Bangladesh and Pakistan: Two divergent path to growth and democracy Economic Growth

Bangladesh and Pakistan: Two divergent path to growth and democracy

Bangladesh Live News | @banglalivenews | 06 Jun 2023, 09:12 pm

Dhaka/Islamabad, June 6: While Bangladesh is celebrating the 52nd year of its Independence in 2023, Pakistan is experiencing economic catastrophe amidst its political crises and upcoming elections, a report from the International Forum for Rights and Security (IFFRAS) said.

The scenario has yet again left the international community rummaging over the value of the struggles erstwhile East Pakistan experienced five decades ago for its freedom.

Some data can help in getting a clear picture. As per IMF, this year Bangladesh’s growth projection stands at 5.5%, whereas that of Pakistan stands at as meager as 0.5%. Since Bangladesh's independence in 1971, Pakistan’s per capita GDP (in constant local currency units) has increased by 160%, whereas Bangladesh has experienced a whopping increase of 270%.  The inflation rate in Bangladesh (7.7%) is much below the world average of 8.3%, whereas Pakistan is experiencing a high inflation rate of over 35%.

As per capita GDP is not a well-accepted measure of welfare; we may peek into other significant indicators of the two economies. The current adult literacy rate for Bangladesh (for those 15 years and above) stands at 75%, while that for Pakistan stands at 58%. Even worse is the gap between the female literacy rate between the two nations. Bangladesh’s adult female literacy rate stands at 72% compared to 46% of the latter, which is also much farther away from the world average of 83%.

Bangladesh’s life expectancy at birth is 72 years, which is higher than the world average of  71 years. On the other hand, Pakistan’s life expectancy at birth is much lower at 66 years. Regarding the unemployment rate, Bangladesh (4.7%) is lower than the world average of 5.8%, while Pakistan experiences an unemployment rate of 6.4%.

About 96% of Bangladesh’s population has access to electricity, surpassing the world average of 90%, while only 75% of Pakistan’s electricity cover. Factors measuring standard of living show better outcomes for Bangladesh compared to Pakistan. Thirty-nine percent  of the population has access to the internet in the former, while only 21% in the latter.  As per 2021 data, infant mortality in Bangladesh is 21 per thousand live births, compared to 53 in Pakistan, while the world average stands at 28.

Given Pakistan’s debilitating condition in contrast to Bangladesh’s healthy statistics, it is important to decipher the reasons that have led to such divergent growth paths for the two countries. According to William Milan, former Ambassador to both nations, the “dramatically different” political, economic and social paths followed by these two nations post-partition led to the divergence in the development process.

Politically, Pakistan and Bangladesh experienced a broken democratic system, with the military wielding enormous powers and ousting elected candidates. However, post-1990s, Bangladesh showed traits of a more disciplined democracy, with the military standing out of politics, contrary to the case of Pakistan. Socially, the fertility and literacy rate indicators are more favourable for women in Bangladesh, mustering a society with a culture of higher female workforce participation and school enrolment, benefiting the economy.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s sole focus seems to be on military expenditure, which was USD 11 billion in 2021, amounting to 4% of its GDP, compared to only USD 4.8 billion of Bangladesh.

Despite its struggles to achieve democracy, Bangladesh has strived to develop a culture of democratic participation through civil societies and citizen participation. The civil societies in Bangladesh have, from time to time, played an important role in restoring democracy, fighting against military rule and contributing to development. The pursuit of democracy provided Bangladesh with the scope to strengthen non-governmental organizations and take measures for social change, thus complementing the government’s efforts.

Bangladesh has many success stories. BRAC, an NGO dealing with microfinance, is single-handedly responsible for bringing millions of people out of vulnerability by providing them access to education, health care, and livelihood, not just in Bangladesh but also in Africa. The nation’s commitment to alleviating the conditions of women has been remarkable, leading to better living conditions for women than in Pakistan and other developing countries. The Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has become a role model for the entire world for women empowerment and poverty eradication.

Not just its national performance, Bangladesh’s international image has also been highly respectable. It has been one of the major contributors to the United Nations peacekeeping missions and has been applauded by the world for giving refuge to 1.1 million Rohingyas ousted from Myanmar. The very act of standing against the military government’s atrocities in Myanmar and extending shelter sent an international message of Bangladesh’s commitment to supporting democracy internally as well as externally.

On the polar opposite is Pakistan, which enjoys an international image as the exporter of terrorism and state-sponsored terrorist activities. Pakistan has been called out as a disruptive neighbor, as it supports radical groups in Afghanistan to limit India’s influence, furthering Afghanistan’s instability.  Internal peace in Pakistan is also next to non-existent, with terrorism-related deaths counting to 643 in 2022, more than double the count in 2021. On the terrorism index, Pakistan is a high achiever, with a score of 8.16 out of 10 with 6th rank, whereas Bangladesh is much behind with rank 43 and a score of 3.83.   On the global peace index, Pakistan also lags with a rank of 147, while Bangladesh’s rank is 96.

Indeed  the achievements of Bangladesh, a country whose genesis was marked by a high density of population, pathetic socio-economic indicators in all respects, a non-existent industrial base and scars of war, decades of struggles for a stable democracy, along with its tryst with natural calamities, are exceptional.

A major credit to Bangladesh’s sprawling socio-economic conditions goes to its citizens’ determination to pursue a democratic regime despite all odds. Today the world knows Bangladesh as one of the largest garments exporters, an economy with a blooming IT and pharma sectors, and a preferred choice for outsourcing. The rapid development prospects shown by Bangladesh, with its Vision 2041,  stand as an example of how building a pluralistic democracy is a foundation for long-term growth and stability.

On the other hand, Pakistan continues to face internal and external conflicts as its institutions fail to provide a peaceful negotiation environment. Intense polarisation, excess militarisation and extremism, aversion to pluralism, and animosity with neighbors have made Pakistan an example of what happens when the state fails to execute a stable democratic regime characterized by aspirations for peace and development.  Pakistan has a much longer distance to cover, which seems difficult unless it sincerely commits itself to democracy and peace.