Islamabad, Dec. 6: For a Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, there was an Indira Gandhi in India. But for hotshot woman banker Shamshad Akhtar, there is no match yet on the other side of the border.
Pervez Musharraf has gone one up in the unstated we-got-there-first game with India, appointing Akhtar the first-ever woman governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.
The SBP is Pakistan’s central bank, the equivalent of the Reserve Bank of India. No woman has ever been governor of the RBI, Usha Thorat being the closest to the hot seat in her current post as its deputy governor.
Akhtar holds the top position of overseer of bank operations of several countries in the Asian Development Bank. She is also its expert on South-East Asian economies and has been with it since 1990.
Before that, Akhtar had a 10-year stint with World Bank. Her work has taken her to all kinds of places over the world, but she takes fierce pride in being Pakistani and wears her nationality as a “distinction”.
“I am a proud Pakistani and it is my distinction wherever I go and wherever I live,” she told Pakistan’s private GEO TV from Manila, where she is based.
Akhtar will take over from Ishrat Hussein for a three-year term probably early next month, becoming the SBP’s 14th governor. She is expected to resign her ADB post towards December-end to preside over the coffers in a country where economic might is concentrated in the hands of men.
“I will ensure effective control of monitoring policies, management of exchange rate on judicious basis and a permanent check on the inflation ratio,” Akhtar told the channel.
Banks in India have had women in top posts at various levels, but they are not of quite the same stature. Naina Lal Kidwai is vice-chairman and MD of HSBC India and Lalita Gupte joint MD of ICICI Bank, but neither is anywhere close to Akhtar’s post.
A well-known figure in global banking circles, Akhtar brings with her wide experience in the regulatory, supervisory and enforcement mechanisms of the banking and financial sectors. She has been involved in the restructuring process of banks in East Asian economies and has interfaced regularly with the Bank of International Settlement on Basel Standards.
Akhtar has an impressive CV, which is believed to have tilted the SBP scales in her favour. She holds an MS in economics from Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, an MA in development economics from the University of Sussex and a Ph D from Paisley College of Technology, both in the UK.
“President Pervez Musharraf took the decision keeping in view her very impressive resume. Her appointment would certainly bring good development at the State Bank, as well as to the economy,” Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s financial adviser Salman Shah told AFP.
Women’s rights groups welcomed the appointment as “a very positive development” in Pakistan. “We have hardly had a woman in such a high-profile post before,” Anis Haroon, chief of the Aurat Foundation, said.
Akhtar assured Pakistan’s banking sector of her complete support and said her feedback was that the SBP had undergone a transformation in the last few years. “It has earned some respect, credibility and improvement on the enforcement side of the regulations in privatisation of banking system,” she said.