Imagine a world where Pakistan Army officials enjoy an extremely high quality of life, and on the very opposite corner of the street, an impoverished Bengali child whose parents were mercilessly murdered by the Pakistan Military struggles to find a handful of rice for his only meal of the day. What would such a world look like? This rhetoric is a strong representation of erstwhile East Pakistan until her independence in 1971. The twenty-four years of governance by West Pakistan were driven by an immense level of discrimination towards the Bengalis and near-complete marginalization in terms of resource allocations and growth. 

Even today, the presence of inequalities is evidently clear in Bangladesh. One of the main causes is the conventional banking system, which gives disproportionate power to the wealthy, and the poor cannot relate to the lifestyles of the elites who represent them in the parliament. However, Bangladesh has gifted the world with one of the finest economic innovations of all time: Microfinance, which has helped transform the lives of millions of households by enhancing financial literacy all over the world. 

Poverty and Famines by Amartya Sen extensively discussed the condition of Bangladesh during the 1974 famines and gave the readers a realistic insight into how the 1974 famines accelerated the degree of absolute poverty in Bangladesh. The essay explored the statistics of food availability in the economy to find the roots of this global problem. Today, the government of Bangladesh is proudly presenting an exemplary feat in front of the International community by hosting more than a million Rohingya refugees and being a leading exporter of Ready-Made Garments. Scarcity of food does not exist anymore, and the right of education for all has been successfully established as a national agenda. Future, proficiency rates and per capita food creation have expanded essentially. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has positioned Bangladesh as the 43rd biggest economy on the planet in PPP terms. 

A rural-centric lending policy has been imperative in helping the underprivileged people in rural Bangladesh. With the advent of microcredit and mobile banking, they now have extensive access to funds for starting a small or medium scale business. These financial projects have been primarily dedicated to socially, economically and educationally backward people and enabled the government to make use of their unique skills and talent. These policies act as potential platforms to solve the problem of economic

inequality by generating employment. Besides, purchasing power has also improved due to various microfinance programmes. According to the Microcredit Regulatory Authority (MRA), MFIs serve more than 30 million people in Bangladesh. 

The IMF has indicated Bangladesh’s economy to be growing up to $322 per capita by 2021, whereas Pakistan would suffice to reach slightly more than half from its present status. This data compiled by the IMF indicates the average Bangladeshi citizen is more wealthy in comparison to that of Pakistan. The debt obligation per capita for Bangladesh ($434) is not exactly a large portion of that for Pakistan’s ($974), and its unfamiliar trade holds ($32 billion) are multiple times more than Pakistan ($8bn). Soon after the 1971 Liberation War, Pakistan accomplished a much higher development rate than that of Bangladesh. However, since the rejuvenation of democracy in Bangladesh during the early 1990s, things began to change, and the developmental pace of Bangladesh surpassed that of Pakistan. From that point forward the development pace of Bangladesh has been ceaselessly higher than that of Pakistan aside from a short stretch from 2004 to 2006. Gross savings (% of GDP) of Bangladesh was 39.9 in 2012 and Pakistan was 20.4 in 2012 and 20.8 in 2013 respectively. 

Bangladesh’s comparative advantage in the RMG industry has been low-wage labor. Bangladeshi women based in remote areas of the country were traditionally not worked outside the home, and therefore had poor outside options. Thus, after migrating to urban areas, they resorted to work at lower wages in factories than their counterparts in competing countries, such as that of India and China. According to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Bangladesh is ahead in distinctive social indicators. The increasing level of investments in human capital have made Bangladeshi workers more productive, and social indicators for women and children (female school enrollment, maternal and infant mortality, fertility rate, early marriage, vaccination) compare favorably to richer states of India. 

Bangladesh also outperforms its neighbors in social indicators due to the impressive performance delivered by NGOs such as BRAC. Their activities are partly responsible for the overall benefit of the current Bengali society. NGOs operate with minimal interference in Bangladesh, and provide healthcare, schools, banks, dairy collectives, phone service, public health campaigns like ORS and immunization drives. 

The wide reach of NGOs and substantial support by the international development aid has accelerated and complemented the government to mitigate the gap of income inequality. As the NGOs offer a vast range of social services, they are not only confined to providing microcredit, but other massive social programs. Some economists opine that microcredit is largely used for consumption and not investment. Thus, microcredit definitely makes people happier, which is important, but unlikely to produce much growth. However, Bangladesh still has many unidentified and unsolved problems. Poor state of public infrastructure partly due to very poor tax collection, and poor governance and corruption makes Bangladesh less competitive than other Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam. Women in the Philippines contribute a lot of remittance, but Bangladeshi women don’t migrate much internationally. Thus, the government should think of introducing more women to the international labour market, but it should ensure that Bangladeshi women do not face gender-based violence in their foreign workplaces.

