Category Archives: South Asia

What’s Stopping Pakistan from Reaping its Demographic Dividend?

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Photo: Dawn

“In the absence of adequate job creation by the public or private sectors, it is more important to enhance financial inclusion, which can help create greater opportunities for self-employment instead of salaried employment.” Tameer Microfinance Bank CEO Nadeem Hussain

Pakistan is one of the top ten most populous countries in the world. Youth make up over 36 percent of the Pakistani labor force, and that proportion is projected to rise to 50 percent by 2050. According to the World Bank there will be 1.7 million Pakistanis entering the country’s labor force every year, yet, worryingly, the Pakistan labor force survey also finds that over 3.7 million people are currently unemployed. The yearly upsurge in the unemployment rate is putting additional weight on the shoulders of the Pakistan government. The government must reassess and make needed reforms in order to change the current trajectory and allow Pakistan to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend.

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Exploring the Connections Between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Democracy

This post is Part 1 in a series.

CIPE’s focus both on how economic growth strengthens democracy, and on how sound democratic institutions are needed to make an economy function smoothly, directly bears on women’s political and economic empowerment in South Asia. In March 2015, CIPE staff participated in a conference in Delhi entitled “Strengthening Democracy in Asia: Inclusion, Participation and Rights,” organized by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the World Movement for Democracy, the Asia Democracy Network, and the Institute of Social Sciences.

As one of the four core institutes of the NED, CIPE was invited to organize a panel at the conference, and selected the issue of the links among women’s economic empowerment, women’s entrepreneurship, and democracy. CIPE invited five key members of its network of South Asian women’s chambers and associations to share their views as the panelists, with CIPE’s Regional Director for Eurasia and South Asia, Marc Schleifer, moderating.

Their conversation explored the ways in which CIPE’s work at the intersection of economic development and democracy ties into women’s issues in a challenging region. This post will be the first of six reflecting on CIPE’s panel at the conference, and is intended to spur a deeper conversation of these issues. Each entry in this series will build on the stories of the key members of CIPE’s South Asian network, illuminated by the questions that Schleifer posed during the panel to these South Asian leaders, as follows:

  1. In what ways do private enterprise and entrepreneurship help spark economic empowerment for women and lead to improved political participation among women?
  2. What are some motivating factors that encourage women to move beyond growing their businesses to start civil society organizations, in order to give back to other women?
  3. Why is it important to focus on scaling women-owned businesses, and in what ways is access to finance and policy change a part of that scaling process?
  4. How do these women’s business organizations approach the issue of policy advocacy? What kinds of policy challenges do women in business in your countries face? And how are your organizations working to tackle those issues?

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Pakistan’s Cyber Crime Bill Has Free Speech Advocates and Business Community Worried

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“The proposed Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2015, in my opinion, is even worse than the one we advocated against during the Musharraf era.  The fact that the Ministry of IT&T felt the need to operate in complete secrecy over the past year clearly indicates the mindset with which this draft has been put together. P@SHA, ISPAK, legal cybercrime experts and civil society were not called in for a consultation.”
– Jehan Ara, President Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT and ITES (P@SHA)

Pakistan has a long history of suppressing the freedom of speech. Democratically elected governments have left the popular video site YouTube blocked since 2012. Twitter was blocked in the same year and in 2010 a court order forced government to block every social media site in the country on the pretext of preventing the distribution of blasphemous content.

Even with this background, the current government’s “Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015” has civil society, business, the information technology sector, and the media deeply worried about the future of online freedom of speech and Pakistan’s information technology industries.

The proposed bill aims to rectify the lack of legislation pertaining to cyber-crime. While the government argues that the bill had undergone a public consultative process, stakeholders are of the view that since government has not shared the final version of the bill, it may contain clauses that will infringe upon the right to online speech. Representatives of Pakistan’s information technology sector have strongly criticized previous drafts of the bill.

“Just a quick look at the clauses and sections in this Act shows that very little thought went into its drafting,” said Jehan Ara, president of P@SHA. “The definitions are weak, the language is loose and vague and leaves much to interpretation, and it criminalizes all sorts of activities that do not even fall within the gambit of this Bill.”

