The Economics Profession in Pakistan

Excerpt from a larger study from

Nadeem Ul Haque and Mahmmod Hasan Khan

It is common knowledge that at independence, we did not inherit a large stock of professionals in any field. Even today, we have not taken stock of professional development in Pakistan. There are no analyses that are available of any profession to see how we developed from what we inherited. Such an analysis is important to see whether the development is proceeding along healthy lines or not. It is in this spirit that I have tried to develop a history of the economics profession in Pakistan.

At independence, there were hardly any economists in Pakistan. The most prominent of these were Anwar Iqbal Qureshi and M. L . Qureshi. The latter was, in fact, teaching chemistry in Delhi University at the time of partition. But he had been interested in economics and had taken and M.A. in economics privately because of his passing interest in the subject. Independence offered him a new opportunity and he became Pakistan's first chief economist. In education, the only well known economist was S. M. Akhtar who wrote the text books in the sixties that many young Pakistanis had to plow through in college.

The First Push

There were two attempts to develop some economists in the first years of the country's history. At the State Bank, the first governor, Zahid Husain initiated a program whereby economists were attracted to the bank and offered a career. Some of them were even sent overseas for a Ph.D. As Haq and Baqai note, "the first generation of economists in Pakistan was trained in the remarkable tradition of the State Bank of Pakistan." At the same time, the government also established overseas training scholarships which were used by some economists. Moeen Qureshi and Aziz Ali Mohammed were among those who got trained in this period. Both of them were attracted away by the International Monetary Fund and as we all know they had highly successful careers in the Breton woods institutions. However, the interesting point to note is that the country was not able to hold on to them or even attract them back.

The HAG Era: "The First Crop"

The main crop of economists is harvested with the advent of the Harvard Advisory group (HAG) (later Harvard Institute for International Development) into Pakistan. As is well known, this group virtually designed our economic policy and vision in the Ayub era. They had the strong support of the international aid community and of key institutions such as the World Bank. Their vision for Pakistan also included a large infrastructure for the development of economics and economics in Pakistan. They developed the Planning Commission of Pakistan and the Pakistan Institute of Development economics which did indeed house some of our most eminent economists in the fifties and sixties. Primed by the desire to catalyze growth and development rapidly, the HAG thinking underlying these institutions was to quickly develop some policy analysis units that could be appended to the government. The framework of the time envisioned government to be altruistic wishing only good things for the population. All that was needed was the economic expertise that could be grafted in this manner.

The HAG advisors arranged to develop some economists for the role that they had designed for them. They took back to Harvard several economists from these institutions to study for various degrees. They also arranged for several others to go to other prestigious places such as Princeton, Yale etc. In this period we see several of our luminaries being trained. Mahbub ul Haq, Sartaj Aziz, Jawaid Azfar all obtain their Ph.D.'s in this wave. The country developed several visible economists who still loom large on our economics profession.

Distorted Development of the Profession

However, the HAG vision was flawed in three respects and sowed the seeds of the distorted development of the economics profession in these three respects. First, it did not attempt to develop an economics profession that was rooted in the country. They left the universities and colleges in a state of neglect attracting resources to these new non-academic, semi-bureaucratic institutions and attempted to give them the lead in the profession. Without the seed of the pure profession being nurtured and jealously guarded in academia, the profession was bound to have a distorted growth. Second, the HAG trained economists were very different from the economists of the time. The HAG training was very development oriented and specific to Pakistan. They were not encouraged to do any theoretical or pioneering research. Third, given the importance of HAG and the new institutions and the symbiotic relationship between these institutions and the bureaucratic and political setup of the time, these HAG trained economists acquired a large and visible role in the economy. These visible economists not only played an important role in Pakistan's history but also distorted the country's perception of an economist, the economics profession and economic policy.

To drive all these ideas home, let us contrast these economists with the Indian economists of the time. First, all major Indian economists (e.g. Bhagwati, Sen, Srinavasan) are all rooted in their academic institutions having taught at home and in major universities overseas. Second, they have engaged in theoretical and fundamental research, and not just development economic and have published widely in major academic journals and not just on India. Third, they have limited visibility, other than through their international prominence. Interestingly, the Indian economics profession matured in the seventies in the sense that they had developed to a stage where the domestic institutions had reached a level of self-perpetuation where its products are internationally recognized. The implicit hypothesis that is being tested here is that had the HAG vision been based on rooting the profession on sound academic lines in academic institutions in the country, perhaps Pakistan would have seen a wholesome development of the profession.

Only a footnote on the academic economist is needed here to complete the picture. All that needs to be said is that there was no serious economist in academia. But that is not surprising given that, by design, academia was ignored.

Ideas planted by the HAG trained economists

By design, the HAG group was interventionist, plan and budget allocation oriented. They mistrusted the market and had the arrogance of having more information than the market and the rest of society. Interestingly enough, the HAG training of development economics was collapsing on itself. Because these people had no behavioral relationships in mind and no faith in markets, they did not merely push policy levers and study response lags and dynamics. Instead, they developed lengthy plans or wish lists and used the bureaucratic structures to control the environment to make these plans happen. This control-oriented and market-mistrusting civil service loved this new intellectual force given to their view.

