Pakistan and Bangladesh, born in 1947 as two wings of the same country, experienced a bloody divorce in 1971. Since then, the trajectory of the political, economic, and social development of these two countries has been completely different.
Except for adult literacy and child enrollment in school, Bangladesh once lagged behind Pakistan in terms of living quality. Though, both shared many problems during separation like overpopulation, energy crisis, political instability, inflation, bad policies, etc. However, today Bangladesh is ahead of Pakistan in every way.
Bangladesh’s performance in major crises like the 2010 economic recession and COVID-19 is very well when almost the world was facing major economic problems. Bangladesh first achieved GDP growth above 6% in 2010, to many surprises.
Bangladesh has achieved this even during the global economic downturn. It ranks eighth among the top 10 recipients of remittances. According to World Bank, notably from January 1 to December 10, 2020, Bangladesh country received 20.50 billion USD, about 12% more than the whole period of 2019.
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As of now, there are pertinent predictions by Goldman Sachs that Bangladesh may control the global economy in the future, and based on its demographic dividend and growing per capita income Bangladesh’s economy would rank among the top 25 by 2035 as per BBC report.
Comparing the two countries’ progress reports, one can easily ascertain the development gap. In the Human Development Index (HDI), Bangladesh’s position at 121 is more advanced than Pakistan’s 161 ranks, indeed though Bangladesh was behind Pakistan 30 times agone.
An inversely important fact is that the gender gap in Bangladesh is much lower than in Pakistan, and women in Bangladesh have made further progress. In the past 20 years, Bangladesh has experienced growth of more than 5% and a significant increase in per capita income (2620 US$), surpassing Pakistan (1500US$) and drawing closer to India. Together, Bangladesh’s accomplishments many of which are ahead of India’s have given it a foundation for growth in the international sphere.
Bangladesh saw a GDP growth rate of 7.2% in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, which was higher than the 6.9% recorded in FY 2021. Pakistan recorded a 5.97% GDP growth rate during FY 2021–22 (World Bank). Moreover, the commercial sectors of both countries can provide one with an interesting comparison.
According to figures released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), exports were $2.2 billion in July as opposed to $2.9 billion in June 2022. Whereas, due to the outstanding performance of the readymade garment sector, Bangladesh’s exports increased by 14.72 percent to $3.98 billion in July 2022 from $3.47 billion in the same month of 2021.
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In the education area, Bangladesh has made significant strides; its literacy rate is 74.66% compared to Pakistan’s 62.3% with frightening 22.8 million children out of school.
In addition, more than 30 million women in Bangladesh use microcredit services, showing their close connections to the economy. Bangladesh has achieved significant gains in both the personal well-being of women and the general health of its economy.
In the meantime, women business owners have been given 15% of the total Bangladesh Bank refinancing capacity for the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector. Bangladesh reported a 30.4% female labor force in 2021, whereas Pakistan recorded a 20.16% female labor force (world bank).
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is currently a significant sector in Bangladesh for receiving remittances. In Bangladesh, 42 ICT initiatives with Hi-tech parks and innovation hubs are assisting young people in commercializing novel technical concepts. The installation of broadband internet for 100 million individuals in rural areas will likely result in the creation of 20 million new jobs.
Moreover, it is important to note that in Bangladesh, NGOs (like the Grameen Bank and BRAC) and other members of the civil society have been crucial in assisting the government’s efforts to advance the interests of the poor, particularly women, through a variety of programs, such as access to small loans, family planning, health care, education, and other services.
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In addition, Bangladesh has secured significant outside funding for these initiatives, and it has done it more effectively than Pakistan. Government collaboration with NGOs and funders has historically been more cordial than it was in Pakistan. It is, nevertheless, a story of recent economic liberalization, forward-thinking governmental policies, and democratic continuity, all of which contributed to the country’s vibrant growth.
So, the question arises why Pakistan has been left behind in these 50 years. A holistic overview of Pakistan’s situation allows one to easily navigate through the facts that Pakistan is a population of 224 million, 5th largest populous nation with 22.8 M children out of school and 2.6 percent GDP spending on education, the lowest in South Asia. It is dwelling in the never-ending chaos of economic meltdowns.
Moreover, lack of investment, inability to handle a crisis, water scarcity and internationally weak diplomacy are challenges for Pakistan. All these problems hold their premise in the perennial political instability which is leading to national disharmony. Pakistan needs to work on its national consensus agenda to bring all the falling pieces together. Pakistan needs to rebalance its civil-military relation, repair interprovincial disharmony, and neutralize the opposition-government tug of war for power.
Without embarking on the journey of consensual democracy and political stability, Pakistan is not likely to match the developmental pace of Bangladesh rather these challenges can lead to the self-immolation of Pakistani society.
Laiba Shaukat is a student of Governance and public policy at the National Defense University, Islamabad