Learn from Sheikh Hasina: Pakistan’s newspaper The Express Tribune published an article praising Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership for Bangladesh economic development. The article published on Tuesday titled ‘Takeaway from Bangladesh Leadership’ was authored by Sahebzada Riaz Noor. Sahebzada Riaz Noor, a postgraduate from Cambridge, was the Chief Secretary of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
Noting that Bangladesh has experienced significant economic changes over the years, Riaz Noor said the credit for this development can be given to the country’s leadership. Recently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Padma Bridge, calling this bridge a ‘symbol of pride and power’ of the country.
In the article, he said, Sheikh Hasina has been involved in Bangladesh’s economic problems and plans since the 1990s. He focused on balancing economic policy with political influence. Sheikh Hasina moved away from her father’s socialist agenda towards market-based capitalist growth. He has learned from other Asian countries, which have four pillars of economic success.
These foundations are political stability, social development, export-led growth with trade liberalization and fiscal restraint.
At a conference, when an economist was telling her about the benefits of trade liberalization, Sheikh Hasina stopped and said, “I don’t need to convince you about trade liberalization.” When I lived with my physicist husband in Trieste, an Italian city on the border with Yugoslavia, I saw the border open three times a week and people traveling on both sides, buying goods and returning.” Instead, Sheikh Hasina focused earnestly on the economy.
Despite the lack of accountability and military rule in Bangladesh between 1971 and 2009, the army has been on the sidelines since 2009. Bangladesh has experienced frequent slippage of civilian governments and little legitimacy or illegitimacy of governments. The country’s democratic history is far from spotless, and the government has repeatedly avoided public criticism of corruption and inefficiency. The current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a visionary and has strong convictions. He felt that economic progress is the only way to alleviate poverty in the country.
Over 15 years of sustained growth, Bangladesh has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economic powers despite accusations of coercive control by the opposition. The country was 75 percent poorer than Pakistan in 1970, but is now 45 percent richer than Pakistan.
In 1970, the population of Bangladesh was 1 crore more than that of Pakistan. And now the population of Bangladesh is 170 million against the population of 230 million in Pakistan. Bangladesh’s export in 2021 is 47 billion dollars, Pakistan’s 28 billion dollars.
Bangladesh’s per capita income is now $2,227 compared to $1,543 in Pakistan. Gross domestic product (GDP) in Bangladesh in 2022 is 411 billion dollars, in Pakistan it is 347 billion dollars. Annual inflation rate in Bangladesh is 6 percent, compared to 12-15 percent in Pakistan. Inflation in Pakistan currently stands at 21 percent and is expected to rise further in Saman. Besides, the Bangladeshi taka is much stronger than the Pakistani rupee. Along with the high participation of women in the economy of Bangladesh, the literacy rate is very high.
Political parties in Pakistan are still busy with their own interests. Repeated manipulations of the democratic process have hindered the path of political parties to a strong, democratic and non-patrimonial path. It is undeniable that economic growth is closely related to political stability, rule of law, strong civil institutions and participatory democracy. Pakistan inherited a state in which a weak bourgeois population was embedded in a donor-recipient relationship within a strong state structure.
The country has inevitably witnessed economic and political evolution driven by privileged and authoritarian groups. Primarily agricultural and business income are excluded from the ambit of taxation. Many industries are exempted from any duty. It is not surprising that our parliament is dominated by landlords, thus rejecting the issue of agricultural income tax. However, this has resulted in the overall tax net remaining small due to lower taxes in the agricultural and industrial sectors.
Following the example of Bangladesh, the Pakistani leadership must pursue economic growth as a national goal and promote regional peace as well as constitutional governance.
Adequate resources must be invested in social and economic development without compromising effective defence. Foreign trade agreements with India, Iran, China, Afghanistan and other trading partners should be considered considering the need for regional trade liberalization. Besides, high-value-added products should be re-emphasized in developing export growth models.
Pakistan’s advantage of relatively cheap labor should be channeled into improved efficiency and productivity. In order to increase the participation of women in the workplace, extensive initiatives should be taken in education and technical training for women. Besides, ensuring a safe and favorable legal environment for foreign investment is crucial.
There needs to be a strong effort to impose a fair tax on agricultural income. Wealthy industries must make their due contribution to the growth of national wealth. Large corporate and institutional sectors should be brought under tax.
Pakistan’s leadership can learn a lot from Bangladesh’s experience. But the main move should be to pursue Sheikh Hasina’s priority of economic growth, which is important for both defense and democracy.
By: This article is provided by Samina Akhter. She is a Dhaka-based freelance writer and women and human rights activist. She is deeply interested in the foreign policies of Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.