Garment factory safety, wages, working conditions remain important concerns in Bangladesh. Ensuring, “safe migration” is a major concern. To encounter these challenges, we need to rise up with creative, innovative, and effective ideas. 

It can also be reasonably anticipated that Bangladesh would transform to be the 26th largest economy from its current position of being the 42nd biggest economy. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) for the year 2017, Bangladesh is around 0.608. Pakistan’s HDI value for 2018 is 0.560, which puts the country in the medium human development category. Accordingly, it is positioned at number 152 out of 189 countries and territories. As per report of HDI Pakistan value is increased up to 38.6 Percent. The human development progress, as measured by the HDI the period between 1990 and 2017 Bangladesh and Pakistan experienced different degrees of progress toward increasing their HDI shown in the table below. 

Pakistan suffered losses because of income disparity of 25.6 percent. According to World Bank statistics, Bangladesh is one of the countries with lower degree of income inequality. A comparison of Income inequality between countries can show the inequality which is more severe in China than any other country. 

Since the 1971 Liberation War, Bangladesh has made substantial economic growth-oriented progress and has managed to perform well in the spectrums of social indicators in the spectrum of poverty, public healthcare and literacy. Until the early 1990s, it used to have an agriculture centric economy, which was highly dependent on the primary sector. In the past few decades, with the practice of democratic governance and increased accountability in the bureaucracy, it has made tremendous progress in sectors ranging from macroeconomic to social development, and all the tangible improvements have been reflected in the development indexes compiled and prepared by the World Bank. It certainly cannot be denied that Bangladesh has succeeded to mark and establish itself as one of the significant track recorders of socio-economic development and sustainable growth. It has also crafted efficient public policies to empower women and reduce chronic diseases, and has fared better in this regard than its South Asian counterparts- Pakistan and India. Bangladesh has come a long way since 1971 when the U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger disparagingly referred to it as a “bottomless basket”. 

Bangladesh’s dependency on foreign aid has reduced remarkably from 88% in 1972 to just over 2 percent in 2010, and its current Purchasing Power Parity adjusted per- capita GDP is more than $4000. Since Pakistan’s formation in 1947, it has heavily relied on foreign aid, particularly from the US due to its influence on Afghan politics and proximity to the Persian Gulf. Due to Pakistan’s strategic interests, it consistently provided refuge to the Taliban and refused to fully comply with American demands despite being its frontline ally in the War on Terror. Some of Pakistan’s policies to modulate the conflict dynamics in Afghanistan strained its relations with Washington D.C. and the resultant vacuum would be filled by Beijing’s strategic and economic support, which has grown manifold over the last two decades. 

The vision of stronger Pakistan-China relations culminated in the form of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $60 billion infrastructure megaproject linking Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gwadar port. The Gwadar port in Pakistan serves as a potential hub for fulfilling China’s trade ambitions with the Gulf and Africa, however, such projects in Pakistan have been plagued by security concerns due to the ongoing

insurgency in Balochistan. Megaprojects like CPEC would help the Pakistani government to design development-oriented structural transition in the economy, as former economic projects have accelerated the decline of share of agriculture from 53% in 1947 to 21.2% in the 2010s, and incubated the increase in the GDP share of industry increased from 9.6% in 1949-50 to 25.4% in 2010s. 

Pakistan’s rivalry with India and India’s troubled ties with the other neighbouring South Asian countries have undoubtedly been some of the major reasons behind China’s deepening interest in South Asia. China’s supply of nuclear technology to Pakistan also contributed to increased tensions between India and Pakistan. Even though many economists opined that the CPEC deepened the cleavages within the Pakistani economy and the existing inter-regional divide, the project continues to go ahead. 

However, Bangladesh has sparked a new sense of its relevance in front of the International Community by the successful progress of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge. The World Bank was about to finance the Padma Multipurpose bridge project with $1.2 billion (£764 million) of credit, but they pulled out citing corruption concerns. In the past, many economists opined that if Bangladesh pursues this project with its own domestic funding, it may ignite a negative spillover effect on the other components of the economy. 

Despite facing limitations, the government of Bangladesh most recently managed to establish the last structural span of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge. With this project, Bangladesh has shown the world the degree of self-reliance it can afford, and its capability to launch mega economic projects without full support from foreign bodies. 

