Time to learn

By Zeeshan Haque, UK

I am an optimistic Pakistani. This is not because of the election agenda of any particular political party nor is it because of a healthy increase in our foreign exchange reserves. Successful testing of ballistic missiles and a rising stock market are also not the justification. The reason is simple. One of our neighbours has successfully instigated a development plan that is bringing more positive news coverage to the region than any action by Pakistan and India combined. I am of course referring to Sri Lanka.

Pakistan has been affected by its ongoing dispute with India. Sri Lanka has faced turbulent times because of domestic ethnic conflict. Past governments of both nations have promised peace, but failed to deliver. Trickles of foreign investment have been seen, only to disappear because of political and economic uncertainty. Corruption, greed and unfulfilled potential have been widely used terms by the developed countries to describe the region as a whole. And the similarities end here. At least for now.

Pakistan has tried to establish itself as a military might, Sri Lanka has decided to invest in peace ­ literally. The Sri Lankan government has astutely realised that it is only after political stability and the removal of internal conflict that a nation will truly prosper. Having lost 64,000 lives, the nation is ready to rebuild. Pakistan on the other hand, is adamant that it will win - to win sovereignty for the people of Kashmir. Unfortunately in the process, it might lose itself.

The difference in perception stems from leadership. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Pervaiz Musharraf are both seasoned individuals fighting against competition to retain power and vying for constitutional amendments. The General wants to install an autocratic framework while the Sri Lankan leader wants to remove it. The Pakistani government has built supposed credibility by joining the global coalition in the war against terrorism. In return they demand concessions in debt repayment. The Sri Lankans have shown their intentions by commencing a process to bring peace to the country. As a consequence, they want to attract foreign investment. Ranil Wickremesinghe is bringing young talent to his cabinet. General Musharraf is resisting the winds of change by believing in ageing technocrats. Pakistan is stagnating, if not deteriorating, despite the early promise shown by the present leadership. The Sri Lankan government is going from strength to strength by promoting the country and its investment potential. The New York ‘Invest In Peace’ conference, which received global coverage, is just one example of the Sri Lankan government’s ability to deliver and then to market its achievements. Unfortunately, learning from precedents set in the past, the Pakistani leadership has continued the tradition of providing exemplary excuses for its failures.

In the current global economic climate, Sri Lanka has moved swiftly after realising South Asia’s limited correlation to the global markets. The flight of capital from major stock indices has created an opportunity to attract surplus capital from the west both in the form of direct foreign investment and portfolio investment. With elaborate privatisation plans of state owned assets and development of the national stock exchanges, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has succeeded in creating the initial interest among international investors. By combining this with healthy developments in the peace process, which is the foundation upon which international interest is built, the government has reached a global audience.

Then there is tourism and strategic location. Being located favourably to act as a sojourn for all Middle Eastern, Far-Eastern and African trade, potential exists for the island to grow along the lines of Hong Kong. Like Hong Kong could benefit from its close ties with the Chinese market, Sri Lanka has also succeeded in positioning itself favourably with both India and Pakistan. A neutral ally believing in the ‘invisible hand’ doctrine of Adam Smith ­ promoting self interest will serve the purpose of promoting society’s interest as a whole ­ in this case the region. Additionally, opportunities to exploit tourism seem endless. With a progressive outlook, the country is shaping itself to become the regional hub for tourism and entertainment. Coupled with the government’s zero tolerance for criminal activity and feudal behaviour (the ‘disco affair’) one can see the winds of change gripping the nation ­ at least in the eyes of the international media. The same media, that is helping to package the country for a global audience.

So how can Pakistan learn from the Sri Lankan progress? We need to understand the importance of internal and regional stability and its relation to our own economic development. We need to build strong relationships with the global business community by marketing ourselves as an opportunity to them. We need an element of modernism within our political and economic policies. We need resourceful leadership. These are all aspects that the Sri Lankan premier has bought with him; the ideas are not new, but in our region of the world ­ their successful implementation does create hope for other countries who are still shying from taking the less travelled road. Hence, I am an optimistic Pakistani because I think we can learn - the benchmark has been set.





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