It is easy to become cynical about Pakistan at times, but there are many things in the country that are still going right, such as the fact that, slowly but surely, the average Pakistani is growing richer. The latest confirmation of that is the news that per capita gross domestic product crossed the $1,500 mark this year. While that number unto itself does not hold any economic significance, it is nonetheless an important psychological barrier for the nation to cross. The underlying data within the news also showed some promise. In nominal rupee terms, Pakistan’s per capita income increased 7.5 per cent over the past year. Given that inflation has been around 4.8 per cent this past year, this translates into a 2.6 per cent increase in purchasing power of the average Pakistani in real terms. That increase is not high when compared with the stellar records of India and China, but it is certainly better than our more recent record and, one hopes, is a prelude to better things to come.
Yet, even as we celebrate our nation’s increasing prosperity, we must take care to ensure that it is a broad-based prosperity in which all segments of society have the opportunity to share. One of the most distressing statistics about income inequality in Pakistan is not the absolute levels of it (which are actually low by global standards), but the fact that the poorest 20 per cent of households in Pakistan have almost never been able to out-earn inflation in absolute terms, according to data published in the Household Integrated Economic Survey. That means that, in real terms, the poor have consistently become poorer relative to the rest of the nation, even as certain sections of Pakistani society have continued their march into the global middle class.
More than any other segment of society, it is these compatriots of ours who deserve our help and the government’s resources and attention. Programmes like the Benazir Income Support Programme are a good start, but we need to ensure that the poor have access to schools, hospitals and other infrastructure to allow them to participate in the prosperity that has thankfully begun to touch many parts of Pakistan. As we mature as a democracy, we must ensure that we never let the least privileged of us get left behind.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2015.