Enhancing the Pakistani mind


THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE > By Amin Jan Naim  Published: May 26, 2017

How do we as people in Pakistan get out of the morass of superstition, and bigotry that bedevils us? This question is important in the effort to build a salutary narrative for combating the fanaticism and extremism that is becoming so prevalent in our country.

What we need to do is to study in depth the thought over the past centuries of leading thinkers of humanity. We then should select and adapt the best of their reflections into our own situation.

Plato was described by Hegel as being the teacher of mankind. Many misconceptions and distortions of Plato’s views have prevailed in the past and continue to do so. What we must search for is the essence of his thinking. He posed certain basic questions and examined them in a highly rigorous manner. This rigor was clothed in an engaging, charming and simple series of dialogues. Very often, however, the dialogues were inconclusive and the answers sought were elusive. Yet, the process of his reasoning has been unsurpassed till date.

Reason, courage, and desire are the main attributes of an individual. These attributes are present in different individuals in varying degrees. When courage predominates, the person has the qualities of a soldier. Desire predominates in the bulk of ordinary citizens. What reason must do is to guide and channel courage and desire towards worthy ends. The degree to which reason predominates in a policy determines its extent of excellence.

We need not take Plato’s construct of an ideal state in the dialogue in The Republic as an actual possibility. What we need to consider is his reasoning. The same holds good for other dialogues such as Phaedo, Timaeus, Protagoras, Meno and The Symposium. They need to be studied and pondered over in original, not just in the commentary. This has to be an elitist endeavor but it is no less important for that reason.

When I was the ambassador in Athens (1991-96), I and my wife both took a course of study of the Greek language. My aim was to understand the structure of this profound and remarkable language in which complex and difficult thoughts had been expressed. The same profundity holds good for the German language, which I studied in the Heidelberg University in 1959. Then, in order to understand the Chinese way of thinking, I studied elementary spoken Chinese during my posting in China (1976-79). New languages open new vistas.

Today, English has become a universal language. We need to override the complex some of us have in being opposed to having English as the main working language in Pakistan. Proficiency in English has now become a necessity. It enables access to science, technology, international commerce and worldwide communication. It also enables the development of a better mental pattern in our populace. Contrary to widespread belief, the desire for learning English is not confined to our elite alone. Go to many rural areas of Pakistan and you will find people there keen to make their children learn English. In order for us to compete in the contemporary world, acquiring proficiency in English has now become essential.

Since I am considering here the development of a mental pattern, I may mention that in China, Japan, and Korea, and in the Western world at large, considerable attention is being paid nowadays to the study of Western classical music in early childhood. The music conservatories in the three countries are churning out every year thousands of talented youngsters proficient in this genre of music. They do not have inhibitions that this music is Western and so must be shunned.

Although there might not be a direct link, there is perhaps an indirect link in the development of the mental pattern of a society and the study of Western classical music. This is evident in the economic progress the above-mentioned countries have made due to their world outlook, which reflects a kind of rationality and aesthetic structure.

I have here alluded to the utmost achievement of humanity in the dialogues of Plato. So it would not be out of place to also allude to the other pinnacle of humanity, namely the music of Beethoven. Beethoven’s musical repertory ranges vastly from epic struggles as in the Eroica Symphony to sublime peace as in the Adagio of the Fruehlings sonata. Such struggle is what we have been undergoing since our inception as a nation. And an internal peace is what we badly need. As a society, perfection is what we should aim at. And perfection has not been equaled, except in Beethoven’s music.

The various factors affecting a society are interlinked with one another. Truth, beauty, and goodness are the hallmarks of the legacy of Plato and Beethoven. I leave it to you to decide how far we must imbibe their achievements and include them in our educational institutions.

As a society in rapid transition, we in Pakistan are presently a confused and disoriented lot. It is, therefore, necessary to make our world of ideas accord with universal thought, harmony, and values.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2017.

Pakistan shining?

THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE > By Syed Mohammad Ali Published: May 26, 2017

The recent announcement of China’s willingness to pour in another $50 billion into the Pakistani economy to boost hydro-energy production, in addition to its CPEC commitments, could not have come in at a better time for our ruling party. With elections around the corner, every piece of good economic news helps boost the chances of the incumbents to win another term, despite the varied controversies which plague its present tenure.

