“Don’t believe lurid newspaper headlines, Pakistan is a safe country for foreign investors.” This was the message conveyed by Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Commerce, Makhdoom Muhammad Amin Fahim, at a meeting in London this week.
Mr. Fahim’s visit to the UK came three weeks after the horrific attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. There had been a suicide bombing at a police station in Islamabad only the day before Mr. Fahim spoke to businessmen and journalists at Asia House. However, Mr. F cahim was anxious to dispel anxiety about conditions in Pakistan where attacks of this nature have almost become routine.
“Whenever any incident takes place, this creates horrible pictures but people in Pakistan are not too bothered by these, especially since 9/11.” Mr. Fahim said a lot of alarm was caused by media hype with news stories repeating the same story every hour. “Yes, such attacks are a matter of concern, “ Mr. Fahim conceded, “ but we are confident we will handle terrorism in Pakistan.” He also said travel advisories by the UK government and a few other countries contributed to this negative image that continues to haunt Pakistan.
The Islamabad government has invited a delegation of senior British businessmen to Pakistan this month to judge for themselves and hopefully be reassured that it is safe to invest in the country. Their safety, the minister said, would be guaranteed. “ Pakistan has spent 35 billion US dollars on the war on terrorism, especially on law enforcement agencies. We are committed to eradicate terrorism completely.”
According to the minister and his delegation, despite the scare stories and the impact of the global recession, the economic picture in Pakistan is encouraging. Its GDP, foreign investment and workers’ remittances have been showing a steady increase over the past decade; GDP growth for 2007-8 was 5.8 percent.
In the wake of the global financial crunch, Pakistan is apprehensive about the risk of a global trade war with protectionism on the rise. Mr. Fahim said Pakistan hoped international institutions would devise a coherent and transparent plan to deal with the current crisis.
Mr. Fahim admitted that Pakistan’s trade balance with the rest of the world was a matter of some concern but said the government had taken measures to tackle this by reaching agreements with the South Asia Free Trade Agreement and a range of countries such as Singapore, Brunei, Sri Lanka and Mauritius.
As in the rest of the world, Pakistan’s energy demand has risen sharply and Islamabad is considering increasing oil and gas imports from Iran. Mr. Fahim said Pakistan was keenly aware of the enormous potential for generating wind power along its extensive coastline.
Skeptics among the audience were not prepared to take the Minister’s comments at face value. The minister and his delegation batted away tough questions about the recent deal to hand over power to hardline religious elements in the Swat Valley. One questioner was blunt and observed that reassurances about security, politics and the economy had been heard before, previous governments had made the same promises and failed to deliver.
The conclusion? Despite Mr. Fahim’s brave efforts, Pakistan has a public relations mountain to climb before business investors are convinced by his fervent exhortations that they should regard his country as a secure place for investment. Hopes are now pinned on the British delegation’s verdict after its assessment of conditions on the ground.