Rising Pakistan by Kwak Sung-kyu


In recent years, the annual economic growth of India has increased by around seven percent. This trend is expected to keep going, partly as Prime Minister Modi, who won the general election last May, would try to lead India to greater economic success. And India is to stand along with the United States and China as one of the biggest economies in the world within the near future.

The economic growth of its neighboring country, Bangladesh, is also astonishing, with the increase in rates at seven percent. In his book The End of Poverty, Jeffery Sachs analyzed that Bangladesh has already made its first step on the ladder out of poverty in 2005. Together with the two countries in the Indian subcontinent, will Pakistan also be emerging?


Pakistan has many obstacles to overcome and, at a glance, there are many miles to go. Various groups of terrorists, such asthose who fled American and international security forces in Afghanistan, as well as home-grown terrorists carried out countless attacks in Pakistan. More than 64,000 people were killed by these attacks between 2002 and 2018. The Pakistani government has steadfastly waged the war on terrorism. The Korean Embassy in Islamabad has also prepared against possible terrorist attacks by installing a Hesco barrier outside the walls and putting anti-explosion films on the windows. In addition to the ongoing war on terrorism, Pakistan and India has had territorial disputes in Kashmir since the countries’ independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. Last February, the two countries engaged in aerial border skirmishes, which fortunately did not escalate into a greater war. Geopolitically Pakistan is located at the cross-road of the hegemonic rivalry between the Indo-Pacific Strategy presented by the United States and One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI) put forth by China. The Financial Times expressed concern of excessive reliance on China by Pakistan, especially with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects booming as a part of China’s BRI. The diplomatic circles in Islamabad frequently talk about the lack of the ‘rule of law’ in the Pakistan society and are concerned about inefficiency in their bureaucratic administration.


Despite the hardships presented in its path to economic success, Pakistan has arrived at a turning point with the new government. In July 2018, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a minor political party, led by Imran Khan, a national cricket hero, won the general election. Following through with the PTI’s ‘Naya Pakistan’ (new Pakistan) policy to create a corruption-free country, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) took on corruption cases of five former prime ministers and arrested the previous one. The leaders of the opposition parties were not exempt from the NAB investigations, and a significant number of high-ranking officials were investigated and arrested. The new government is making huge efforts to overcome the economic crisis, successfully making arrangements for financial assistance from Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., China and recently, Qatar, and reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the bail-out program. Other ways of economic rehabilitation include boosting exports, attracting foreign investment, training and sending workers overseas, and promoting tourism. Reforms are also on their way in social and educational aspects, and in public health. AnatolLieven discusses in his book, Pakistan, a Hard Country, that many competent officials educated in the United Kingdom provide strength to the Pakistani government, and its capability to recover immediately from crises, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks proves the country’s resilience.


South Korean companies have been collaborating with Pakistan in multiple projects. Lotte Group has been investing in various fields in Pakistan, such as chemicals, confectionary, and beverage manufacture, as well as engineering and construction. Also, the first highway connecting Islamabad and Lahore, the M2, was built by a Korea company in 1997. More recently, Korean companies constructed a fewhydroelectric power plants in Pakistan, and plan to build four to five more. Korean enterprises are pursuing further cooperation in the fields of railway transportation, Information Technology, agriculture, education, and public health. For example, when I visited the Balochistan province, the Chief Minister showed interest in learning from Korea’s cage fishing technology to implement in the province. And I read an article about how in Pakistan, the death sentence rulings are often withdrawn due to insufficient evidence, which means there is an opportunity to employ more advanced criminal forensic techniques through cooperation with Korea.


Korea and Pakistan share a history of economic hardship. In the last 50 years, Korea has shown economic growth and achieved democratization through hard struggles. Likewise, Pakistan is expected to experience great economic growth over the next few decades. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ longer term view of global economic prospects, Pakistan’s economy is forecasted to rank at 20th in 2030, and at 16th in 2050, surpassing that of Korea. Pakistan will perhaps walk a similar path as Korea has trodden and is calling out for cooperation with Korea. Now is the time for Korea to proactively respond to it.


The writer is Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in Pakistan.

This column was put on the Seoul Economic Daily on June 14th, 2019 in the Korean language.