Pakistan: The Untold Story

May 3, 2012


With negative stories dominating news coverage of Pakistan, a panel discussion at the World Bank on Monday took a look at the positives and the potential of South Asia’s second-largest country.

The event started with a video about the winners of the Bank’s “Pakistan of My Dreams” art contest, whose artwork was displayed around the room. The children envisioned a world free of violence – one piece reads “No to Arms, Yes to Books” – with plentiful electricity and education for all.

The high-level panelists included Pakistan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, and ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman. The World Bank’s vice president for South Asia, Isabel Guerrero, posed two questions to the panel: What inspires you about Pakistan, and what is the one shift needed to change the country for the better?

"The grace of the people of Pakistan amidst adversity inspires me," Shaikh responded to the first question, and many of the other answers also cited Pakistan’s resilience in the face of multiple crises.

“The war next door in Afghanistan, the 2005 quake, floods in 2010, recession – Pakistan has coped with all these things,” noted Robin Raphel, senior advisor for Pakistan at the U.S. Department of State.

Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, said a “culture of philanthropy” has helped Pakistanis embrace displaced people and respond to these challenges. She said the country is similar in this regard to the United States, as well as in its tradition of religious moderation. Though the country is deeply rooted in Islam, it is a more moderate brand of Islam than that found in other Islamic countries, she said.

Pakistan is resilient economically as well, said Mohsin Khan, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute. He cited the growth of the middle class – now 70 million out of Pakistan’s population of about 175 million – the informal economy, remittances from Pakistanis overseas, and the rural economy as encouraging factors.

Other speakers focused on the growing strength of Pakistan’s democracy, while noting the need for stronger political and governmental institutions.

“There is a historic and strategic shift happening in Pakistan,” Rehman said. “A choice has been made … that we wish to live not just as a democratic country but as responsible global citizens.”

Anatol Lieven, a professor at King’s College in London, said the most pressing change Pakistan needed to make was to collect more taxes, and Shaikh said revenue collection has increased 25% this fiscal year. Lieven also said that in the long term, water was a greater threat to Pakistan’s future than terrorism or extremism, and that the country would need to introduce water pricing to increase efficiency in agricultural use.

Shaikh noted, “Countries that invested in their people, exported their products, and found the right balance between the public and private sector get ahead."

The event was the third sponsored by the Bank’s South Asia region around the 2012 spring meetings. The first two panels covered “Breaking Down Barriers: A New Dawn in Trade and Regional Cooperation in South Asia” and “Leveraging Partnership and Technology to Promote Equity in South Asia.”