Time to learn
By Zeeshan Haque, UK
I am an optimistic Pakistani. This is not because of the election agenda
of any particular political party nor is it because of a healthy increase
in our foreign exchange reserves. Successful testing of ballistic missiles
and a rising stock market are also not the justification. The reason
is simple. One of our neighbours has successfully instigated a development
plan that is bringing more positive news coverage to the region than
any action by Pakistan and India combined. I am of course referring
to Sri Lanka.
Pakistan has been affected by its ongoing dispute with India. Sri Lanka
has faced turbulent times because of domestic ethnic conflict. Past
governments of both nations have promised peace, but failed to deliver.
Trickles of foreign investment have been seen, only to disappear because
of political and economic uncertainty. Corruption, greed and unfulfilled
potential have been widely used terms by the developed countries to
describe the region as a whole. And the similarities end here. At least
Pakistan has tried to establish itself as a military might, Sri Lanka
has decided to invest in peace literally. The Sri Lankan government
has astutely realised that it is only after political stability and
the removal of internal conflict that a nation will truly prosper. Having
lost 64,000 lives, the nation is ready to rebuild. Pakistan on the other
hand, is adamant that it will win - to win sovereignty for the people
of Kashmir. Unfortunately in the process, it might lose itself.
The difference in perception stems from leadership. Ranil Wickremesinghe
and Pervaiz Musharraf are both seasoned individuals fighting against
competition to retain power and vying for constitutional amendments.
The General wants to install an autocratic framework while the Sri Lankan
leader wants to remove it. The Pakistani government has built supposed
credibility by joining the global coalition in the war against terrorism.
In return they demand concessions in debt repayment. The Sri Lankans
have shown their intentions by commencing a process to bring peace to
the country. As a consequence, they want to attract foreign investment.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is bringing young talent to his cabinet. General
Musharraf is resisting the winds of change by believing in ageing technocrats.
Pakistan is stagnating, if not deteriorating, despite the early promise
shown by the present leadership. The Sri Lankan government is going
from strength to strength by promoting the country and its investment
potential. The New York Invest In Peace conference, which
received global coverage, is just one example of the Sri Lankan governments
ability to deliver and then to market its achievements. Unfortunately,
learning from precedents set in the past, the Pakistani leadership has
continued the tradition of providing exemplary excuses for its failures.
In the current global economic climate, Sri Lanka has moved swiftly
after realising South Asias limited correlation to the global
markets. The flight of capital from major stock indices has created
an opportunity to attract surplus capital from the west both in the
form of direct foreign investment and portfolio investment. With elaborate
privatisation plans of state owned assets and development of the national
stock exchanges, Ranil Wickremesinghes government has succeeded
in creating the initial interest among international investors. By combining
this with healthy developments in the peace process, which is the foundation
upon which international interest is built, the government has reached
a global audience.
Then there is tourism and strategic location. Being located favourably
to act as a sojourn for all Middle Eastern, Far-Eastern and African
trade, potential exists for the island to grow along the lines of Hong
Kong. Like Hong Kong could benefit from its close ties with the Chinese
market, Sri Lanka has also succeeded in positioning itself favourably
with both India and Pakistan. A neutral ally believing in the invisible
hand doctrine of Adam Smith promoting self interest will
serve the purpose of promoting societys interest as a whole
in this case the region. Additionally, opportunities to exploit tourism
seem endless. With a progressive outlook, the country is shaping itself
to become the regional hub for tourism and entertainment. Coupled with
the governments zero tolerance for criminal activity and feudal
behaviour (the disco affair) one can see the winds of change
gripping the nation at least in the eyes of the international
media. The same media, that is helping to package the country for a
So how can Pakistan learn from the Sri Lankan progress? We need to understand
the importance of internal and regional stability and its relation to
our own economic development. We need to build strong relationships
with the global business community by marketing ourselves as an opportunity
to them. We need an element of modernism within our political and economic
policies. We need resourceful leadership. These are all aspects that
the Sri Lankan premier has bought with him; the ideas are not new, but
in our region of the world their successful implementation does
create hope for other countries who are still shying from taking the
less travelled road. Hence, I am an optimistic Pakistani because I think
we can learn - the benchmark has been set.