Flexing creative muscles

By far, the best news of 2023; Pakistan will attract around $100 billion from friendly countries such as KSA, the UAE, and Kuwait to commence the much-awaited journey of self-reliance and economic prosperity. The recently established Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) will provide a one-window operation to all the valued investors. Simultaneously, several strict measures will be initiated internally to curb the menace of smuggling, corruption, and the dollar’s wayward movement. All these bridges will be crossed in the next few months. In short, the military’s top brass has resolved to ‘wholeheartedly’ assist the Kakar government in curbing all illegal activities that hamper economic growth, stability, and investor’s confidence.
The emerging scenario is that intentions to ensure the much-needed economic recovery known to all and sundry are made clear with absolute clarity. Finally, the process has begun to put the house in order. The political uncertainty is deemed to have been controlled if not eliminated. Corruption may be curbed but the so-called looted money and the offshore accounts are no longer under discussion. The general elections may be held as and when deemed appropriate. The caretakers may keep taking care as long as they are required. The tussle amongst the Supreme Court, the President, and the Election Commission particularly on the dates of holding the general elections, is likely to continue.
The emerging scenario continues; all decisions reached after the sad incidents of May 9 will be implemented in letter and spirits. The economic recovery plan may take time to show results. Therefore, the IMF’s conditions may be met to the extent possible. Nonetheless, some immediate measures may be taken to allay fears of the people of Pakistan. For instance, the money exchanges may be brought under the purview of taxation, fostering transparency in dollar exchange and interbank rates. Simultaneously, the dollar hoarders and those involved in Hundi and Havala business, and the energy ‘thieves’ will be dealt with an iron hand. One may also see some ‘local economic miscreants’ being caught with stacks of currency notes.
There are mixed reactions; those who liked the idea are curious to know the details of the plan. For instance, what is the real deal here? What is Pakistan required to do or pay or sell or offer in return for receiving such huge investments? As there is no free lunch in business, the interested countries would need to get something in return. Naturally, the profit savvy GCC countries would not dole out billions of dollars just like that. Which areas of interest, the investor countries have indicated for investment?
Those who do not like the idea are referring to the previous such ideas and their fate. From ‘Friends not Masters’ to the ‘Enlightened Moderation’ to preferring Geoeconomics over Geopolitics–all ideas were tried in the past. They are trying to understand the related how’s and when’s as well. However, they are hesitant to accept the move as a solution to the ongoing political uncertainty facing the country. Not being able to think outside the box, they would tend to raise a question or two about the continuation of the democratic process and the holding of general elections on time. Above all, what if the new political set up had ideas contrary to this ‘plan’? The time given for the implementation of the plan has been mentioned as ‘a few months’ and ‘the next five years.’ Does that mean the caretakers will stay put until the last cent is received in the SIFC?
Those who understand only the ‘technical’ language, are pleased to see a ‘quick fix’ short term simple solution of a complex economic problem. They are now interested in receiving the donor countries’ response to this mega plan. So far, none of the targeted countries has either confirmed or denied the existence of such an arrangement. Even the ‘enemy’ that does not let any opportunity to pounce on Islamabad go wasted, is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, it is busy dealing with other important issues such as the initial diplomatic embarrassment in hosting an important multilateral event at home. What does it mean? It means that matters relating to the ‘plan’ have been agreed in principle, pending the finalisation of the procedural aspects.
Do the dots connect? The Army Chief’s visits to the UAE and KSA along with the establishment of the SIFC connect the dots nicely. Even the timing of the meetings with the business community in Karachi and Lahore was carefully chosen. Defence Day was just around the corner. Instead of revealing the plan through the caretaker PM, the COAS’s direct involvement in announcing the plan indicates the existence of some ‘seriousness’ in achieving the intended goals. Clearly, a lot of homework went into it before the curtain was raised.
The political parties are completely silent on this fabulous idea. Seemingly, in the absence of any alternative, they seem to have no option but to wait and see. In any case, around a dozen political parties were given a chance for sixteen months to come up with an economic recovery plan. Apparently, they could not live up to their own stated expectations. Hence, the raison d’etre. Keynes said: The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from the old ones.
What next? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Napoleon Hill has very aptly described the process. First comes thought, then you organise that thought into ideas and plans before transforming those plans into reality. The last part of this process is the most important. Let’s hope that things turn out to be as envisaged and Pakistan finds its way out of the current politico economic mess successfully. And in choosing between Pakistan and democracy, the realists would surely choose the former.

Najm us Saqib

The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of eight books in three languages. He can be reached at najmussaqib1960@msn.com.

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