Dr Ishrat Husain: Most people don’t even read as many books in their entire lives as Dr Ishrat Husain has written in his.
The latest book by the former central bank governor is Development Pathways that he co-authored with Sarah Nizamani, Shagufta Shabbar and Masood Siddiqui. The 478-page tome presents a comparative analysis of economic and social development in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1947 to 2022.
A crude verdict might be that India and Bangladesh have done well for themselves while Pakistan holds the dubious honour of being the slowest-growing economy in the South Asia region. But Dr Husain wouldn’t write a book if the economic journey of the three biggest nations in the region was so linear.
Speaking to Al Meezan Investment Management Ltd CEO Mohammad Shoaib at the Future Summit held in the outgoing week, Dr Husain said the pathways of the three countries that initially had a unified economic, legal and administrative infrastructure diverged because of their changing development paradigms.
Last decade of 20th century saw Pakistan lose steam while India and Bangladesh surged ahead, argues Dr Ishrat Husain in his latest book
The tipping point for the three countries came around the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century. Despite its humblest beginnings in the shape of zero industrial units and unjust division of resources by the Reserve Bank of India at the time of Partition, Pakistan remained one of the 10 fastest growing developing countries in the world between 1950 and 1990.
Its annual growth rate was 6-6.5 per cent for 40 years while India grew at what development economists called the Hindu growth rate of 3pc. Bangladesh didn’t grow economically at all between 1971 and 1990. Pakistan was an all-round success story: poverty levels kept going down and living standards improved for decades on end, he said.
But then India decided to do away with its Nehruvian, socialist roots to embrace economic liberalisation, while Bangladesh chose to embark on an export-driven growth journey.
“India decided to demolish the licence raj, unshackle the private sector, participate in international trade, attract foreign direct investment, invest in human capital and reduce the footprint of the state,” he said, adding that New Delhi has since then been posting annual growth rates of 6-7pc.
Dr Husain also praised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being a spokesperson for the private sector. “That’s why $16 billion is invested every year by Indian companies all over the world,” he said, referring to the prime minister’s active role in helping large business groups receive big contracts in foreign lands.
Bangladesh too remained “in turbulence” until 1990 as its government controlled productive economic assets. But after the restoration of democracy, Dhaka also followed an economic liberalisation policy and unlocked long-term growth, he said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan regressed because its institutional capacity to deliver goods and services to accelerate growth depleted for a variety of reasons, which
Dr Husain discusses in detail in his book.
As for the pain points and risks that the three countries are facing today, he said growth for the sake of growth is “totally irrelevant” as it must be inclusive and shared by a majority of the population.
“That’s not happening in any of the three countries today,” he said, noting that India’s top 20pc of income earners control 50pc of the national income while the bottom 50pc people have only 20pc of the national income. Regional disparities within India are so huge that poor states have “half or one-third of per capita income” than those of southern states.
As for gender disparity, India ranks as low as Pakistan in terms of the labour force participation rate for women (23pc), he said, while praising Bangladesh for actually investing in women development.