Predicting the future

PAKISTAN’S future holds promise despite all what people experience, read and hear in a country that seems to fray at the edges. It would sure be a bumpy ride ahead, but there is slim chance of a derailment, a study says.

The picture ‘Pakistan State of Future Index’ paints is not a grim one, and, with right adjustments, the chances are real that the country could become a fairly stable, growing state.

The burden of the future outcomes, however, has been placed on activism of the citizenry, particularly the tech-savvy expanding middle class that aspires for a better life.

A study analyses social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends and tries to tell what lies ahead for Pakistan

“While many Pakistanis wish to emulate the lifestyle of the industrialised world, they do not seek to internalise the rationalism, humanism and positivism which form the core of the scientific revolution that made modern civilisation possible,” Dr Ilhan Niaz, who teaches history at the Quaid-i-Azam University, notes in the opening chapter of the report.

“The general apathy towards learning and knowledge is reflected in part in Pakistan’s poor overall performance in education, women’s empowerment, and investment in scientific innovation,” he says.

The study cautions against the expectation of ruling elite’s voluntary transformation and the threat of violent right-wing populist upheaval, as power yielders accommodate extremist elements to secure and perpetuate their position.

The study was launched by Foresight Lab in collaboration with multiple think tanks. The technical assistance was provided by the Millennium Project, a global think tank that developed the concept of futures index and aims to distil its research in annual reports globally and nationally where possible.

Using official data for the past 20 years, the study gauges the trend of 30 select variables divided into five broad categories: social, technological, economic, environmental and political — or STEEP.

Most variables fall in the categories of economic and politics (11 each), followed by four in social, three in environment and one in the category of technology.

The selection was made using Real-time Delphi, a modern method of collecting and synthesising experts’ opinion. It was applied to identify key drivers and their weight in the equation for the future. The drivers were not permanent and they might change with greater insight of the reality in the next round of the study, authors say.

The study claims to be part of an effort to shift the collective attention of the society to the future by initiating more informed debate on policy choices to capitalise on opportunities and better deal with challenges.

The report suggests that “while Pakistan maintains a growth by the index standard, the rate is lower. In past it faced a dip in overall value of index due to unforeseen events like terrorism and natural disasters. A prospective mindset is necessary to minimise the damage of such events”.

The twin objectives projected include engagement with experts in an exercise to produce a methodical assessment and offer policymakers insight based on expert-based perceptions equipped with an outline of practical steps.

Earlier efforts by successive governments, the private sector and civil society to present a blueprint of the future by identifying problems and possible solutions were based on perception. They presented future targets and, in case of five-year plans, annual benchmarks, but they were devoid of systematic inclusive approach.

In 2014, the PML-N launched Vision 2025 with much fanfare. It claimed the document was developed in consultation with stakeholders. The highlight of the vision was to almost triple per-capita income to $4,200 by the termination year, bring down poverty to 20 per cent and increase exports up to $150 billion.

It intends to close the power supply-demand gap by 2018, and cater to growing future demand by adding 25,000 megawatts into the system by 2025. It also aims to increase the water storage capacity to 90 days, improve efficiency of usage in agriculture by 20pc, and ensure access to clean drinking water for all Pakistanis and reduce food insecure population from 60pc to 30pc.

The document was loaded with lofty promises for social, physical, governance and everything under the sun. “Pakistan will become one of the 25 largest economies in the world…Based upon seven pillars, the government will focus on key areas including developing social and human capital, achieving sustained, indigenous and inclusive growth, governance, institutional reforms and modernisation of public sector, energy, water and food security, private sector-led growth, developing a competitive knowledge economy and modernising transportation infrastructure and greater regional connectivity,” it says.

Three years later, there is improvement in some segments such as power supply, but the progress in several areas has been off the mark. The case in point could be exports, which have instead dropped by about one-sixth since 2013.

“As opposed to absolutist subjective predictions presented from varied quarters, the Pakistan State of the Future Index projects a 10-year trend under the best and worst conditions based on 20-year historical trend in key triggers identified by experts. To me, the study is valuable and deserves attention of all segments interested in the country and its future,” commented an expert.

Unfortunately, most analysts approached had either not seen the report or did not pay enough attention to offer a quotable comment.

Puruesh Chaudhary, the young founder of Foresight Lab, was all excited. Discussing the report, she told the writer, “People active in the evolving field of futures study were pleasantly shocked at the quality of our report. The fact is that we lead in region in futures research.”