Our current political leaders seemed to have borrowed our neighbour’s playbook on campaigning for elections, where politicians have been appealing to voters by pitching the ‘India shining’ campaign since over a decade. Although the ‘India shining’ campaign has been appropriated by both the BJP and the Congress, and produced varied results, the claim itself remains dubious given the ground realities within the country, especially for the common man.

In the case of Pakistan as well, the task of current political leaders to portray Pakistan as an emerging economic power receives a boost every time there is mention of its bourgeoning middle class, or a reassessment of its overall economic performance. Yet, the fact of the matter remains that despite these glittering assessments, Pakistan is yet a long way away from charting a sustainable path to economic and social development.

Despite being recently described as ‘the most underrated economy in the world’ by Bloomberg, for example, the fact remains that Pakistan is still ranked at 147th in terms of its Human Development Index, as per the latest UNDP assessment. And, despite all its recent accomplishments, Pakistan’s HDI ranking is 12 ranks lower than in 2000.

While our leadership may have set its sights on making Pakistan a vital link in the ‘new Silk Road’, the fact of the matter remains that our basic social indicators like infant mortality and primary and secondary enrollment are among the worst in the world. The number of out-of-school children in Pakistan is dismal, as is the quality of education being imparted to those who are attending school. Relative to countries of similar or lower its income level, Pakistan has systematically underperformed on most human development indicators.

Besides lacklustre health and education accomplishments, we, as a country, are also structurally biased against half the national population, which is female. Our female HDI value stands at 0.452 while the male HDI value stands at 0.610. An even larger gap is seen in the labour force participation rate where on average less than 25 per cent women are employed in contrast to an average of over 82 per cent of men. A mere 3 per cent of our legislators, senior officials and managers are women, and women hold only 20 per cent seats in parliament. This situation also does not bode well for making Pakistan a more progressive and prosperous country.

Our current HDI ranking still places Pakistan in the ‘medium human development’ bracket, which also includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Kenya, Myanmar and Nepal. Yet, we are the last country to fall in this ‘medium human development’ group.

The current HDI ranking does not provide detailed information on regional disparities within the country, but there are other indicators which reveal that our national growth is also very lopsided and inter-regional, as well as intra-regional, disparities remain a serious problem. Yet, the gap between the haves and have-nots continue to grow due to structural biases which continue to marginalise and exploit already vulnerable communities and groups of people.

Our leaders must pay more attention to the plight of the common man and woman, and pay more attention to fulfilling their needs, instead of focusing on glittering projects such as metro rails or motorways. Otherwise, we will simply not have the required human capital which is needed to sustain economic growth in the long run, no matter how many infrastructure or energy projects are ushered into the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2017.

Debunking myths on CPEC

THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE > By Ahsan Iqbal Published: May 25, 2017

Recently, quite a few stories have appeared on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in both local and international publications. A lot of traction was gained by the cynics of CPEC by reporting factually incorrect information. Consequently, myth spurring on CPEC is on the rise. I am going to take this opportunity to debunk these myths by stating the facts.

A pointless controversy was created on the Long Term Plan (LTP) by a recent article featured in a local English-language newspaper. The report published as ‘LTP’ in that article was an initial draft by the China Development Bank (CDB) and not a part of the agreed LTP. That article basically cherry-picked information from different sources to present a distorted picture of the LTP. The fact is that the government of Pakistan has prepared its own plan after multiple stages of consultation with provinces, federal ministries and their respective technical groups. The LTP has been prepared to develop Pakistan in line with the seven pillars of Vision 2025 which are predicated on the notion of inclusive and sustainable development. The main pillars of LTP are connectivity, energy, industries and industrial parks, agricultural development and poverty alleviation, tourism, cooperation in areas concerning people’s livelihood and financial cooperation. It was shared with the Chinese authorities following approval by the cabinet.

