Education: The neglected step child?

The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 15th June 2015

(E-Paper (Print Edition)http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-06-15/page-9)

(Onlinehttp://nation.com.pk/business/15-Jun-2015/education-the-neglected-step-child)

Education: The neglected step child?

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

For almost four decades after independence, Pakistan was economically ahead of its’ arch-rival and estranged neighbor India despite the huge market and mass of the latter. 1990’s brought about the reversal with India leaping ahead and now reaching a situation where it has placed itself much ahead of Pakistan economically. While we often refer to the economic exploits of India and commonly cover reasons such as the IT boom and missed opportunities by Pakistan, have we ever thought that perhaps the real reason was education?

Yes, education that has been neglected by every succeeding Pakistani government. On the other hand, the Indian policy makers realized the importance of quality education and ensured appropriate steps were taken to develop their huge human resources, on the basis of which their current economic apparatus is booming. Their continuous investment in education bore fruits and placed India as a leader in IT outsourcing from where it really took off. Rather than becoming stagnant, Indians continued to invest in education with substantial results in bio-technologies, medical and education industries besides others.

On the other hand, while Pakistanis continue to outshine Indians and most of the world on an individual level, the overall state of affairs of its education sector, particularly public sector education, remains dismal. While we often criticize the rising unemployment levels, the lack of quality human resource availability remains a concern for local businesses. Most business owners complain that even the available human resource is not up to the international standards they’re competing against. Add to this the high illiteracy and we are faced with a dire situation demanding immediate corrective measures.

Infact, if you look at all major economies, with the exception of most Gulf countries relying on oil, they’re based on educated and trained human resources. Gone are the days when hard labor alone could turnaround national economies. Without continuously developed and upgraded education, no nation can hope to compete on the modern global stage. What’s more inspiring is that being a Muslim seeking education is mandatory even at the cost of hardships.

Furthermore as the right to education is a fundamental right of every human being recognized by the United Nations, perhaps the member countries should sought to deliver this key right to their citizens. The good thing is that the decision making circles in Pakistan have started saying the right things about education, of late. The problem is the lack of implementation.

All major political parties in Pakistan acknowledge the above facts and affirm their commitment to improving the human resources development in the country via education to ensure less disillusioned youth are attracted to extremism fuelling law and order problems for the nation. Similarly owning to political competition when Mian Shahbaz Sharif led Punjab government proposed substantially increasing the education budget, a feat it did not actually achieve, the PPP’s federal government proposed a budgetary allocation of 7% which was again something of a political statement which was not implemented.

However, it were the high hopes from the electoral promises of Mian Nawaz Sharif led PMLN in the 2013 general elections campaign with promises of 4% allocation of the GDP (not the budget) to the education sector that made segments of intelligentsia excited. Unfortunately it was again not to be. While the 14% increase for education in the 2015-16 budget proposed through the finance bill is a positive step in the right direction, the promised height of 4% of GDP still remains a dream.

Infact the manifestos of all major national parties including PTI and PPP committed to increasing the budgetary allocations for education. The upcoming Sindh and KPK budgets would reveal how much of those promises would be kept. Moreover, post 18th amendment the education sector has largely been within the ambit of provincial governments. This is not to make light the significance of a proper federal allocation to education sector setting a precedent and direction for the provinces to pursue.

What’s tragic is that although it is an established fact that investment in education lays the long-term foundation for economic prosperity and reduction in acute poverty, none of the parties in power have been able to meet their promised increases for the education to date. Unfortunately, election promises have become wish lists. Revenue constraints are almost always cited as a major constraint despite under-utilized budgetary allocations in several sectors including developmental. While one can respect the genuine constraints, perhaps better management of available resources can free up additional revenues for the neglected education sector. Similarly the ever increasing allocations to political gimmick based schemes can serve the nation well if utilized in educational sector.

Rightly or wrongly, some argue that given the improved quality of life, political awareness and a demanding populace resulting from a higher outlay on education, the traditional political class particularly from the rural belts across all political parties, ensure that the declared goals to invest in education by their respective parties are not met. Their common interests in this case ensure an unwritten alliance across the board. It is upto the policy makers and top leadership of these parties to take corrective measures to dispel this notion.

