Pakistan a ‘major US ally’: Shaukat Aziz
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s finance minister, described the United States on Friday as a “major ally” with which Pakistan shared “common values”.
Addressing a large gathering of Pakistani-Americans at the embassy, the minister who is here for the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, and who has met a string of senior US officials in the two days that he has been in town, gave the audience a rundown on the revival of Pakistan’s economy on account of Gen Pervez Musharraf and his policies. He said Pakistan has a “bit of an image problem” in the world and held “lack of interesting presentation” rather than the foreign media for the country’s often negative image. He called Pakistan a “land of opportunities”, declaring that the country is “no longer in the crisis mode”. He said if all went well, Pakistan should be able to register an economic growth rate of eight percent in three years. He said the structural reforms Pakistan had implemented could serve as a “role model” for other developing countries that found themselves in economic straits. He said Pakistan, which was known for its economic “U-turns” had kept to the course it had chosen for itself four and a half years ago, and the effort had paid off.
Mr Aziz said Pakistan was a good place to invest. Interest rates were low and foreign companies could borrow what they needed locally. Investments today were 16.5 percent of GDP and in the last three years or so the textile industry had imported machinery worth $3.4 billion. “We are ready to compete with anybody,” he declared confidently. He told the meeting about the new export processing zones that had been set up and the “export cities” that were soon to be founded. He also provided details of the development of the Gwadar port with Chinese help. He asked foreign investors to put their money in the Pakistan stock market if they did not wish to be in the country physically. He also called on them to invest in the five-star hotel industry, saying today it was impossible to find a single room in a good hotel in Pakistan’s principle cities because of the rush of visitors. There was also much scope for investing in the less-expensive hotel industry projects. He said real estate had always worked as a “major engine of growth” adding that there was a revival of business and manufacturing activity in Pakistan today. Cement plants, for examples, which had been operating at only 65 percent capacity a few years ago, were now operating at full capacity. The auto sector was thriving and its output was up by 15 percent. Pakistan would produce 100,000 cars this year, he added, and 400,000 motorcycles. He also disclosed that BMW, the upmarket German carmaker, was interested in setting up a plant in Pakistan.
The finance minister told the meeting that the agro industry in Pakistan was another good place to invest, agriculture being 26 percent of the country’s economy. He also spoke about the production of value-added textiles, calling it another growth industry with a bright future following the lapsing of the Multi-fibre Agreement. He said 85 percent of Pakistan’s banking was now in private hands, which was more than some of Pakistan’s neighbours could claim. He added that it was not going to be roses, roses all the way, as great challenges lay ahead that would have to be faced and overcome.
In a question-answer session and, later, in a meeting with Pakistani media representatives, Mr Aziz said every country had to find its own path to democracy, adding, “We do not need any lessons in democracy.” He confirmed in answer to a question that there were land title disputes in Gwadar, but added that the land title system was being automated. He said billions of rupees were stuck in land disputes subject to endless litigation.