in scale at one end to the biggest at the other, readers would likely agree that the smallest (say, tea stalls at a railway station) are better provided privately and the largest (say, national defense) by the public sector. The reasons are not hard to fathom – bureaucracies are not good at adapting to rapid changes in market conditions and consumer preferences; markets cannot exclude those unwilling to pay for a service like national defense. In...

Development / 25.03.2016

By Anjum Altaf The Taj Mahal was the nub of the argument in a recent opinion by Dr. Nadeem ul Haque on the Planning Commission (Should we have a planning commission? The News, November 3, 2015). I feel both sides of the argument were misplaced and am elaborating my view in keeping with the exhortation of the author to “let the debate go on.”   Dr. Haque quoted Khawaja Asif as saying that “If there had been a Planning Commission the Taj Mahal would not have been built!” He then retorted by writing: “First, let us tell Khawaja Asif that he is very right. Taj Mahal, an ageing emperor’s whim, should not have been built in any case. The Planning Commission was built to keep such whims in check.” There are two questions at issue: Should the Taj Mahal have been built? And: What is the role of the...

Development / 05.02.2015

By Anjum Altaf It may seem counter-intuitive but if we wish to spur economic growth in Pakistan both government and citizens would have to step in to help labour. This is the surprising conclusion of a study of the local economy carried out by students from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) under my supervision. Initial discussions with representatives of several small cities around Lahore identified violations of labor laws as having a significant impact on both the welfare and productivity of industrial workers. As a result, the interactions between labor laws and economic growth were studied in Sheikhupura, a half-million sized industrial city about 30 miles from Lahore. Observations of small scale industry, employing the majority of the industrial labor force, revealed desperate, survival level, working conditions at compensations below the minimum wage. Workers had little or no protection from various forms of exploitation and exposure...

Development / 05.08.2014

By Anjum Altaf ‘BIPS’ refers to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – the most populous countries in South Asia. ‘Games’ refers to the Commonwealth Games, the last of which concluded on the weekend in Glasgow. ‘Puzzles’ refers to the intriguing questions revealed by the Games about BIPS. The specific puzzle we explore in this post is why the performance of Indian women is so much better than that of the other countries when the human development indicators of India are fairly similar to Bangladesh and Pakistan and actually much worse than those of Sri Lanka. For the sake of reference, the human development indicators as presented by Jean Dreze Amartya Sen are shown in the following table. At one level this post is a straightforward update of two earlier posts that had crafted a narrative from the results of the Commonwealth games up to 2010. The first, Pakistan: Falling Off...

Development / 19.08.2013

By Anjum Altaf It is remarkable that the governments of Pakistan and India have not been able to ensure essential social services for citizens – public health and education are in shambles. As a consequence, ill health and illiteracy mar the lives of millions – a human capital deficiency that diminishes the potential of all. The resources diverted to sustaining an ailing population are no longer available for productive investment. This is not a far-fetched claim. Think of individuals who have to spend a good part of their income to buy treatment – they would have that much less left to invest in their own nourishment or in their children’s education. What holds for individuals holds for countries as well. A recent study examines what has been termed the calorie consumption puzzle in India – real rural household incomes and expenditures have risen but malnutrition remains higher than...

Development / 17.07.2013

By Anjum Altaf Peshawar is by no means the busiest airport in the world but compared to Hyderabad it is a monster. I mentioned in an earlier post (Anchoring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province) that the number of flights per week into Peshawar airport was 79 of which 56 were from the Middle East. I used the information to venture that the KP economy was anchored in the Middle East and that this was not due to the flow of investment into KP but the export of manpower from it. A reader commented that what I had mentioned for Peshawar was true of every big city in Pakistan. This may well be established and, if so, it would suggest that Pakistan as a whole is a manpower exporting economy – statistics indicate that almost the only positive number in recent years has been remittances from workers overseas. Still, it is my guess...

Development / 01.07.2013

By Anjum Altaf I learnt there is just one flight per week from Lahore to Peshawar and it returns three days later. This prompted an investigation of how the city is connected to the outside. Here is some quick information on the flights per week to Peshawar and their origins: None from Central Asia; 1 from East Asia; 1 from Afghanistan; 1 from the Punjab; 2 from Balochistan; 4 from within KPK; 4 from Islamabad; 10 from Sindh; and 56 from the Middle East. While KPK is part of Pakistan, it seems reasonable to infer that its economic engine is in the Middle East. One might post oneself outside Peshawar airport to determine the nature of the economic engine. I doubt one would see investors armed with briefcases and laptops. Much more likely that the vast majority would comprise migrant workers returning home for a break with the...