Prediction is a tough business, but complex, layered analytics tools and indices have emerged that aim to arm policymakers with an appropriately useful imagining of near futures.
A new study, produced by an independent Pakistani group as part of a global project, offers an opportunity to shift the focus of analysis from the country’s troubled present to a near-term future that provides a more nuanced view.
Produced by the Pakistan Foresight Initiative, based at Agahi in Islamabad, which is part of the Millennium Project think tank, the “Pakistan State of Future Index” (P-SOFI) report unseats the conventional perspective of a country falling apart at the seams due to political and economic turbulence.
While acknowledging the inherent weaknesses of the political and governance systems, the report submits that Pakistan maintains a growth by the index standard and has demonstrated a fight back against terrorism and natural disasters to keep the pace.
The scenario that P-SOFI outlines is a hopeful one and it suggests that, with appropriate modifications, chances are high that Pakistan will become a stable growth state over the next decade.
The index is an indication of a 10-year outlook for the future based on historical data of selected variables for the previous two decades. It includes judgments about the best and worst case scenarios for each variable, with aggregates that indicate a potential trend of the future.
There is a slim chance that Pakistan’s growth trajectory, in keeping with its potential, will be derailed, the report says. The confidence that the results of the study — which analyzes social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends — has in Pakistan’s immediate future and the burden of the near future outcomes is premised on activism of the citizenry, particularly the tech-savvy, expanding middle class that aspires for a better life.
The predictions of the P-SOFI study are not the only source inspiring confidence in the prospects for Pakistan’s near future.
Pakistan is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and its digital landscape is no different from other countries, Elias Markopoulos, an international expert in strategic digital communications analysis, said in Karachi last week.
Foresight initiative outlines a hopeful scenario and suggests chances are high that nation will be a stable growth state over the next decade.
Pakistan’s technological growth has been tremendous; of a population of 195 million, there are currently 35 million internet users (18 percent) and 31 million active social media users (16 percent). Over 140 million have mobile phones, of which 45 million have smartphones and 40 million use 3G and 4G services. More than 28 million now access social media from their phones. Experts estimate the total value of e-commerce in Pakistan will cross the $1 billion mark by 2020.
“These are remarkable numbers. The use of the internet and the advancement in mobile technology has triggered a change in Pakistan. Individuals have become influencers — influence is about authenticity, credibility, access to information and the drive to empower others,” Markopoulos said.
If that was not enough, Pakistan is all set to emerge as the first nation in South Asia to introduce 5G internet services in 2020, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority in its annual report issued last month.
The 5G connectivity is already being tested. It says 87 percent of Pakistan’s population is covered by cellular mobile networks, of which 70 percent are covered by 3G and 30 percent by 4G.
Apart from digital connectivity improving lives, Pakistan is seeing an unprecedented boom in businesses. According to business regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan last week, the total number of registered companies in the country has reached 84,201, following the incorporation of 881 new firms in November 2017 — a growth of 40 percent over the same period last year.
This massive increase in the number of new companies is the direct result of various economic reform measures.
Next year’s general election, a new government and a smooth transfer of power between two elected governments — the first time this will happen consecutively in Pakistan’s history — is expected to provide the right political impetus to underpin the social and economic development that is already underway. The short-term future definitely looks brighter for Pakistan.
• Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science. Twitter: @adnanrehmat1