One thing is for sure, if we want to develop Pakistan into a sustainable and independent modern economy, there is no other option but to invest heavily in education and human resource development. This in due time will rid Pakistan of the both extremes it is currently facing as a properly educated nation would realize and implement the way of balance being the best course, as told to us by the greatest leader of all times, Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, CFA Charterholder, experienced fellow Chartered Certified Accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

Advertisements

Pakistan can’t afford turning CPEC into another KBD (Part II of II)

The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 25th May 2015

(E-Paper (Print Edition)http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-05-25/page-9)

(Onlinehttp://nation.com.pk/business/25-May-2015/pakistan-can-t-afford-turning-cpec-into-another-kbd-part-ii)

Pakistan can’t afford turning CPEC into another KBD (Part II)

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

Link to Part I (Published): https://omerzaheermeer.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/pakistan-cant-afford-turning-cpec-into-another-kalabagh-dam-part-i-or-ii/

PART II

CPEC is strategically very important for China as it imports 60% of its oil from the Gulf of which 80% is transported by ships travelling over 16,000 kilometers in approximately three months on average through Strait of Malacca to Eastern China. This existing route is not only longer but is ridden with regular attacks by pirates, bad weather and political rivals under American and Indian influence. So the strategic benefits to China can be categorized in four major areas:

  1. China is heavily dependent upon the oil from Gulf for its energy needs. China will reduce the transportation distance from 16,000 km to just 5,000 km resulting in huge economic savings and quicker business all around the year sans the threat of blockade by political rivals.
  2. China will gain access to the untapped markets of the energy rich Central Asian states and Afghanistan which are termed as the next big thing and “Gulf replacement” for coming century. With this early access, developed secure routes and trade ties China can not only secure its energy needs for the next century but place itself as the world leader re energy security by having taps on the future energy sources, a place currently held by the USA.
  3. China will be able to spread its economic development benefits to its lesser developed western areas including the troubled Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang. Furthermore with enhanced security co-operation with Pakistan and economic developmental gains, China hopes to curb its troubles in its underbelly.
  4. Last but not the least, CPEC will not only provide China with an opening to the world from its western side but also ensure that by having a potential naval presence at Gwadar, not only does it hold an additional sea-port but has the capability to blockade the oil supplies to any future adversaries. Any attempts to encircle China such as those currently pursued by USA would become futile in such a scenario.

The benefits to Pakistan are numerous too. Some of the major ones are as below:

  • Uplift and development of badly needed transportation, technical and energy infrastructure.
  • Economic development through industrial and commercial zones setup along the CPEC.
  • Potential to earn billions of $ in transit fees, cargo handling and transportation charges.
  • Becoming economic connectivity hub for the entire region and beyond.
  • Security benefits of Gwadar port as outlined above.
  • With enhanced security ties with China and the economic developmental benefits, Pakistan also expects of stemming out the terror in lesser developed areas of Balochistan and KPK.

Considering all the significant benefits and strategic potential of the CPEC it was unfortunate that it became controversial. The controversy is two pronged. There are those who genuinely felt that the economic benefits of the CPEC were moved away from their provinces to Punjab, being the political constituency of the incumbent Government. However, there are also efforts led by India to disrupt the CPEC as is evident by the recently created desk at RAW with initial allocation of $ 3 billion for this purpose. Furthermore by signing accord to develop Chahbahar port with Iran, India has aligned Iranian interests with itself too. Moreover UAE’s interests also clash with Pakistan’s as the success of CPEC will render Dubai port an invalid. Furthermore, the strategic great game means that USA would rather not have it to see CPEC successful.

None of the external efforts would have been and can be successful without some genuine internal dissent though. Unfortunately the lack of transparency and undue secrecy around the CPEC allowed the propaganda as well as the genuine concerns to grow. Moreover the eastern route was the most talked about during the Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan, further raising concerns of depriving smaller provinces of their due. Absence of KPK, Sindh and Balochistan CM’s while CM Punjab was in attendance didn’t help the situation either. Therefore, KPK Assembly passed a resolution demanding the original route to be retained while Balochistan Assembly’s resolution demanded clarification on CPEC benefits to provinces from the federation. ANP then convened an “all parties’ conference” pressing the controversy and concerns forward.

Though late but some positive steps were taken. A meeting of the leaders of all parliamentary parties was convened to enlighten them on CPEC but the “Safora Goth” tragedy overshadowed the effort. However, the meeting didn’t address concerns with regard to greater transparency as little is revealed regarding the technical and financial parameters of the CPEC projects. The funding sources were also clouded in mystery but it now seems that most of the “investment” is in the form of soft loans with Chinese firms to execute several projects. Federal Minister for Planning and Development Mr. Ahsan Iqbal has claimed that all routes of CPEC are being worked at simultaneously and the western route will be the first one operational. Similarly he has claimed that Sindh and Baluchistan will be the biggest beneficiaries of power generation under CPEC with 36% and 26% shares respectively.

