Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Tale of Two Countries: Brazil and Pakistan

A Tale of Two Countries
Ahmad Faruqui

In terms of population, both Brazil and Pakistan are similarly sized, being home to 180-200 million people. About ten percent of their population resides in their largest city -- Sao Paulo and Karachi respectively. A large river is an integral part of the landscape, the Amazon in Brazil and the Indus in Pakistan. The economies of both are heavily dependent on agriculture.

People in each country are obsessed with a major world sport, football in one case and cricket in the other. There are severe income inequalities in both countries and urban crime is not uncommon. Each country built a capital city from scratch, Brasilia in one case and Islamabad in the other. Both were colonized by European powers centuries ago, one by the Portuguese and the other by the British. Both have a history of military rule and nuclear weapons development. And both have suffered from widespread corruption in governments.

One would think the two countries would share a similar destiny. But that is hardly the case. Brazil has been a functioning democracy since 1985. By 2003, its economy had transformed to the point that Goldman Sachs bracketed it with Russia, India and China as the four developing countries that would dominate the world by 2050, coining the acronym BRICs.

Reflecting this insurgence, the World Cup for soccer will be held in Brazil in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016. Even prior to these events being staged, the beaches of Rio, the beat of the Samba and the gigantic waterfalls on the Iguacu had drawn millions of tourists from around the globe.

The Economist magazine ran a 14-page special issue last November featuring an iconic image of Rio on the cover captioned, “Brazil Takes Off.” And no where is this phenomenon more evident than in the field of agriculture where indigenous research and development has really paid off:

Oil was discovered offshore in 2007 and this could soon make Brazil a net exporter of oil. Forecasts vary, but sometime in the next ten to fifteen years, Brazil is likely to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, overtaking Britain and France. By 2025 São Paulo will be the world’s fifth-wealthiest city. There are no such projections for Pakistan, which is on the verge of a melt-down along its myriad fault lines.

In Brazil, the races have inter-married and are living happily together. You see people with African skin color, blond hair and blue eyes. Religious violence is not visible, if it is there at all. Brazil has figured out how to live in peace with its ten neighbors and ended its nuclear weapons program years ago. The military has zero visibility on the streets.

At one point, the Brazilian economy was wracked with hyperinflation which ran as high as 2489 percent annually. Its economists introduced a new currency, the Real, denoted as R$, in 1994 and a fiscal austerity program to go with it. The problem was solved. During the recent global economic recession, Brazil has continued to grow. Its aerospace giant, Embraer, manufactures civilian aircraft that are flown by US carriers routinely.

Of course, Brazil is no Utopia. It is still very much a developing country, faced with widespread poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. Any visitor to the country cannot fail to notice the shanty towns that dot the urban landscape, interminable traffic jams, ATM machines that will not take US debit cards and myriad infrastructure bottlenecks.

As for Pakistan, the only time it gets covered in the world media is when something really bad happens. For the past two decades, it has been the poster child of religious and political violence. More recently, the news media have covered the massive floods which have affected a fifth of the population. Here is a recent piece by Steve Coll from the New Yorker:

Once again, the government of Pakistan has failed to deliver. It has not redeemed itself by helping the millions whose lives have been affected by the flood. When asked about the ineptness of the government’s response, its ambassador in Washington expressed confidence that, once again, Pakistan will muddle through. When the president of Pakistan was asked whether the floods had created a national security threat, he said that in its current state no one would want to take the country.

Even the news about Pakistani cricket is colored with a negative spin:

Why did Brazil succeed and Pakistan fail? That should be the topic for some future conference and much introspection among the Pakistani Diaspora.

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Educational Gaps Limit Brazil’s Reach - New York Times
Human Development Report 2009 - Brazil: UNDP
Petrobras Seeks $65 Billion From Share Sale - WSJ

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