The Chinese side has given its approval in principle, however, its formal approval is expected by the end of this month, as our Chinese counterparts were occupied by the Belt Road Forum. As soon as we get the official approval from the Chinese side, we will put the LTP on the CPEC website.

 One of the biggest myths propagated on CPEC is that Pakistan might become a colony/province of China. Any historian would tell you that colonialism and imperialism are legacies of countries of the global north. China has never invaded any country nor harbored any imperial designs. Cynics point out towards rising trade deficit with China as a reason to show concern on CPEC. The reality is that China’s competitiveness in exports is universal and not idiosyncratic to Pakistan. Pakistan’s current trade deficit with China is $6.2 billion. In comparison, India’s trade deficit with China stands at $47 billion. The US trade deficit with China is $347 billion. Based on these trade deficit numbers, is it appropriate to infer that the US or India are becoming colonies/provinces of China? Certainly not. Similarly, it is ludicrous to make such claims about the Pakistan-China relationship. Both countries respect the sovereignty of each other and CPEC is based on the shared vision of both countries: Vision 2025 and OBOR.

At present, only a few thousand Chinese nationals are living in Pakistan and making a positive contribution towards our economy, the majority of them fall into the category of temporary labor migrants who will return back upon completion of the projects. In contrast, around 8 million Chinese are living in Malaysia, 400,000 in France; 600,000 in Japan; 900,000 in Canada and over 2.5 million are living in the US. Therefore, to say that Chinese are overtaking Pakistani society is nothing but a farce. Chinese nationals working in Pakistan are our national guests as they are helping us to build a developed Pakistan.

Another myth spread on CPEC is that China is dictating terms to Pakistan and the federal government is not consulting the provinces. The reality is quite the opposite. China and Pakistan work jointly in making an overall planning for a unified development of CPEC projects. In this regard, the Long Term Plan, Transport Monographic Study and respective MoUs guide the policy for CPEC.

All provinces have been consulted and invited to all meetings within Pakistan and abroad for their recommendations and review of CPEC projects. Earlier this month, the chief ministers of all four provinces under the leadership of PM Sharif attended OBOR Summit in China. On 29th December 2016, all CMs participated in the 6th JCC meeting which was held in Beijing. For institutional arrangement and development of CPEC, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China along with the Planning, Development & Reform Ministry of Pakistan have constituted subsidiary working groups of the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) on planning, transport infrastructure, energy, Gwadar, and industry cooperation.

Since the signing of the MoU in July 2013, six meetings of the JCC have been held. The highest officials of every provincial government are represented in JCC meetings. It is impossible to hide or misrepresent any information on CPEC from provinces. Information on ongoing and agreed CPEC projects is available on the official website of CPEC. Moreover, the planning ministry is always available to address any queries regarding CPEC. All the Chinese companies involved in CPEC projects are nominated by their government. Therefore, there is no question of favoritism on the part of the government of Pakistan.

Another myth propagated around is that Pakistan is not going to gain any economic benefits from CPEC and it is tantamount to the 2006 Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China. First of all, let me explain that an FTA works out on the basis of demand and supply of market forces. China enjoys a competitive edge in exports vis-à-vis all other economies of the world, including Pakistan, whereas CPEC is qualitatively different from an FTA. It provides the necessary stimulus to kickstart the processes of industrialization in Pakistan. Without sufficient electricity and adequate infrastructure, it is not possible to carry out industrialization.

CPEC brings $35 billion investments in energy projects. Alongside coal, clean and renewable energy projects are part of the CPEC energy portfolio. The existing energy policy was made before the CPEC MoU was signed between China and Pakistan. Prior to CPEC, nobody was interested in making investments in our energy sector. At that crucial time, China took a lead and demonstrated to the world that Pakistan is a reliable and secure destination for foreign investments. Energy investments under CPEC will remove a major bottleneck that is in the way of realizing high economic growth. It will reinforce the main grid structure, power transmission, distribution network, and improve power supply. Currently, 14 energy projects are in the implementation stage. Through CPEC projects, 10,000MW of electricity will be added to the national grid. Only 16,000MW was added to the national grid from 1947 to 2013. Moreover, energy projects under CPEC are not funded by Chinese loans instead they are undertaken in the IPP mode regulated as per NEPRA tariffs. The average cost of these projects is lower than the current cost of production of energy.

