Dr. Nasim Ashraf, Pakistan’s Minister of State and chairman of the National Commission for Human Development.

Although Pakistan is plagued by widespread economic inequality, security concerns, and political uncertainties, the country is also ripe to undergo a significant social and economic transformation. This was the theme of a public presentation by Dr. Nasim Ashraf, Minister of State and chairman of Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Development, during a December 8th Asia Program meeting.

Pakistan, according to Ashraf, has recently begun to devote more resources to human development. The authorities have been driven, in part, by recent studies that suggest that increased social and economic development weakens domestic support for terrorism. Moreover, the government’s initiative reflects the belief that human development not only reduces instability, but also adds to economic productivity. Unfortunately, the elements for sufficient human development, like education and health, have long been neglected in Pakistan. However, the current government now possesses the political will to address the myriad human development issues in Pakistan.

Ashraf proceeded to outline the challenges Pakistan presently faces in improving human development, and profiled the strategies employed to deal with these problems. At the center of Pakistan’s strategy for addressing its developmental challenges is the National Commission for Human Development. The Commission seeks to bring all stakeholders together and introduce private sector “best practices” to solve development issues. To assure a lasting effect, the Commission has been using inexpensive, sustainable strategies in addressing health and education issues.

The Commission has resolved to put every child in school, eradicate female illiteracy, and promote the study of English. In keeping with its high-sustainability, low-cost strategy, the government is spending money not simply on brick-and-mortar projects, but on intensive teacher training and schoolbooks. Similarly inexpensive strategies are used to address health issues; encouraging education, use of clean water, and immunizations will prevent 80% of the country’s diseases. In another area, the government is offering small monetary payments to mullahs who integrate population control discussions into their Friday sermons. Ashraf noted that the Commission is relying heavily on volunteerism, which he suggests provides the backbone needed for expediting social change, and focusing on indigenous local solutions. Moderate, incremental change is necessary for lasting change in Pakistan.

Dr. Ashraf suggested that madrassas—which have been linked to terrorist organizations—need not be destroyed, but reinvented. Madrassas have served an important role over the past 25 years by filling the gaps in public education, and in his judgment can continue to be useful today. These schools, he maintained, are quite eager to become more mainstream. Ashraf cited a June 2001 survey that found 85 percent of madrassa leaders are interested in introducing modern subjects—computer science, math, and English—into their curricula. Ashraf insisted, however, that these schools must be dealt with in a sensitive way. Madrassas do not want U.S. funding, nor overt government control. They are very interested, however, in infrastructure, teachers, and computers. Modifying these traditional schools is, in Ashraf’s view, an integral part of the overall strategy Pakistan must employ to reinvent Pakistani society and successfully address its human development needs.

Robert M. Hathaway, Director, Asia Program, 202/691-4012
Drafted by Timothy Hildebrandt, Program Assistant, 202/691-4057