Tall order, but possible
By Syed Zeeshan Haider
In his first address to the nation, Imran Khan expressed his dream of bringing about a revolution in Pakistan. However, the reality is that Pakistan has very limited resources. Our export sector has been destroyed and Pakistan imports most of its products. Currency reserves have almost been exhausted. Water and electricity crises loom around the corner. What should Pakistan do to move towards development in such a situation? While some aspects of this first speech from Khan are implementable, others are relatively impractical. It will not be easy to bring overseas Pakistanis and foreign companies to Pakistan. In order to change the direction of investment in Pakistan, it will be important to comply with a few prerequisites.
Introducing additional taxes to the existing tax base is not a permanent solution. The direction of Pakistan’s economy needs to be changed. Instead of relying on the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, Pakistan should focus on the services sector. Pakistan’s geographical location is extremely suitable for the services sector, especially for the promotion of tourism. Khan also mentioned this in his speech, saying that there are certain areas in Pakistan that are more beautiful than Switzerland. Along with this, he also talked about the Gwadar coasts. The Gwadar coasts can indeed be compared with the best beaches in the world. Similarly, there is no doubt that the northern areas of Pakistan are suitable for tourism. However, in order attract tourists, in addition to the development of a road network, a communications system, hotels, and other facilities, it is also important to focus on peace, harmony, and the law and order situation on an emergency basis.
It would definitely be a big mistake for Khan to direct government resources towards infrastructure development in tourist destinations. Instead, the government should support the private sector’s development of these tourist destinations. Khan should convince Pakistani builders and developers with good reputations, who have the expertise in the domain, to build colonies and resorts in the northern areas on a war-footing basis. He should facilitate their work. They should be provided with swift government approvals and the required security. For example, it would not be a lot to ask for any large developer who has already built a number of enormous colonies across Pakistan, to collaborate with the current government by deploying its resources to build five or six resorts of international standards at pleasant places in Pakistan’s northern areas, including golf courses, hotels, etc. In this way, not only can government funds be saved, but millions of jobs in the northern areas that have been promised by Khan can also be provided. Wealthy local tourists who travel abroad for tourism would visit these areas for tourism purposes, saving a large amount of the foreign exchange reserve in the process.
Attracting private sector investment for tourism and housing development will not only save public funds but will also help eliminate red tape. But, in order to achieve this, it is very important to attract foreign investment and foreign tourists to Pakistan. One major reason for the reluctance on the part of foreign tourists and businesses to visit Pakistan is the terrorism that Pakistan has faced for so long.
If trade relations between Pakistan and India were to improve, trade between China and India could also take place through Pakistan. This would greatly benefit Pakistan’s economy
Now, how can terrorism be eliminated? It cannot be eliminated only through the sacrifices of Pakistan’s people and security forces. Thanks to their sacrifices, terrorism has been considerably reduced in Pakistan today. But in order to completely eliminate terrorism, there is a need for many changes to Pakistan’s foreign policy. This is not a national but rather a regional issue. Unless Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and India devise a strategy to eliminate terrorism together, the menace cannot be eradicated from the region.
First, let us examine relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. For years, an atmosphere of allegations has been sustained where whatever terrorism incident takes place in Afghanistan, the Afghani government links it with Pakistan. Similarly, whenever a terrorist activity takes place in Pakistan, the Pakistani government points its finger at Afghanistan. It is very sad that these two brotherly Muslim countries have developed such virulent relations.
Any terrorist elements that are hiding within the two countries will have to be tackled mutually. One benefit of this would be that oil and gas reserves from Russia and the Central Asian States could reach Pakistan through Afghanistan before reaching warmer waters through Gwadar. This could bring about an economic revolution in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Along the same lines, improving relations with India is also very important. The Kashmir issue is a major roadblock between India and Pakistan. But we should learn a lesson from China. China still has many border disputes with India and there are also land and border issues between China and Taiwan. Despite this, China actively trades with India and Taiwan. In the end, the question arises: how much tangible help are we extending to our Kashmiri brothers by refusing to trade with India? Pakistan has 200 million people suffering economically. Should the economic development of Pakistan’s 200 million people be ignored due to disputes?
If trade relations between Pakistan and India were to improve, trade between China and India could also take place through Pakistan. This would greatly benefit Pakistan’s economy. The benefits from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that Pakistan will receive by restoring its relationship with India cannot be achieved otherwise. If diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan were to improve and interference in each other’s internal matters were to stop, then there could be a significant reduction in their defense budgets which could then be directed towards development. This could lead to a lot of growth and development in both countries.
Apart from terrorism, another key element to attracting foreign investment in Pakistan, which Khan mentioned in his speech, is the provision of efficient civil courts and lower courts. In other words: justice. Unless emergency is enforced in the civil courts, Pakistan’s economic revolution cannot take place. Litigation related to business and land disputes continue in the civil courts for generations. Who would want to invest in a country where you do your business and then have to spend decades in business disputes?
One of the first actions that Imran Khan should take is to increase the number of judges in the civil courts by five to ten times, to make the civil courts work 24 hours and decide each case within a maximum of six months. Then, not only will our local businessmen invest, but substantial investment can also be attracted from abroad. This will allow Khan’s promise of a time where no person in Pakistan takes Zakat to come true. But, in order to bring about such an economic situation, it will important to implement the important changes outlined above.