PAKISTAN NOW ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING ECONOMIES IN ASIA

KANWAL SALEEM, LAHORE
Aug 20 - 26, 2007

The nation celebrated the 60 years of Pakistan's independence on Tuesday last with the renewed pledge to make Pakistan a modern and forward-looking Muslim country. Pakistan which emerged as the largest Muslim state on the globe in August 1947, has made tremendous progress in various fields over the last six decades, and is now considered one of the fastest growing economies in Asia. Various political, social and cultural organizations held meetings, seminars and rallies to mark the day and highlighted its significance with special reference to the liberation of the South Asian Muslims from British imperialism and Hindu dominance.

August is the month when you find the countrymen in their most creative and festive mood as the countdown for independence celebrations begin on August 01. During the first half of the month, festive spirit permeate the city. ''No doubt the situation is quite better when compared with situation in 1947 but collective thinking and collective efforts are direly needed to bring about a visible change. Despite passage of 60 long years, we are still facing the problems like electricity shortage, poor infrastructure and high cost of doing business'', complained some businessmen while talking to PAGE.

The Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) President Mr. Shahid Hassan Sheikh told this scribe he is worried over the business atmosphere in Pakistan. He said: ''look, we are a nation of over 16 million people with almost all the resources in abundance but economically we are nowhere. We have been facing the problem of governance for the last two to three decades and the governance needs to be improved to move on the path to development''.

Mr. Shahid said there are a few areas which if taken care of, the situation would be totally otherwise. The government should immediately divert its attention towards Education and technical training. A number of ills could be removed with a little focus in these two areas. There is a huge shortage of skilled labour in Pakistan. "You cannot find a good carpenter or a mason with ease."

The LCCI President said that the government should utilize maximum funds for establishing technical training institutes in the country. In this regard, the Lahore Chamber of Commerce was ready to lend support to the government, he added. Mr. Shahid Hassan Sheikh also pleaded for a strong industry-university linkage saying that the university should design all courses keeping in view the needs of the industry. He said that today we don't need simple MAs and BAs but we need engineers, doctors and administrators equipped with modern day knowledge and techniques.

Unfurling the pages of history, the LCCI President said in 1947, the industrial units in Pakistan could be counted on fingers. At the time of independence, there were 921 registered industrial units in undivided India. Out of these, only 34 units were located in Pakistan, which also included East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Total jobs provided by these industries to a population of over 60 million people were only 26,400. These industrial units were comparatively of small size involving simple processes of production. At that time, East Pakistan produced jute while all the jute mills were located in India. The Railway Workshop at Mughalpura Lahore was one of the best engineering facilities in the sub-continent. This state-of-the-art engineering workshop of that time is now in shambles. We did not build up the excellent engineering facility Pakistan inherited at the time of independence, he added. Besides the large Mughalpura Workshop, Pakistan also inherited a small base of engineering industries. These industries were established in and around small towns surrounding Lahore. There were a number of small manufacturers in Gujranwala, Daska, Sialkot and Wazirabad, which produced engineering goods such as machine tools, diesel engines (5-50 HP), surgical instruments, oil expellers, fans, cinema projectors, machinery parts and components, etc. Some of these products were even exported at that time, he pointed out.

He further said that there was hardly any textile base. Colony Textile Mills Okara was the only textile mill worth mentioning. The area falling under Pakistan produced cotton, which was consumed by textile mills based in India, he added. ''Today Pakistan is a force to reckon with in textiles. However, the Indian textile industry is much larger and fulfills its domestic needs from locally produced cotton. India, in fact, is the second largest producer and exporter of cotton in the world. Pakistan, on the other hand, has to depend on the import of cotton to run its domestic industry'', he added.

He said there were three sugar mills in the country, one was in the then East Pakistan and two in present Pakistan. At the time of partition, Pakistan had no paper or paper board mill. Now it has over 70 such units, some producing fine paper for text books, periodicals and school note books. Cigarette production has increased from 241 million to several billions. There was no fertilizer factory. Now Pakistan produces both nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers. It is, in fact, self-sufficient in urea production, he said. The country had no edible oil processing industry, no bicycle manufacturing unit, no soda ash plant or polyester fibre unit. Electric bulbs and tube lights had to be imported as there was no such industry. Steel products for construction or other use were imported. Now Pakistan produces these items. The multinational producers of soda ash and PTA though have been given undue duty protection, which has made industries using these materials uncompetitive in the global markets. The energy supply was mainly met from coal and kerosene. The electric supply was limited to main cities as the total power generation capacity did not exceed 60 MW, he enumerated.

He further said the total length of railway track laid by the British was about 12,000 km, which Pakistan inherited. This was an excellent infrastructure, which has now been destroyed to a large extent. We never updated the railway infrastructure, the cheapest mode of goods' transportation. The goods' transportation capacity of the railways has declined by 10 times in the last 40 years, increasing the cost of transportation. There has hardly been any addition to the railway track in the last 60 years, he added.

In the agriculture sector, wheat production increased from 3.3 million tons in 1947 to 23 million tons this year. Rice production rose from 0.68 million tons to 5.1 million tons. Sugarcane production increased 10 times and cotton production rose 12 times, Mr. Shahid said. Chairman Pakistan Industrial and Traders Associations Front Mian Abuzar Shad told this scribe that Pakistan has huge potential for becoming Asian tiger, but the need is to channelise the resources and labour force. Pakistan has huge labour force and by making them skillful, the country can achieve progress and prosperity in the comity of nations. Mian Abuzar Shad said the government should make efforts to overcome the energy crisis and also minimize the role of government to maximum extent.

The government should play the role of facilitator for the industry and help it to become competitive in the globalized competitive environment.