A second element in the thinking of the HAG economist was the concern with inequality. Haq and Baqai (1986), two important economists of the HAG era, note with concern that "early writing on economics in Pakistan surprisingly did not contain much reference to poverty related themes." It is very interesting that most of the early econometric or behavioral research is done mainly by the HAG advisor, whereas the work on measuring poverty, productivity (the ratio calculation work) is done by the Pakistani economist. Before anything about the economy was understood, poverty indices, regional inequality indices, and declines in real wages (when hard wage data was hardly available) were the main areas of concern.

The manner in which these economists were trained itself created a certain perception of economists in the country which lasts till today. These economists were trained to be policy-oriented development economists. A sharp distinction was made between such economists and those who studied more theoretical and academic economics. The erroneous impression was unintendedly cultivated that the study of theory or more rigorous economics is of limited use to the country. Such a pursuit was considered a luxury that the country could ill-afford. This view has persisted and developed over time and reinforced the perception that to be a good economist for Pakistan a grounding in economic theory is not only not required but perhaps may even be a hindrance. The result is that there is a tremendous disrespect for academic and theoretical economics. The term "ivory tower" intellectual was used to describe anyone who attempted to read and keep abreast of academic economics. Instead, an amalgam of general knowledge and mild development verbiage has been established as sound Pakistani development economics.' Fragmentation of the Profession

By the late sixties, the HAG era was ending and fragmentation in the nascent economics profession was already visible. The lead in the academic field was being taken by the Bengali economists who were increasingly getting enamored of inequality, poverty and regional inequities. The West Pakistani economist was following the HAG design and were totally enmeshed with the civil service and the political scene developing plans and budgets. The Bengalis were marginalized from this and were heading off in the direction of laying the ideological and economics foundations for the emerging state of Bangladesh. The State Bank group was confined to the Bank but was being frustrated by the relative lack of importance of the bank and monetary policy and the civil service domination of the bank. The possibility of an independent and professional bank had become even more remote. By the seventies, the HAG trained economists had been marginalized by the civil service. Pakistan's first crop of economists used their international development contacts to retreat to the international agencies where as we all know they had sterling careers. Interestingly enough, it is at this stage that the first crop of Pakistani academic economists emerges and not through the government or donor inspired scholarship schemes but through individual career choice. Academics, like Ali Khan, Mahmood Khan and Mohsin Khan start publishing in overseas journals and some even get prestigious university appointments in the US. However, given the lack of academic institutions, incentives and academic respectability, all of them stay abroad. Efforts to return are thwarted by the local academic bureaucracy who has entrenched itself in the educational institutions in the country.

The new professionals who are not large in number. There are in all about 20 Pakistanis who have really seriously published and achieved a modicum of respectability in the academic world. They are to be contrasted with the continuing development and HAG tradition in Pakistan of acquiring a doctorate and then doing high profile and catchy things in newspapers in Pakistan. Sadly enough some younger people are still continuing in that tradition and they use every means at their disposal to decry the profession that they practice by making claims like "much of it may not be applicable," and "theory is only for advanced societies." The old HAG divide continues.

To gauge the extent of the fragmentation in the profession, I conducted the following two investigations:

 First, I surveyed the new professionals to find out what sort of contact they had had with the first crop of Pakistani economists. The answer was uniformly "no professional contact." In addition, many of them also said that, if ever, they too met the first crop either patronized them or found some innuendo to deride them (e.g., "when are you going to get off your ivory tower and do some real work"). None of them felt comfortable with the contact noting that the first crop claimed hierarchical privilege and felt very uncomfortable with an equal debate of issues. The culture of Pakistan too, does not help for age can often interpret a difference of opinion as rudeness. This claim often prevented dialogue.

 Second, in looking at the development of professions and professionals in more advanced societies, I see that much of skill transfer takes place through mentoring by senior professionals of junior professionals (apprentices). All the new professionals denied that they had received any mentoring from the first crop. In fact, many of them found the first crop to be unapproachable. More interestingly, upon searching, I could not find any professionals that the first crop had mentored.


The building of an edifice on weak foundations is extremely difficult. Unfortunately, Pakistan did not inherit a tradition of learning and research. That in itself was a difficult obstacle to overcome. But it was capped by the advent of ideas from the donor development expert that did not root the academic profession in the cradle that would regenerate it--the academic institution. Instead, they created the visible, development economist of Pakistan. These development economists have been seeking a political role and have contributed nothing to the development of the economics profession in Pakistan. They have always displayed an impatience for growth and development. It is not surprising that missed out on the fundamental truth in theoretical economics that economic development is not mere "plan allocations" but human skill development. After all they have no respect for the "ivory tower" intellectual. If only all Pakistani professionals will seek to develop deep and broad professions in their own respective fields, development will occur. Economic development will be the sum total (and may be even more) of the development of these professions.