Tracing divergent paths

A comparative analysis of post-independence development in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh

Tracing divergent paths


evelopment Pathways: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. 1947-2022, authored by Ishrat Husain with contributions from Sarah Nizamani, Shagufta Shabbar and Masood Siddiqui, provides a comprehensive comparative analysis of the economic and social developments in the three countries since their independence.

The book features neat, colourful graphs. However, it seems rather expensive, considering the paper is of newsprint quality. While Ishrat Husain is a seasoned economist and practitioner, books with contributions from authors of varying levels of experience often present diverse worldviews, which, while enriching, may also pose conflicting viewpoints.

The book is divided into three parts, each offering a deep dive into the socio-economic evolution of these nations. Part I, authored by Ishrat Husain, provides a historical and comparative analysis of their distinct and shared economic development trajectories since independence, in a clear but somewhat isolated country-specific narrative.

Part II, written by Masood Siddiqui and Shagufta Shabbar, systematically explores key economic policies such as growth, fiscal policy, external trade and foreign direct investment, emphasising detailed analysis and empirical data. It could benefit from a more integrated cross-referencing.

Part III, also by Nizamani and Shabbar, addresses critical social issues like poverty, inequality, human development, employment and social protection, showcasing the interplay between economic policies and social outcomes.

The first chapter sets the stage by contrasting the dire conditions at independence — marked by extreme poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment — with the significant policy shifts towards liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation from the 1990s onwards.

Husain employs economic theories such as import-substitution industrialisation and structural adjustment programmes to contextualise these changes. The subsequent chapters provide country-specific narratives, starting with India’s economic journey from a centrally planned economy inspired by the Soviet model to significant growth post-liberalisation in 1991, highlighting the Green Revolution and other key policies.

The chapters on Pakistan and Bangladesh offer similarly detailed accounts. Pakistan’s case is marked by economic resilience despite political instability and challenges such as the refugee crisis and wars with India.

The analysis covers various policy phases, including the mixed economy model under Ayub Khan and the economic resurgence under Musharraf. Bangladesh’s case is remarkable for the transformation from an “international basket case” to achieving substantial socio-economic progress through liberalisation and export-led growth. Husain details the initial challenges of political instability and economic turmoil, followed by significant improvements in poverty reduction, gender parity and life expectancy.

Each chapter uses historical and comparative analysis to evaluate the development policies and their outcomes, providing a comprehensive understanding of the distinct pathways taken by these countries.

Dr Husain’s extensive experience and thorough analysis ensure a comprehensive understanding of the varied experiences and outcomes of these policy shifts, supported by economic theories like the ISI and structural adjustment programmes.

Despite its strengths in providing detailed historical context and robust comparative analysis, the first part of the book could have benefitted from a deeper exploration of socio-political factors, such as the impact of regional conflicts and political instability.

Integrating more cross-country comparisons within each chapter could have provided a more connected view of how these nations influenced one another’s development trajectories.

While the detailed and methodical approach to economic policy analysis is reassuring, the comparison among Pakistan, India and Bangladesh could be more convincing. 

Part II of the book, authored by Masood Siddiqui and Shagufta Shabbar, goes into the economic policies that have significantly influenced the development trajectories of these three countries.

Chapter 5, written by Siddiqui, examines growth, structural change and monetary developments, highlighting how each country transitioned from an agrarian economy to a more diversified industrial and service-based economy.

Chapter 6 focuses on fiscal policy and fiscal federalism, analysing the management and redistribution of public funds to address market failures and promote prosperity. Siddiqui provides a detailed examination of fiscal frameworks, contrasting how Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have navigated their fiscal challenges.

Chapters 7 and 8, authored by Shabbar, explore external trade and foreign direct investment, respectively. These chapters trace the shift from protectionist policies to liberalization; evaluate the performance of exports and imports; and discuss the varied impacts of trade and FDI on the economic growth of these countries, highlighting Bangladesh’s remarkable success in leveraging FDI for economic development.

While the detailed and methodical approach to economic policy analysis is reassuring, the comparison among Pakistan, India and Bangladesh could be more convincing. The chapters could have compared more explicitly how different economic policies yielded varied outcomes in each country.

For example, India’s sustained growth post-1991 liberalisation contrasts with Pakistan’s inconsistent economic policies marked by frequent shifts between liberalisation and nationalisation.

Similarly, Bangladesh’s stability and policy continuity post-1990 stand out against Pakistan’s political instability.

Part III covers critical social development issues, including poverty, inequality, human development, labour markets and social protection. Chapter 9, authored by Sarah Nizamani, goes into the evolution of poverty and inequality, providing a detailed comparative analysis of how these have changed over time in each country. It highlights the progress made in reducing extreme poverty and examines income and wealth disparities.

Chapter 10, also authored by Sarah Nizamani, focuses on human development, analysing indicators such as literacy rates, life expectancy and government spending on education and healthcare. This chapter underscores the significant strides and ongoing challenges in human development across the three nations.

Chapter 11, also by Nizamani, explores the dynamics of labour markets, including structural changes, sectoral employment patterns and gender disparities in labour force participation. It emphasises the critical role of labour markets in economic transformation and social stability. Chapter 12, authored by Shagufta Shabbar, provides an in-depth analysis of social protection systems, comparing the development and effectiveness of these mechanisms in mitigating poverty and enhancing social security in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Chapter 13, authored by Ishrat Husain, is the concluding chapter. It provides a comprehensive examination of the social and economic progress of these countries since their independence. It covers key themes such as the economic impacts of partition, initial conditions at independence, subsequent economic policies and their outcomes.

The chapter uses a historical-analytical framework and comparative analysis to dissect the developmental trajectories of the three nations, highlighting the significance of understanding their unique and shared pathways amidst geopolitical, social and economic complexities.

It underscores the importance of adaptive economic policies, political stability and globalisation in driving development. It presents a balanced and nuanced discussion on both achievements and shortcomings, making it highly relevant to contemporary discussions on development economics.

Development Pathways: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. 1947-2022

Author: Ishrat Husain

Publisher: Liberty Books, 2024

Pages: 448

Price: Rs 3,495

The reviewer is a tenured associate professor and head of the Department of Economics at COMSATS University Islamabad, Lahore Campus

Tracing divergent paths