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7th All-Pakistan Secretary Generals’ Conference 2015

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By Huzaifa Shabbir Hussain and Emad Sohail

“I am always proud to be a part of the Secretary Generals Conferences that have created tremendous impact in the working and improving the efficiency of the participating Chambers and Associations in Pakistan. In every conference we learn new and innovative ideas and exchange experiences with each other that provide us the opportunity to implement best practices in our respective organizations. In fact, these conferences through the rich experience and guidance of mentors like “Hammad Siddique” act as “Change Agent” that develop “out of the box thinking” to think creatively for efficient working.” – Majid Shabbir, Secretary General, Islamabad Chamber of Commerce & Industry

 “The role of trade associations, chambers of commerce, large corporations and the business groups in the economic development had become an important area of research.”  Shahid Khalil Secretary General Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry

“I feel very lucky that I got an opportunity to become part of this group, this event provides us guidance as an institution that help us in resolving all matters regarding our business association.”  Khurshid Anwar, The Vehari Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

The 7th Annual Secretary Generals conference was held on April 13-14 this year and was attended by 22 participants who gathered in Lahore from various parts on the country. The two-day event is considered a flagship event because of its strategic importance in creating a network and platform of private sector leaders who learn from each other and discuss new ideas and visions for the future.

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China and Pakistan’s All-Weather Friendship

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Huma Sattar is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. This post originally appeared at The Diplomat.

Much to the befuddlement of the rest of the world – and as ironic as it is – Communist China and Islamic Pakistan are fast friends. It’s all hail to China in Pakistan and as other partnerships wither and die, these two countries continue to devote energy to strengthening their relationship. China has historically come to Pakistan’s rescue with economic, political, military and nuclear assistance and perhaps what was once a relationship founded on a mutual disillusionment with India has moved toward one with more aspirational intentions on both sides.

It would appear that Pakistan has been the greater beneficiary of this friendship – from military to economic assistance, China has stood by Pakistan, but is the friendship really that sustainable? Andrew Small from the German Marshall Fund certainly seems to think so. An Asia expert, Small recently published a book examining what he calls the unusual nature of the secretive relationship between China and Pakistan and argues that it is much more promising than Pakistan’s erratic ties with the U.S. And indeed, history supports this. On a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured Islamabad that China and Pakistan were in sync on all matters and have an “iron-clad” understanding between them, one that has taken years to hone and fortify.

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Building a Network of Change-Makers in South Asia

South Asia regional economic network members

In late January, CIPE held its sixth in a series of capacity building and networking workshops in Colombo for its South Asia regional network of women’s business associations, which includes organizations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. When CIPE began to work with this group of women business leaders two years ago, the sessions focused primarily on issues such as board governance, strategic planning, staff and financial management, membership development, and services for members.

But between training modules, discussion often turned to the challenges facing women entrepreneurs in their countries, including policy barriers that tend to create a business environment unfriendly to women. Thus, CIPE always knew that eventually, the focus of the program must turn to advocacy for policy reform.

As a result, CIPE increasingly began to raise issues of policy – and policy advocacy – in the context of the training sessions. Then, last summer, CIPE awarded four women’s associations in three countries small grants by CIPE to carry out pilot, four-month advocacy projects.

One point that had frequently arisen in the training program was a lack of understanding of the complexities of policy advocacy, such as: identifying issues of concern to members; developing concrete policy proposals and specific recommendations to tackle those issues; the hard work involved in reaching out to policymakers; the need to broadly engage the media, association members, and the general public; and the need to track results and assess the impact of advocacy initiatives.

Moreover, the countries where the advocacy initiatives took place – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – are challenging environments. During the four months that these organizations were implementing their small grants, each country faced political turbulence that may have shaken the resolve of less dedicated change-makers.

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Holding Pakistan’s Government Accountable on Tax Reform

Pakistan collects far less tax (as a percentage of GDP) than most countries. (Chart: Dawn)

Pakistan collects far less tax (as a percentage of GDP) than most countries. So far the PML(N) government has not been able to significantly increase the tax ratio. (Chart: Dawn)

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML (N)) government is completing its second year in power on May 11, 2015. It is astonishing to observe that the accountability process for democratically elected government has improved significantly.

Under a CIPE grant, the first such public accountability process was initiated by Policy Research Institute for Market Economy (PRIME), an independent think tank based in Islamabad. PRIME started a simple exercise by taking concrete promises from PMLN’s economic platform and, through a scientifically designed scoring process, monitoring the government’s performance under three key sections: Economic Revival, Energy Security, and Social Protection. These sections were further divided into 82 sub-categories.

The report is widely accepted as an unbiased measure of the government’s performance. The report received significant coverage in local media, both print and television. PRIME Executive Director Ali Salman suggests that “IMF Staff Mission assessment of Pakistan’s economic situation and reforms have many agreements with PRIME’s Tracking Report.”

The accountability process has recently moved to the next level, as the government’s Standing Committee on Finance publically accused the PML (N) government of making decisions on taxation measures in isolation, without taking the Standing Committee in confidence.

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