Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has the political will to bring about a change in Pakistan for the better, an international development expert has said, while urging the United States to provide aid to help the South Asian country achieve its full potential.
‘The relatively new government in Pakistan has the political will to begin making positive change happen, distancing itself from both the violent extremist groups and the corruption that marked so many previous governments,’ the expert, Daniel Runde, wrote in The Hill, a top US political website, newspaper.
Runde previously worked for the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank Group, and in investment banking, with experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. In an opinion piece published on Monday, he also said with the US set to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan, Pakistan should ensure that Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American who is negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, ‘succeeds in getting Afghans to the table.’
Runde wrote, ‘Population-wise, Pakistan is currently the fifth largest country in the word. It will grow to 245 million people in the next ten years. Pakistan also has the largest percentage of youth globally. If their energy is harnessed properly, these young people could prove to become a demographic dividend; however, if their energy is not channeled in a productive way, this will become a demographic timebomb.’
He said, ‘Pakistan’s population is in the same league as other democracies such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria. The United States has security ties with each of these democracies, but it also has economic ties, people-to-people ties, and ties in technology, education, and innovation. We should have similarly broad and deep relations with Pakistan.’
‘We need to engage the country in a more rounded way. A broader, more comprehensive engagement would likely require Pakistan to also have a more comprehensive vision of its own role in the world,’ he added.
‘Pakistan could become another Argentina or Ukraine in terms of agricultural potential. Agriculture accounts for 20 percent of Pakistan’s GDP and employs 43 percent of its workforce. Agriculture also plays a huge role in Pakistan’s exports, accounting for about 80 percent. But Pakistan’s agricultural productivity currently only ranges between 29-52 percent and could be much higher, with broader use of improved seeds and farming techniques.’ ‘Pakistan also has very significant tourism potential. It is best known for its ancient historical and religiously significant buildings, such as the Badshahi and Grand Jamia
Mosque. It also has immense natural beauty, such as the Hunza Valley and Desoi National Park. However, Pakistan is one of the least competitive countries in South Asia in regard to travel. Pakistan had 1.7 million visitors in 2017, compared to Sri
Lanka’s 2.3 million and Jordan’s 4.2 million. Introducing a recent e-visa programme was a great start to opening the doors for tourism but much more needs to be done.’
‘Pakistan has significant hydropower potential but has only developed one-tenth of its 60,000 MW potential. If this resource were properly tapped, it could play a huge role in tackling the power deficit in Pakistan and the broader region.’
‘On the US side a re-framed relationship would require a broader and larger set of stakeholders. We would see Pakistan not as a problem to be managed but also as an opportunity as a potential South Asian economic tiger.’ He said: ‘Education is also key to re-framing the relationship. Student exchange programmes are beneficial in improving relations between countries. In 2016, the last year for which we could find numbers, there was an 8.5 percent increase in the number of Pakistani students studying in the United States — which is still just 11,000 Pakistani students. That is half of the 22,000 Pakistani students studying in China.’
‘The United States must revisit its foreign aid programme to support Pakistan in reaching its full potential. From recent informal conversations, it’s clear that neither OPIC, now the USDFC, nor EXIM Bank have sent a mission to Pakistan for many years. That needs to change. Our foreign aid has dropped drastically and is at levels far below what’s required, given the challenges. Creating a new relationship could take as a long as a decade but must begin now.’ He said: ‘Re-framing the US-Pakistan relationship is a two-way street, and the United States has to keep its side of the street clean. US aid must also continue.’ —APP