Under CPEC, new road and rail networks are to be built in all four provinces to enhance and improve connectivity within Pakistan. In addition to economic benefits of connectivity, social and regional cohesion will increase within Pakistan and in the region. Once energy and infrastructure bottlenecks are addressed, it is estimated that GDP will at least increase by more than 2 percent from its current trend.

Similarly, one of the important components of the CPEC framework is industrial cooperation. Nine industrial zones were included in it with equal representation of all provinces. The cost of production is steadily increasing for many industries in China due to increase in wages. It is estimated that 85 million jobs will be relocated and countries in the Far East, Asia and Africa are competing for these jobs. Pakistan wants to secure a big share of the relocation of these industries and jobs. Once relocated, this will create a huge demand for labor in Pakistan and enormous employment opportunities will be available for Pakistanis.

In the current projects of CPEC, two-thirds of the workforce is Pakistani and only a critical mass of labor force comes from China. This is a great opportunity for the Pakistani workforce to learn and update their skills from their Chinese counterparts. Already a boom in steel, cement and construction industries has created multiplier effects in the overall economy.

Economic benefits of CPEC are net positive for Pakistan. CPEC is a golden opportunity for Pakistan to undo the mistakes of the past and we, as a nation, cannot afford to be complacent about it.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2017.

Economic Survey: Literacy rate in Pakistan slips by 2%

Speakers note Pakistan ranks near top of the table on illiteracy.

Literacy rate in the country saw an annual drop of 2.0 per cent to 58 per cent during fiscal year 2015-16 — a level last seen in FY2013-14 when the current PML-N government came into power, official figures released on Thursday revealed.

The situation has turned out to be an embarrassment for the federal government as it skipped mentioning figures of FY15 in the Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17 which were better than the year FY14, just to avoid criticism. This scribe found the missing figures from previous year’s records.

The decline in literacy rate has been witnessed in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab while it remained stagnant in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).


The drop is also being termed as a setback for the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Trainings which had been painting a rosy picture of the education sector.

The literacy rate in Balochistan has fallen to 41 per cent in FY16 as compared to 44 per cent in FY15. Sindh has witnessed a whopping fall of 5.0 per cent to 55 per cent in FY16 as against 60 per cent the previous fiscal. The rate in K-P has remained stagnant at 53 per cent since FY14 while Punjab witnessed a 1.0 per cent decline in the rate as compared to the rate the last fiscal.

Interestingly, the total number of enrolments at the national level during FY16 stood at 46.2 million as compared to 43.9 million during FY15, reflecting an increase of 5.0 per cent.

Urban-rural divide

The urban-rural gulf is still wide in terms of literacy rate – standing at 74 per cent in urban areas and 49 per cent in rural areas, pointing to the widening gap between rural and urban education systems. Moreover, the overall literacy rate among the male and female populations is 81 per cent and 68 per cent respectively. A similar trend is glaring in all provinces.

Govt redefines literacy for count

In Punjab, the total literacy rate is 54 per cent among female population and 59 per cent among male population. In rural areas, the count is 44 per cent for females and 66 per cent for males. And in urban area, it is 73 per cent for females and 82 per cent for males.

Balochistan has 24 per cent female and 56 per cent male literacy rate. The figure is 15 per cent for females and 48 per cent for males in rural areas while in urban, it is 44 per cent and 76 percent for females and males respectively.

K-P’s literacy count is 36 per cent in case of females and 72 per cent in case of males. In rural areas, percentage for females is 33 and males 70. While in urban areas, it is 52 per cent and 77 per cent for females and males respectively.

Matter of literacy: Out-of-school children census from 2017

In Sindh, 44 per cent females and 67 per cent males are literate. In rural areas, it becomes 19 per cent in case of female population and 51 per cent in case of male population. In urban areas, it is 65 per cent and 80 per cent for female and male population respectively.

Public sector expenditure on education as percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) is increasing at a snail’s pace with an estimation at 2.3 per cent during the FY16 as compared to 2.2 per cent in FY15.

