Development as a Security Strategy in Pakistan
Achieving Peace and Prosperity through Social and Economic Empowerment

Interview with Erfa Iqbal
June 22, 2011

Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has promoted his 3Ds (dialogue, development, deterrence) strategy as essential for winning the war on terror in Pakistan. To learn more about Pakistan’s development initiatives, NBR spoke with Dr. Erfa Iqbal, Additional Principal Staff Officer to the Prime Minister. Dr. Iqbal manages and coordinates the development program for Southern Punjab with the aim of addressing extremism by improving the social and economic conditions in the poorest regions. One component of the Development Package includes a focus on projects that promote women’s presence in the workforce via the establishment of industrial units and the promotion of medium-sized enterprises in rural areas through private sector involvement.

Many of the development initiatives you are spearheading in the province of Punjab involve communities that can be characterized as marginalized. How would you describe these communities and their needs?

Southern Punjab is the poorest area of the richest province of Pakistan. Reports by The World Bank and Asian Development Bank describe it as a high poverty area with low rankings in human development and education indices. The region is strategically located, bordering the Khyber Pakhtunkhah province and Afghanistan on its west, and Sindh province and India on its east, and it provides a route to central Punjab on its north.

People in Southern Punjab live in abject poverty. Infrastructure and communication systems are incredibly outdated. Multan, the central city of the region, and home of an ancient civilization, reflects a deplorable picture of deteriorating heritage.

Keeping in mind all of the above factors, Prime Minister Gilani announced a development package to help uplift this area. Announced on May 3, 2008, the timeframe originally planned was a five-year span, but due to unforeseen natural disasters in Pakistan, the government had to divert significant financial resources to flood-effected regions and populations, which came at the cost of curtailing the development budget, and therefore a few projects have been postponed. But our priority projects are well underway and completion of those projects is expected by the end of fiscal year 2011-2012.

What specific schemes are included in the development package, and who administers these projects? What impact are they having and what challenges have arisen?

Projects are executed by relevant federal and provincial departments. The Prime Minister’s office performs the necessary coordination and facilitation. There are two big challenges here. First, the aforementioned budgetary crunch in the federal government has caused several delays in project execution. Second, it is sometimes difficult to get a federally mandated project completed by provincial authorities, as there can be a lack of ownership. But despite these hurdles, achievements have been considerable, and almost all projects have been approved by respective authorities with appropriate funding allocated.

Specifically, the development package includes provisions for infrastructural, educational, and societal development projects like airport upgrades, bridges, bypasses, roads, water and sewage schemes, grid stations, universities, and a Village Product Specialization Initiative.. These projects have given hope to the local populace that their poverty could someday come to an end. Projects currently in progress include an inner city ring road, a motorway, and a women’s employment initiative. Small roads have connected villages to urban markets, while bridges and motorways, once completed, will provide ready access to surrounding districts. The combined effect of all of these projects is the generation of economic activity in Southern Punjab.

The Village Product Specialization Initiative, a unique component of this development plan, provides skill development and employment at the doorstep of rural populations, especially for women. It is interesting to observe that despite their considerable apprehension at the beginning of the project, women in these conservative areas have shown amazing commitment and motivation to join and participate in the workforce.

What unique challenges did you encounter as you set out to engage women in these projects? How have the communities responded to development efforts aimed at employing women in settings outside the home?

This question must be addressed in the context of the particular area that we are talking about. Southern Punjab is quite a conservative area, where females observe pardah, as a cultural, societal, and religious norm. They are traditionally engaged with housework and possess expertise in making village crafts. The concept of leaving their homes to work in a factory is a paradigm shift in their lifestyles.

The acceptance of this development intervention by the communities is much higher than originally anticipated. Multiple factors contribute to this acceptance. First, the industrial units are established close to their villages. Second, females generally come to work in groups and work in segregated environments under female managers. Third, they are encouraged to bring their children along, and in quite a few cases, male family members also work in the same factories. With all of these specially considered factors, the Initiative offers a promising option to provide a fair amount of income and a sustainable livelihood for these women and their families. The products they are manufacturing include hand embroidered fabrics, leather crafts, pottery, yarn, fruit and vegetable juices, and meat products.

Thinking more broadly, what role can women in these kinds of settings play at the family and community levels in promoting and improving health outcomes?

Women have a pivotal role in uplifting the plight of their families as well as the whole community. One of their primary contributions is the maintenance of their health and their family’s health. Women are usually the ones who oversee maternal and child health, general cleanliness, child care, vaccinations, and preventive measures for communicable diseases. Their contribution to the development of children is crucial, as mothers influence the mindsets of their children and play an important role in determining their approach towards life.

Looking at the broader picture, women have an important role to play at the community level. Community Health Workers in Pakistan’s National Lady Health Workers Program are local women who serve the very communities in which they live. With the growing trend of working women in the community, the Lady Health Workers Program will also be expanded to these poorer rural areas, resulting in improved maternal and child health indicators.

