In the Zia-ul Haq era, boosters of military rule in Pakistan used to spin figures by comparing the pace of development in the 1960s, when East Pakistan was still part of Pakistan, to the more rapid pace in the 1980s, after that territory gained independence as Bangladesh. Because Pakistan had lost its much poorer eastern wing, the figures made it appear that the average Pakistani’s lot had greatly improved.
Such a trick would no longer produce flattering trend lines. According to the United Nations Development Program’s human development index, Pakistan ranks 136 out of 177 nations, while Bangladesh is 140th. In terms of infant mortality, Pakistan is considerably worse off than Bangladesh, according to UNICEF figures. “Maternal mortality is very high, there has been stagnation in the declines achieved for infant mortality, and we are stuck at 30 percent access to contraceptives,” said Zeba Sathar, country director for the Population Council, a highly regarded international NGO that focuses on reproductive health.8
Without a consistent and concerted effort to address poverty, Pakistan is in danger of falling behind comparable countries in Asia and the Muslim world. “When we say poor here we mean the absolute poor,” says Tasneem Siddiqui, director of the Orangi Pilot Project, one of the country’s most successful development projects. “We have poor people living above the official poverty line — 74 percent of all Pakistanis live on two dollars a day.”
This impoverished majority has benefited least from macro-economic growth in the past decade, and faces great stress from the current economic downturn. “There is now focus on increasing human security, but the global situation is such that it lends force to military security lobbies,” said A. H. Nayyar, a social scientist at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. “Everybody sees the growing poverty, but there is no understanding of how one can manage it collectively.”
8 The use of pre- and post-1971 statistics is recounted in Richard Reeves’ Passage to Peshawar (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983). From 1990 to 2006 under-5 infant mortality declined from 149 to 69 in Bangladesh and from 130 to 97 in Pakistan (see http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/bangladesh_bangladesh_statistics.html and http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/pakistan_pakistan_statistics.html.)