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Wednesday June 19, 2024

Perils of poor planning

By Mian Salimuddin
May 29, 2024
A representational image of a crowded street at a commercial area in Karachi.— The News/file
A representational image of a crowded street at a commercial area in Karachi.— The News/file 

Will and Ariel Durant in their monumental work ‘The Story of Civilization’ observed that a country with varying climate is potentially a rich country.

Pakistan with its four distinct weathers, its deserts, rolling plains with one of the best irrigation systems, some of the highest mountains in the world, embedded with a large variety of minerals and strategic metals, and lush green valleys with numerous water courses, thus conforms to Durant’s observation of a potentially rich country.

But then the question is: why have we been in dire straits for decades with 95 million people below the poverty line? Has the dream of the founding fathers gone awry?The answer is that a fatal flaw at the initial stage of development planning based on faulty assumptions created this disaster which continues to haunt us even today.

Planning should have been based on two simple principles: identification of our assets and the means to exploit those assets to raise the living standards of citizens.Contrary to popular beliefs and assumptions, the most important asset is our large population. The second asset is Allah’s gifts embedded in the earth crust of Pakistan with an estimated value of $6 trillion.

Our planning’s focus should have been around converting the huge pool of human resource into a skilled workforce to exploit the bounties buried in the mountains and elsewhere in the country. Pakistan should have been a world leader in mining skills and technologies.

If we concur with the prognosis that our major resources are minerals – from coal to copper, silver, gold, bauxite and precious stones and a large unemployable manpower pool -- then by now we should have had numerous world class mining institutions run by experts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. Education and training should have been conducted at three levels – mining engineers, supervisors and skilled workforce.

In the absence of this foresight, we have handed over our strategic mineral projects to foreign companies. This cataclysm started some four decades ago when huge deposits of copper and silver were handed over to a foreign company.

Imagine the progress and competitive position of the electrical goods industry had it access to cheap and indigenously produced industrial grade copper and silver. Instead in 2022 Pakistan imported $261.19 million worth of copper and articles. How long will we go on leasing our strategic assets to foreign companies?

Foreigners should at best be employed in our training institutions only. Strategic mining projects should be totally controlled by Pakistani human resources.It’s time our planning agencies and the HEC woke up to the grave situation that has been created by the failure of Pakistani engineers and workforce to play a leading role in the mining operations in the country.

We, therefore, need a crash programme to create mining institutions to impart education and training at all the three levels as suggested earlier. Unless we correct our faulty assumptions about population and convert the huge unemployable human resource into a skilled workforce, our economic conditions will not improve.

Not only have the development planners gone astray by failing to identify the assets and their exploitation, another derision is the technology mantra. For the past forty years we have been chasing technologies for technology sake, without determining the ultimate applications. Billions of rupees have gone down the drain in creating an IT revolution in the country.

During the cycle of asset identification, skill development and mineral exploitation, we should be in a position to pinpoint the technologies needed for the tasks ahead. The starting point should, therefore, be the tasks to be accomplished, followed by the technologies needed to accomplish those tasks efficiently and not the other way around as propagated by technology adherents.

Mineral resources hold great significance for the future wellbeing of Pakistan. At present, the mineral sector contributes a small share of GDP - around 2-3 per cent. This needs to go up dramatically.

For this to happen, we need to rapidly train mining engineers, supervisors and skilled workforce along with pioneering work on mining technologies. Past mistakes should not be repeated again and again. Industrialization must be carried out with the national interest in mind.