Seminar on Pakistan’s Political Economy


The School of Politics and International Relations organised a talk by Dr. Akbar Zaidi, Executive Director, Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi on February 27, 2020 as part of its Seminar Series. The talk was titled, ‘What is Pakistan’s Political Economy and How Do We Study It?’

Dr. Zaidi identified four areas which are crucially linked in assessments of Pakistan’s political economy: the state, socio-economic structure, social change, and foreign policy. Deliberating on the state, Dr. Zaidi argued that Pakistan’s parliament is evolving and learning from past experiences and mistakes. Traditionally, the parliament has remained a subservient institution, however, in recent times political elites and political parties as well as the judiciary are emerging as important power brokers in the political system. On the state, Dr. Akbar alluded to its deteriorating service functions such as collection of taxes leading to a situation whereby only 1% of Pakistan’s population pays direct and progressive income taxes. If an efficient collection of taxes transpires, Pakistan does not need to go to the IMF for bailout packages.

With respect to Pakistan’s socio-economic structure, Dr. Akbar contested the notion that Pakistan is an agricultural economy as agriculture now contributes less than 20% to Pakistan’s GDP. Even the notion of an urban-rural distinction is less relevant today owing to fleeting administrative boundaries and increased interdependence between rural and urban centres. Moreover, people residing in rural areas are less dependent on agriculture for their economic livelihood, rather, they have become a part of the service economy. Dr. Akbar was of the opinion that access to communication and mobile phones in rural areas have led to a major transformation in consumption habits that are akin to peoples and groups residing in urban localities.

On social change, Dr. Akbar reiterated that Pakistan’s society approximates a condition of dynamism in that the social mobilisation of women is transpiring owing to their increasing numbers in schools, colleges and universities as well as jobs and professions. This manifests itself as a major variable because women are relatively better equipped in their education, skills and intellectual capabilities than their male counterparts. In fact, the 2018 elections witnessed the highest number of females voting in elections.

The final part of the talk perspectivised foreign policy and international relations as pivotal to an understanding of Pakistan’s political economy. Dr. Akbar was unequivocal for improved trade and business relations between Pakistan and its neighbours. Citing economic theory, he reiterated that smaller economies can and do hold a comparative advantage when they establish economic relationships with bigger neighbours. In this sense, trade with India is not necessarily detrimental to Pakistan’s economy. Increased trade allows for a healthier national exchequer that can be utilised to cater to essential social services such as health and education. Dr. Akbar commended the present government’s efforts in advocating peace, cooperation and trade ties with India.

The talk was followed by a lively and engaging question and answer session. Dr. Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, Director SPIR, thanked Dr. Akbar for speaking to the students of the School and Ammara Durrani, Visiting Faculty, SPIR for arranging and facilitating the talk. Dr. Siddiqi reiterated that Dr. Akbar’s work challenges and reinterprets conventional assumptions and common sense knowledge that pervades Pakistani state and society and is in this sense original and path-breaking. The session was moderated by Dr. Nazish Mahmood, Assistant Professor, SPIR.