An Architect Of Change: Mehboob Ul Haq

Posted on August 4, 2011 in Specials

By Waleed Tariq:

Development economics is a branch of economics which deals with the economic aspects of the development process in low-income or third world countries. Since it birth as a discipline, it has produced a number of people who have set an example for others through their policies and research work. Dr. Mehboob Ul Haq is one of them whose works in the field have had a global impact.

Mehboob Ul Haq, one of Pakistan’s best known economists was born in pre-partition Punjab in 1934. “As a young teenager he saw the turmoil and massacres associated with the partition of 1947: his own family narrowly escaped being butchered. The nature of sectarian violence left a lasting impression on the mind of this young boy. His total rejection of sectarianism, bigotry and social hatred played a major part in the development of his Universalist outlook, including his passionate belief in the importance of “equality of life chances” for all, as the guiding principle behind his global reports” writes Amartya Sen, his long-life friend.
After completing his early education, he attended Government College, Lahore and King’s College, London for his secondary education. He later enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge after which he went to Yale for a degree and a doctorate in Economics. In Cambridge he befriended Amartya Sen and Man Mohan Singh.

Subsequent to some post doctoral work at Harvard, Haq returned to Pakistan and became the chief economist of Pakistan’s Planning Commission at a remarkably young age. Amartya Sen in his article ‘Obituary’ writes “Despite being, inevitably, a pillar of establishment, Haq retained his healthy skepticism of the process of planning of which he was in charge”.
In early 1960’s, he wrote his first book with a far reaching and wide ranging analysis ‘The strategy of economic planning’. This was one of his major contributions to development studies which also contained, among many other things, one of the first systematic accounts of the widening economic gulf between the East and the West Pakistan — an issue that should have been given importance.

In October 1968, Haq became critically ill and the medical system in Pakistan at that time could not cope with his illness. President Ayub Khan, whose government he had criticized earlier for crony capitalism, took the extraordinary steps to send him to London for treatment.

From 1970 to 1982, Haq worked in World Bank as a director of Policy Planning department. He also served as a Chief Economic Advisor to Robert McNamara, the then President of the Bank, with whom he established a remarkable alliance in working out strategies for poverty removal with respect to education, health, water, sanitation and environment.

During his World Bank tenure, he also addressed issues of New Interactive Economic Order (NIEO) and collective self reliance of developing countries. Those were the days of great intellectual ferment among the political and social leaders of the world. Through Third World Forum, North South Roundtable, and NIEO debate at the UN, many world leaders from both developed and developing countries were involved on issues to make this a better world for everybody and every nation. He played a leading role in producing ideas, preparing papers and advocating those ideas in various forums.

Following his international tenure, from 1982 to 1988, Haq remained in Pakistan serving as a cabinet minister for Finance, Planning and Commerce. For him, this was the period of many innovative ideas that he introduced to promote human welfare. This resulted in rising economic growth, reduction in poverty, resource mobilization for education, many villages in Pakistan got electricity and family planning was also introduced. Moreover, the Sixth Five-Year Plan was formulated during this time to cover the period 1983 — 1988.

During his tenure, the Planning Commission played a vital role in effectively formulating and implementing the economic scheduling. This five year plan not only benefited Pakistan but also went overseas to the Koreans. Pakistan Observer on 31st March 2010 reports ‘Korean Consul General praised the competency of Pakistan’s former minister for Planning and Developing Dr Mehboob-Ul-Haq who gave the best 5-year plan to Pakistan and his country also benefited from this important document’.

In the year 1990, Haq again came to the international stage as UNDP advisor. All the seeds of human development that had been growing in Haq’s mind over the previous thirty years blossomed as the UNDP Human Development Report with the collaboration of the greatest generation of socially and ethically conscious economists who were dear friends and colleagues of Mehboob over the years.

Amartya Sen writes “It was in this capacity that he launched the now famous Human Development Reports which have been published annually since 1990. He gathered around him a dedicated team of social scientists, including a group of like-minded economists who served as consultants, such as Paul Streeten, Gustav Ranis, Keith Griffin, Frances Stewart, Lord (Meghnad) Desai, Sudhir Anand, among others”.

HDR and HDI gave him the world stage to propagate his ideas for human development, human security and women’s empowerment. And the best thing that happened was that this time these ideas got institutionalized in the UNDP HQ and national offices, and in many forums and institutions around the world.

Human Development——the process of enlarging people’s choices in all fields of human endeavor——is at the forefront of today’s development debate, with national human development strategies being produced in over 100 countries. Mehboob Ul Haq’s pioneering work has greatly influenced the global search for new development paradigms and has helped launch many new policy proposals, such as the 20:20 global compact and the setting up of a UN Economic Security Council.

Towards his end days, Haq started talking about the taboo subjects — the rising costs of military expenditure, the futility of nuclear race, the lack of development cooperation within the region etc. Before his death, he passionately talked about what seven independent political entities of South Asia could gain as one economic unit along the lines of the European Union. Today looking at the realities of South Asia that vision seems to be only a dream, probably never to be realized.

He died on July 16, 1998 in New York, leaving behind his wife Khadija Haq, son Farhan, and daughter Toneema.

Following his death, the Human Development Centre, Islamabad was renamed, in his honor, as the Mehboob Ul Haq Human Development Centre. In addition, the United Nations Development Project set up The Mehboob Ul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development to recognize one individual each year whose work exemplifies the level of commitment and expertise in the field of human development.

His work will forever be remembered, as a stepping stone to make way for social change.