Let’s start ‘War against economic challenges’

Malik Tahir Javaid

Whatever Mr. Trump says or does is a reflection on his personality. Nothing was new as we are used to listen such stories but strong stance of the Government of Pakistan and Armed forces had never been witnessed before and actually it is the first step towards self-reliance.
To me, only economically strong Pakistan can handle all sorts of international pressures therefore “war against economic ills” should be started instantly and a task force for economic revival, having representatives from both public and private sector, should be formed. Pakistan is a resource-rich country and does not need any external financial help. Unfortunately, the previous governments did not pay any heed to tap the resources.
Economic weaknesses of any country give opportunity for criticism to the others and same is being happened in our case. Political instability, below the mark foreign direct investment, high cost of doing business, politics on mega projects like Kalabagh dam and huge trade deficit have led to stagnant growth in Pakistan. Pakistan must have to address these issues through good economic reforms. Pakistan has all resources to become an economic giant but only need is to set directions with zeal, courage and sincerity.
There are a number of issues that must be tackled on priority; the biggest one is how to keep the momentum of growth in the wake of a less than targeted growth of the Agriculture and the Manufacturing sector. The second one is the widening gap between exports and imports that could be contained by enhancing exports.
Government would also have to focus on agriculture, the manufacturing sector, education, water, human resources, minerals, public health, tax collection system and end of corruption should be focused to get rid of economic worries.
Agriculture is the largest sector of Pakistan as around 43% labor was dependent upon the agriculture. This largest sector needs revolutionary reforms on war footing. The growth of agriculture sector would not only ensure food security and provision of raw material to the larges export-oriented industry textile but would also generate huge revenue for the government and vast employment opportunities.
Country’s population is growing at the rate of 2.10 percent every year and if this growth continues for next two decades, population would cross the mark of 240 million. Pakistan needs to increase the yield per acre on steady pace therefore government should plan to bring that about 9 million hectors of fertile land under cultivation which is remained useless just because of shortage of water.
Pakistan’s huge mineral resources can help get rid of the economic ills, particularly external debts of over $ 85 billions, within next five years. Country has one of the largest reserves of gold & copper and coal in the world. According to a rough estimate, value of coal reserves in Pakistan is 187 times more than the GDP of Pakistan and only 2% of Pakistani coal reserves can generate 20,000 MW of electricity for almost 50 years. In addition to gold, copper, and coal, the country has vast reserves of precious stones, gypsum, salt and marble but instead of taking full advantage of these God-gifted resources most of the share being exported in raw form. These resources must be used by the state instead of giving contracts to the foreign companies for extraction.
Kalabagh dam is a mega project and it should not be sacrificed to the political wills as it has to play a major role in economic uplift of the country. Kalabagh Dam will store 6 millions acre-feet of water and will give benefit of $ 12 billion annually to the economy. KBD will produce 3600 MW or 31.5 billion watts of electricity that would cost only Rs.2.50 per unit and country would be saving $ 4 billion annually in account of electricity generation just after 5 years of KBD construction. Government should not listen to the opponent of KBD as they are opposing just of the Kalabagh dam, not of the India water aggression.
Most of Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) are strangling the national exchequer by eating up around Rs.600 billion annually. Wastage of this hard-earned money of the taxpayers is a sheer injustice. These PSEs should be turned into profitable by strict reforms.
Market and products diversification is the best method to boost the exports. Pakistani exports always remained dependent on a few items and countries. United States, China, Afghanistan, United Kingdom and Germany are top five trading partners of Pakistan while various lucrative destinations are still untouched. Pakistani missions abroad should be given task to find out new destinations for Pakistan products. Government should also facilitate export-oriented industries by resolving their genuine issues like delay in refunds etc.
Tourism industry is one of the largest industries with direct or indirect economic contributions of over $ 7.5 trillion but this sector of Pakistan is not working as good as it should be. Pakistan needs to market itself as tourism destination as it is endowed with beautiful landscapes, sceneries, historical heritage and other attractive places for international tourists. Tourism industry of Pakistan has the potential to turn Pakistan into a hub of economic activities and can give revenue of billions of dollars to the national exchequer.
“I had identified 25 sectors to overcome trade deficit. I am working day in and day out to help jack-up exports and curtail imports.
Rupee devaluation is adding to the economic miseries of the country and all these ills produced just because of awful interference of IMF in the Pakistan’s economic matters and dictations to the policy makers for taking harsh measures.
Pakistan is the “most frequent customer” of IMF and Pakistani governments often depended on borrowing from IMF and accepted stringent conditions despite the fact that this institution is merciless money lender which always forced Pakistan to adopt bad policies like rupee devaluation, massive increases in the electricity and gas prices.
How a country can take independent decisions and grow its economy when it is carrying the burden of over 85 billions dollars debs and utilizing huge part of the federal budget for debt servicing. Pakistan would be loser in many heads if immediate measures are not taken to get rid of the massive loans which are the mother of most of the economic ills. Tough but not impossible task as if Turkey can do it then why we cannot.
Keeping in view the fast changing global scenario and challenges for Pakistan, government immediate economic planning and its implementation in true sense of world is a must for self-reliance and to avert any serious challenge to the national sovereignty.

The writer is the President of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry and one of the senior economists.