Thursday, December 24, 2009

You can’t build a country if you’re not thinking beyond your own lifetime

Mr. Ali is an institution in Pakistan. He has started some of the country’s most successful companies. But perhaps his most important contribution has been his role in creating the Lahore University of Management and Science, or L.U.M.S., begun as a business school but now evolved into the approximate equivalent of Harvard University in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s biggest problem, he believes, is one of leadership. A corrosive system of privilege and patronage has eaten away at merit, degrading the fabric of society and making it more difficult for poor people to rise. The growing tendency to see government positions as chances to profit, together with the explosion in the country’s population, has led to a sharp decline in the services that Pakistan’s government offers its people.

“Nobody is bothered about the masses,” Mr. Ali said...

“You can’t build a country if you’re not thinking beyond your own lifetime,” Mr. Ali said.

Pakistan’s education system has been one of the casualties. Good public education can create opportunity in societies, but in Pakistan it has been underfinanced and ignored, in part because the political class that runs the country does not consume its services. Fewer than 40 percent of children are enrolled in school here, far below the South Asian average of 58 percent. As a result, Pakistan’s literacy rate is a grim 54 percent...

These days the university attracts many offspring of wealthy Pakistanis, who would otherwise have gone to the United States or the United Kingdom for their undergraduate studies.

THAT was the case for Mr. Ali, who was studying at the University of Michigan in 1947, the year Pakistan became a state. He returned to Pakistan in December of that year, ultimately earning his bachelor’s degree from Punjab University in Pakistan, but he kept his ties with the United States. His brother later became Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, and Mr. Ali’s wedding was held in the embassy there — benefits bestowed by a system he now criticizes. The ceremony was attended by Richard M. Nixon, then the vice president, and was photographed for Life magazine...

“Zia did more damage than any other leader,” Mr. Ali said. “He sowed the seeds of this fundamentalism that has raised its ugly head.”

AS early as 1973, Mr. Ali began thinking that Pakistan needed more graduates with leadership skills. He was studying at Harvard Business School at the time. Pakistan’s growing economy needed managers, and its political class needed creative thinkers. That mission became all the more urgent after the changes brought by General Haq in the 1980s, which were narrowing the worldview of Pakistan’s youth.

Pakistan’s young people, Mr. Ali said, should be “citizens of the world, not narrow-minded or intolerant.”..

One hope is that the university will help inculcate a sense of merit and fairness that has all but disappeared from Pakistani society, crippling its growth.

“Merit and fairness are gone,” he said. “The whole system is getting bogged down.”

Admission to L.U.M.S. is strictly on merit, he said, and Pakistanis who try to use connections to get in are turned away.

-One Pakistani Institution Places His Faith in Another

LUMS Launches Economic and Social Development Policy Research Center

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