This bridge will connect Dhaka, the capital, with 21 southern districts through road and railways– paving a new chapter in the county’s economic development. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman taught Bangladeshis how to achieve freedom, and under his brilliant leadership, Bangladesh got independence and achieved sovereignty. Today, Bangladesh got the Padma Bridge through his daughter’s remarkable leadership qualities and has become fully visible defying all odds. Bangladesh has truly shown the entire world that it can turn the impossible into the possible. 

In Bangladesh, poor governance and political instability have been common. But politics is not nearly as messy as it is in Pakistan. In the political spectrum of Bangladesh, there is a more limited role for religion in politics, and the government has acted decisively to root out terrorist threats. Pakistan is a failed state in terms of countering the resurgence of terrorism and has found itself in miserable situations to restore multi-religious peace and tolerance within its territory. However, Bangladesh embarks itself as an ideal example of religious tolerance and peace. However, in historical context, the articulation of secularism as the basis of Bangladesh was met with a broad range of mixed views. 

In 2010, Bangladesh Supreme Court declared the 5th amendment illegal and restored secularism as one of the basic tenets of the Constitution. Besides, Islam remained to be the state religion in the constitution. When political parties in their manifestos want to change the structure, system of government, judiciary and laws of the state in conformity with the principles and beliefs of a particular religion among multi-religious citizens, people of other faiths in such a state perceive gross discrimination on the basis of religion. Such discrimination is arguably untenable under the Bangladesh Constitution. However, in the past few years, secular writers and activists have been attacked by extremist groups. Lastly, one of the

most influential political parties of the country, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has been widely criticized for its empathy and tolerant stance regarding the objectives of the religion-based organization, Jamaat e Islami. 

The politics of Jamaat and coup attempts by the army in various instances sparked chaos across the country in the past few decades. Besides, the acts of genocide which were aided by the members of Jamaat during the 1971 Liberation War, was utterly harsh and resembled cruelty. ‘Islam’ is a peaceful religion, and the attempts and actions were taken by Jamaat in 1971, whatsoever does not fall within the nuances and integrity of Islam. Pakistan should pay reparations to Bangladesh. At the end of a war, countries involved are required to make payments as a framework to cover up for the damage inflicted during the war. This was the case when World Wars I and II ended. 

It is not a matter of denial that Bangladesh deserves reparations and an unconditional apology from Islamabad for all the calamities Pakistan had caused in 1971. Reparations and an unconditional apology from Pakistan are still possible, and they have to be done through mutual understanding between the two states. The task is difficult and the possibility of a positive outcome is still very low. Pakistan has never been an ally of Bangladesh, so the task is indeed difficult and legal battles take time and there is no certainty of success. Moreover, the United Nations is not known to have ever played any roles in such cases. Today, Bangladesh is proudly presenting an exemplary feat in front of the International community by hosting more than a million Rohingya refugees on one hand and being a leading exporter of Ready-Made Garments on the other hand. 

Despite falling in distinctive situations in terms of military coup and instances of corruption, economic growth and prosperity is evident in this country. Diversity and inclusion are cherished ideals, and the current institutions are operating with a much greater level of accountability and efficiency than the pre-1971 era. In these 49 years, in many instances, the ‘journey’ of Bangladesh has been beautiful. However, we can surely be hopeful that the ‘destination’ of Bangladesh or become self-reliant in its developmental trajectory would turn out to be as beautiful as the journey itself. 

In the 21st century, the world is tied down with complex multidimensional problems. Both Bangladesh and Pakistan are directly experiencing the intense blows of global climate change. In order to tackle grand challenges like that of global warming, the world needs to think out of the box and innovate an eclectic mix of skills and solutions which will go a long way to prompt idea synthesis and practically use non-renewable economic resources. In this era, the threat of anthropogenic climate change is looming larger than ever before. It is extremely important to develop technologies that harvest resources in a cost-effective way by gaining an informed understanding of how to integrate new energy systems into the existing market. Global Warming is a common issue both Bangladesh and Pakistan face, and it requires a multilateral approach from key stakeholders from all of Asia, and the world.

By Md. Nazmus Sakib Khan

Md Nazmus Sakib Khan is working as a Research Assistant at the Institution for Need-Led Innovation at Oxford and is one of the founding members of the international project, ‘Shapers and the Solvers’, launched by the Global Shapers Dhaka Hub of the World Economic Forum. He writes conceptualized articles on Economics, Technology and International Relations, and his writing has been published in leading newspapers of Bangladesh including The Daily Star and Dhaka Tribune. He has also written for international publications including the Oxford Political Review and the International Youth Council for Foreign Affairs. He is currently doing his A-Levels at Mastermind English Medium School and is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

One thought on “A Comparative Analysis of Bangladesh and Pakistan: 50 years of freedom and progress”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *