As Pakistanis celebrate the 78th anniversary of the Lahore Resolution of 1940 on March 23 this year, it’s time to ask the following questions: How is Pakistan doing? What is the reality? How is it perceived?
The worst 1% of the Pakistan story gets 99% of the media coverage, says Lahore-based Pakistani entrepreneur Monis Rahman. In the same vein, former US President Bill Clinton has said this about the media coverage of the continent of Africa: “Follow the trend lines, not the headlines”.
So what is the other 99% of the Pakistan story that gets little or no media attention? What are the trend lines that are missed by those just relying on the headlines? Let’s try and enumerate these:
1. Pakistan’s economy has crossed the trillion dollar mark in terms of purchasing power, according to the IMF. It is among the world’s top 25 largest economies. It is also the world’s third fastest growing among the trillion dollar plus economies.
2. Pakistanis have consistently ranked higher than their neighbors on the United Nations World Happiness Index since it began producing annual reports in 2011. Pakistan rose from 80th place in 2017 to 75th place this year while all of its neighbors slid from last year’s happiness rankings. Bangladesh dropped 5 spots to 115 while India slid 11 places to 133 among 156 nations ranked. China (86), Bhutan (97), Iran (106), Bangladesh (115), and Sri Lanka (116), India (133) and Afghanistan (145) all fared worse than Pakistan (75).
3. The share of national income of Pakistan’s poorest 20% of households has increased from 8.1% to 9.6% since 1990 , according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (NESCAP) Statistical Yearbook for 2015. It’s the highest share of income for the bottom income quintile in the region.
4. Pakistan is the world’s fastest growing steel producer. Steel production in Pakistan jumped 39.3% to 5 million tons last year, according to World Steel Association. Earlier, Pakistan steel industry ramped up its output from 2.9 million tons in 2015 to 3.6 million tons in 2016. Steel demand in Pakistan is currently about 10 million tons a year and growing at 25-30% a year. Half of it was met by local production while the rest was imported in 2017. Pakistani production capacity is growing at 40%, faster than 25-30% growth in demand.
5. Pakistan’s public spending on education has more than doubled since 2010 to reach $8.6 billion a year in 2017, rivaling defense spending of $8.7 billion. Private spending on education by parents is even higher than the public spending with the total adding up to nearly 6% of GDP. Pakistan has 1.7 million teachers, nearly three times the number of soldiers currently serving in the country’s armed forces.
6. There are over 3 million students enrolled in grades 13 through 16 in Pakistan’s 1,086 degree colleges and 161 universities, according to Pakistan Higher Education Commission report for 2013-14. The 3 million enrollment is 15% of the 20 million Pakistanis in the eligible age group of 18-24 years. In addition, there are over 255,000 Pakistanis enrolled in vocational training schools, according to Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA).
10. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related projects are transforming the least developed regions of Pakistan. Energy and infrastructure projects are changing the face of vast regions of Balochistan, rural Sindh, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Gigit-Baltistan (GB) and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KPK).
11. Pakistan’s labor force expansion is the 3rd biggest in the world after India and Nigeria, according to UN World Population Prospects 2017. Rising working age population and growing workforce participation of both men and women in developing nations like Pakistan will boost domestic savings and investment, according to Global Development Horizons (GDH) report. Escaping the low savings low investment trap will help accelerate the lagging GDP growth rate in Pakistan, as will increased foreign investment such as the Chinese investment in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
13. Pakistan is the 5th largest motorcycle market in the world after China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. With 7,500 new motorcycles being sold everyday, Pakistan is also the among the world’s fastest growing two-wheeler markets. Passenger car and motorcycle sales in Pakistan are both soaring at rates of over 20% a year.
14. There are over 50 million broadband subscribers in Pakistan. Over a million new subscribers are being added every month, putting Pakistan among the biggest and fastest growing mobile broadband markets in the world.