Learn from Icelanders!

Learn from Icelanders!
“Trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and participation in international institutions all serve to erode the legitimacy of repressive regimes”—Jacob Weisberg

Pakistan is one of those blessed countries in the world that boasts of a highly congenial climate, stunning landscapes, fertile fields, deserts, highest mountain ranges, iconic valleys, rivers, lakes, beautiful coastal locations, and above all, hospitable people with generations backed by history that transverses millenniums. What more could a nation want as its home? How else can heaven on earth be perceived, if only! Indeed, these questions can only be followed by a long list of ‘if only’ circumstances which are known to everyone and which have consistently prevailed over the last seventy five years of existence, becoming the biggest impediments in uplifting the image of this country and decelerating its progress.

Countries cannot develop nor can they be smoothly run without political stability (unless the national character is fundamentally roguish) and without sufficient revenues. These are generated through different means including taxes, exports, manufacturing, agriculture, information technology etc. depending upon the available natural and man-made resources. They also account for the gross domestic product (GDP) of a country with various income sources accounting for a percentage of GDP. Generally, for the common people ample money in the kitty is a sure shot formula for a better standard of life and the same should hold true for nation countries as well. More money in the treasury could mean better development, better economic opportunities, better health and educational facilities, leading to peace and overall atmosphere of contentment for the people.

Consequently, the countries that want to be self-reliant and climb up the ladder of economic security, find new avenues to increase their revenue to make way for prosperity. They do not restrict their productivity to whatever is available but persevere. This also calls for their people to show more resilience and self-improvement in order to steer their commercial ventures towards success and better rewards. Idowu Koyenikan, a noted African writer suggests: “If you want your income to grow, you too must grow”—few words having deep-rooted meanings. Contrary to Pakistan’s richness in resources, there are innumerable countries that are not so fortunate, yet they are prospering like anything and Iceland is undoubtedly one of them.

A young country in geographical terms, Iceland’s biggest disadvantage is its location in an area over tectonic plates with volcanic and geo-thermal activity. Continents are stuck on tectonic plates and move along with them. Interactions of these plates are believed to be responsible for most earthquakes and volcanic activity on the Earth. Thingvellir is a national park listed in the United Nations World Heritage in southern Iceland where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet or rather move away from one another. This phenomenon which can be viewed here is also the reason the country experiences constant tremors and volcanic eruptions. A recent example of this is the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in April 2010 which disrupted air travel across large parts of Europe.

Earthquakes can affect how water flows to many of the hot springs in Iceland. This was the case in June 2000 when two large earthquakes hit the southern part of Iceland because of which the Great Geysir begun to erupt hot water again after being almost inactive for half a century. With this background, one wonders how the country and its few people (347,917 as in July 2023) survive and how they have managed to build up such a strong economy taking advantage of its hazards thus attracting millions of tourists all the year round—a whopping US$ 3.5 billion industry.

The level of development seen in Iceland is phenomenal and the manner in which the country is selling its black magna soil, its erupting hot water geysers and its steam exhaling quivering land to inquisitive adventurist travellers is most commendable. Despite high prices of accommodation, food and sight-seeing packages, there is no dearth of inflow of tourists who willingly subject themselves to the tricky terrain, to immerse their bodies in the warmth of the Blue Lagoon waters, to relish the geo-thermal heat in the icy winds and to appreciate nature in its raw form.

Icelanders deserve salutation for raising the benchmark of loyalty to their country where without grumbling about their adverse conditions, they work diligently towards improving their land and toil hard to establish themselves as a respectable nation topping the list of the most peaceful countries in the world. While many others would flinch and complain at being surrounded by disadvantages, these descendants of the Vikings have stood up to their ancestors’ resolve in overcoming hurdles.

Another visible feature of the country is the absence of security agencies. There is no military and residences of ministers, ambassadors, the prime minister and the president have not a single guard posted outside. These dignitaries are easily accessible to the common people who take pride in the fact that their president is just a call away. Such is their confidence in key personalities to whom they owe their allegiance. Besides, imagine the great cut in expenses that can be utilised for better purposes and for the welfare of the people. Perhaps, this is the secret of their success and prosperity. Not only have they converted their weaknesses into strength but they have also imposed heavy restrictions on their expenditure diverting their revenues towards uplifting their country and its people.

We, in Pakistan can learn a lot from Iceland. For starters, we must inculcate true devotion to our motherland and treat it more tenderly than we do now. Rather than plundering and wasting its riches we need to direct them for growth and development. Instead of crabbing over problems, we must seek solutions to redress them. Instead of acting like royalties, our rulers can behave more down to earth and consider themselves as service providers rather than service seekers. Instead of spending beyond our limited resources, if we manage to remain within our four corners, we should be able to achieve more than we can desire. Everything is possible subject to our determination, conviction and resolve otherwise as Paul Harvey has very aptly observed: “When your outgo exceeds your income, the upshot may be your downfall”.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)