Educationists and national campaigners have been pressing the government to allocate 4.0 per cent of GDP to the education sector. The figure was 2.1 per cent in 2013-14.

Nation celebrates Eidul Azha today

By Web DeskPublished: September 25, 2015
Devotees offer Eidul Azha prayers outside a mosque in Karachi on September 25, 2015. PHOTO: AFP
Congregational prayers were held across the country, while security arrangement were beefed up.
Pakistan celebrated Eidul Azha with religious fervour and zeal on Friday.

Congregational prayers were held across the country to mark the religious festival, along with sermons highlighting the significance of the event and the philosophy behind sacrifice.

Security arrangements were beefed up across the country during the occasion, and measures were put in place by federal and provincial governments to ensure no disruptions were created during the day, Radio Pakistan reported.

Children seen at Badshahi Mosque in Lahore on September 24, 2015 as Eidul Azha congregational prayers end. PHOTO: MALIK SHAFIQ/EXPRESS

Meanwhile, civic authorities of different cities and towns made special arrangements for the disposal of carcasses and other solid waste material during the three days.

Read: President, PM lay stress on spirit of sacrifice

Both Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain urged Pakistanis to remember the soldiers who have sacrificed their today for the nation’s tomorrow.

In his Eid message issued on Thursday, President Hussain said that by laying down their lives for the country, our soldiers had been immortalised in history. “We should also remember the invaluable sacrifices of our brothers and sisters who are suffering because of the fight against terrorism.”

Earlier, while addressing the media, the premier extended his heartiest Eid wishes to the nation. In his message, he emphasised the need of national unity in the face of challenges faced by Pakistan.

Imran sets Nov 20 deadline on drones


THE NATION, ISLAMABAD, 05th NOVEMBER 2013:- The National Assembly on the first day of its 6th session, on Monday, witnessed unity between treasury and opposition benches as government clearly expressed its resolve to continue its efforts for dialogue with the Taliban.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan softened somewhat his stance on blocking the Nato supplies giving the PML-N federal government an opportunity to act. But he warned that his party’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will block the supplies on its own, if the central government failed in resolving the drone strikes issue.
They would assess government’s action on this matter as well as the progress in peace process, Imran said in his speech, after the interior minister’s clear indication to keep the dialogue process alive. “(But) if drone strikes continued then we will block Nato supplies after November 20 and go to the UN Security Council,” he added.
The session of the House, started after a delayed of over two hours, on first day suspending all other agenda items and reserved it for debate over emerging situation in the aftermath of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing.
PTI chief said it was a ‘defining moment’ for Pakistan so all the political parties should express unity to face this challenge. “Our nation wants peace… There is need for adopting a united stance,” he said, adding that they have been condemning strikes for nine years but mere “condemnation will never bring any change”. He said he was ready to reconcile with everyone including Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman for the good of the nation.
Imran asked those in favour of military operation that what they would do if that option failed to bear fruit. Imran paid a tribute to interior minister for his effort for peace dialogue. However, he expressed his displeasure asking why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his recent visit did not press the US for stopping drone strikes. “It should have been top priority of his visit agenda,” he said.
PTI chief raised a volley of questions about the timing of killing of Hakimullah Mehsud. He said it destroyed chances for peace, adding, “Whatever the interior minister did now, it would be extremely difficult for any new TTP chief to come back to the table.” He asked what guarantee the government have that the Americans won’t hit the peace process again.
Earlier, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in his policy statement said that the government wants to keep the dialogue process alive. He informed that a three-member Ulema delegation was ready to go for talks with Taliban but US attack sabotaged it.
PML-N government, he said, would continue its efforts for peace in the same manner in consultations with all parties. Lauding the political parties support, he said there was a need for greater unity on the national stance on drone strikes as this was the best way to resolve this matter.
About restarting the talks process, he said, “This would only be possible after the militant outfit chooses a new chief… Situation is more gruesome than the point from where we had initiated peace efforts in September this year. But, we need to have consensus and proceed as success of dialogue will be success of all stakeholders.”