Why has Prime Minister Gilani placed this emphasis on development in the 3Ds policy aimed at addressing national security and the war on terror?

In these impoverished areas, a mother’s influence can determine whether children become liberal and tolerant Muslims. A financially independent mother can be a fitting role model for the younger generation and have an effective voice in their upbringing. Another aspect of the connection of women and security concerns derives from the fact that the wives of local religious leaders (their husbands are known as Maulvis) have considerable influence on other females in their communities. They can be a great source or channel to promote and spread an opinion. Their version of Islam, whether more tolerant or more extreme, is accepted by the local women in the area who look to her for religious queries.

The conventional approach of considering peace a prerequisite for prosperity should be reviewed under new global realities. Can we wait to end this current war, and then work on restructuring the affected areas and rehabilitating their people? Or should we plan for the economic uplift of people who live in these areas of extremism, thereby giving them an incentive to lead a comfortable lifestyle—an alternative to serving extremist interests?

Currently, there is a growing trend to acknowledge the importance of hitherto ignored socio-economic issues. In the words of Ayesha Siddiqa,[1] although there has been no direct link established between poverty and terrorism, a large number of people who join militant groups are from the lowest socio-economic class in Pakistan. She reiterates that the areas gaining a reputation as safe havens for terrorist elements are also known areas of high poverty. These regions rank very low in the human development indices of both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. They also rank very low in terms of education.

As a testimony to this view, U.S. financial support to Pakistan through the Kerry-Lugar Bill [2] is focusing on skills development, education, and employment opportunities for people in areas most affected by terrorist activities. Along similar lines, Britain has also shown its resolve to support education and development in Pakistan to prevent young people from falling under the sway of violent and extremist ideologies.

In addition to strong ties between the U.S. and Pakistani governments, concrete efforts should be made to promote people-to-people and business-to-business contacts. These linkages will go a long way in clarifying misperceptions on both sides. A carefully planned strategic plan in this direction would increase the confidence level on both sides over time, and will ultimately help the two governments to successfully move ahead with their strategy on war against terrorism.

What role can the private sector play in partnering with governments to promote local industry and entrepreneurship in a sustainable way? How have you seen this role play out in your work?

A vibrant private sector is the lynchpin for sustainable business processes. In my opinion, governments have no business doing business. Their role should be limited to policy and regulation. Markets have to be taken care of by the private sector. This is what happens in developed economies, and emerging markets should follow suit.

The projects designed by the Pakistani government for remote areas were a public-private partnership model. There was an initial concern that the private sector would not come forward to invest in such poverty-stricken areas. But on the contrary, to avail itself of the incentives provided by the government, the private sector has shown immense interest in the initiative; in fact, there is fierce competition among private parties for various projects. It is a win-win situation in which the private sector benefits from the government; while on the other hand, the government receives multiple benefits from developing the country’s private sector–poverty alleviation, rural uplift, women’s empowerment, and ultimately countering terrorism through economic revival.

Looking to the future, what do you see as the appropriate role for partnerships between governments, local communities, and foreign aid donors in this arena? How might this landscape shift over the next decade?

As I already said, the government must take the lead, even while limiting its role to policy and regulation. Local communities are also major players. Their acceptance of the development concept is vital for its success. Therefore, the project proposal must be compatible with the culture and traditions of the particular area.

Foreign aid donors should largely rethink their strategies. For instance, the economic revival approach of foreign aid donors is mainly focused on micro businesses. This intervention, though quite important, must be supplemented by the promotion of medium-sized enterprises, which engage more people and thus result in a greater tangible impact.

If the concept of providing skills and employment to local communities through public-private partnership ventures gains ground, it could lead to significant economic revival of remote areas. Its multiple effects will range from small- to mid-level entrepreneurial development to national economic growth. With an improved financial situation, social indicators are bound to be positively affected.

It is time to change perspectives. To overcome the economic, social, and security challenges, both small- and medium-enterprises can play a significant role. Appropriate partnerships are required between the government, the private sector, local communities, and foreign aid agencies to introduce innovation in the promotion of conventional enterprises through R&D, the university-industry nexus, skill development, and market-based product development. Socio-economic priorities must be given their due share in policymaking.


[1] Ayesha Siddiqa is the author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy (Pluto Press, 2007).

[2] The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, known more commonly as the “Kerry-Lugar Bill,” authorized a non-military aid package in the form of annual appropriations with specific attached conditions, to Pakistan. Source: “Public Law 111-73: Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.” (123 Stat. 2060; Date: 10/15/09). Text from: United States Public Laws. Available from: ProQuest® Congressional; Accessed 6/9/11.

This interview was conducted by Karuna Luthra, Senior Project Manager in the NBR Center for Health and Aging.