The government should use media to educate masses about the above claims as well as share why the alternate routes were developed. Was it to ensure connectivity across the country with developed areas, out of Chinese concerns for safety of passage in case of trouble on the route via Balochistan (as mentioned by some Chinese scholars in their write-ups in international media), to cater for the huge trade volume expected or some other reasons? Also more transparency such as clarifying that why the current PSDP contains allocations under CPEC only for the eastern route and not the others will help dispel the concerns and negative propaganda. CPEC is a game changer for Pakistan and the Government has the responsibility to ensure its successful completion. Pakistan cannot bear the potential loss and the dire consequences of CPEC turning into another “Kalabagh Dam”.

The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, CFA Charterholder, experienced fellow Chartered Certified Accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

Pakistan can’t afford turning CPEC into another Kalabagh Dam (Part I of II)

The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 18th May 2015

(E-Paper (Print Edition)http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-05-18/page-9)

(Onlinehttp://nation.com.pk/business/18-May-2015/pakistan-can-t-afford-turning-cpec-into-another-kalabagh-dam)

China Pak Economic Corridor: way forward (Part I of II)

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

PART I

The biggest gift of nature to Pakistan besides all kinds of terrains and weather as well as hardworking young manpower is its strategic location. In this context the strategic significance of Gwadar adds to this dimension of Pakistan’s international importance. Gwadar is a strategically located area on the shores of the Arabian Sea just outside the Strait of Hormuz. It is situated near key shipping routes of global oil transportation with the surrounding areas having two-thirds of global oil reserves. Furthermore it is the closest warm-water port to landlocked Central Asian region and Afghanistan, both rich in untapped natural resources and economically undeveloped with huge potential. As if that was not enough, from a military standpoint, Gwadar is located at the eastern bay of the key passing which if blocked by a strong naval force, can cut off the oil supplies to any adversary with dire repercussions as any military expert will testify.

Before moving ahead on the core matter of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEC), let us briefly visit the history of Gwadar. Pakistan identified Gwadar as a site for its future port in 1954 when it was still under the rule of Oman. Government of Pakistan successfully negotiated with the Sultanate of Oman and purchased the enclave in the fall of 1958, ending a 200 year Omani rule of the small undeveloped fishing town. It wasn’t until 1977 that Gwadar was made a part of Balochistan by the Federal Government of Pakistan. Currently it has a population of approximately 85,000 people as per most studies.

Now moving onto CPEC, it is a mega project worth $ 45.6 billion, to connect Gwadar port with Northwestern China (Xinjiang) via Khunjrab (the last connecting point on the Pakistani side) along with development and uplift of transportation, energy and technical infrastructure in Pakistan. A network of road and rail links besides energy pipelines are envisaged.

There are three land routes planned to link Gwadar to Xinjiang in addition to a long-term “route adjustment link”. The three main routes are outlined below:

  1. The “original”, shortest and most popularized route passes through Quetta, Zhob, D.I.Khan and Peshawar. It is termed as the “western route” and is just over 2400 km long.
  2. The second route passes through Ratodero, Sukkuar and the Indus Highway.
  3. The third route which has stirred up the controversy actually passes through Sukkur and Karachi in Sindh and then via Lahore and Peshawar to connect with Khunjrab. This is termed as the “eastern route”.

All the routes are envisioned to be interconnected with industrial and commercial zones along the routes at key sites.

CPEC updatedFurthermore other major projects that are part of the CPEC are as below:

  •  320-kilometre-long Sukkur-Multan motorway
  • 120-kilometre-long Thakot to Hawalian road
  • upgradation of Karakoram Highway
  • 19-kilometre-long Gwadar port East Bay Expressway Project
  • development of Gwadar itself
  • building Gwadar airport
  • upgradation of Karachi – Peshawar “Main (Railway) Line”
  • commission of armed division (Economic Corridor Support Force) for security of CPEC
  • Havelian Dry Port
  • Orange Line Metro (Lahore)
  • Port Qasim 2x660MW Coal-fired Power Plant
  • 720MW Karot Hydropower Project
  • Zonergy 9×100 MW solar project (Quaid e Azam Solar Park) in Punjab
  • Jhimpir wind Power project
  • Thar Block II 2x330MW Coal Fired Power project
  • Hubco Coal-fired Power Plant Project
  • Gwadar-Nawabshah LNG Terminal and Pipeline Project
  • China-Pakistan joint cotton bio-tech laboratory
  • Cross-border fibre optic data communication system project, a digital terrestrial multimedia broadcast pilot project at Murree
  • Development of Private Hydro Power Projects, e.t.c.

As can be seen from the above non-exhaustive list, a lot of the projects are related to developing energy and technical infrastructure in Pakistan in addition to the transportation infrastructure projects. Infact more than 70% of the $ 45.6 billion is expected to be spent on these projects. However it is the transportation infrastructure that caught most attention due to its long term strategic significance, revenue generation and potential to be the game changer for the region.

to be continued next Monday  ……

The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, CFA Charterholder, experienced fellow Chartered Certified Accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk