Imran appeals for aid, trade to rescue Pakistan

  • PM woos foreign investors at Riyadh moot, says his govt is restructuring duties to attract investment
  • Blames war on terror, poor governance and rampant corruption for Pakistan’s economic woes
  • Says he’s disappointed by India’s response to his offer for reconciliation

RIYADH: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday urged foreign investors to invest in Pakistan, emphasising the efforts his government is making to steer the country out of the economic crisis.

“We are trying to create an enabling environment for investment. The plan is not just to attract foreign and overseas investors, but our own investors as well. We are restructuring our duty sectors [in this regard],” Prime Minister Khan said while speaking at the first day of the Future Investment Initiative Conference (FIIC) in Riyadh hosted by the Saudi government.

While a number of nations have boycotted the event over the alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, PM Imran attended the event to project Pakistan’s investment potential and interact with business leaders.

“What we are hoping is that we do a bit of both, get a loan from IMF [International Monetary Fund] and other loans from friendly governments,” the premier said.

PM Khan told the audience comprising local and international entrepreneurs and financial officials that the immediate concern for his government is to increase exports.

“We need to increase our exports because we have a shortage of foreign reserves, because of our current account deficit. We need to get more remittances through the banking channels because there are about eight to nine million Pakistanis who work abroad, who are living abroad. We need to bolster our foreign exchange reserves,” he added.

“Pakistan has 100 million people below the age of 35,” he told the audience. “There is a big pressure on the government to find employment for this population.

The prime minister said that Pakistan’s largely untapped mineral reserves could not be extracted in the past due to terrorism and corruption issues, but claimed that that is changing now.

“There are vast reserves of mineral wealth in Pakistan,” he said. “We have hardly had any investment in our mineral resources and one of the reasons in the last 15 years, as I said, was the ‘War on Terror’. Investors would not come back to Pakistan. We have also had very poor governance and [widespread] corruption.

“Now, thanks to our security forces and intelligence agencies, Pakistan has brought terrorism under control. In December, Exxon is coming back to Pakistan.”

The premier vowed to facilitate foreign investors and added that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is already helping the country attract foreign investment.

“Pakistan needs two oil refineries to meet demand and we are talking to Saudi investors about the projects,” Khan said, adding that Crown Prince Mohammad is organising a delegation of Saudi businessmen to invest in Pakistan.

PM Khan said that the war against terrorism has taken its toll on Pakistan, stressing that the country now needs stability and peace to recover.

“One thing Pakistan needs more than any other country right now is peace and stability,” he said. “The decade after 9/11 has been of great turmoil for us. Our tribal areas were devastated by the war. In fact, one of the reasons we are at this stage is due to instability and war.”

The prime minister said that Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours, especially Afghanistan and India, are crucial, and expressed disappointment that the latter did not reciprocate his attempts for reconciliation.

“What we need is stability, and stability means peace with all neighbours,” he said. “Our problems right now are with Afghanistan and India, but I am afraid we got no response from India. In fact, we got rebuffed by India.”

PM Khan said he has asked the Chinese government to help Pakistan in two areas: eliminating corruption and ending poverty.

“China in the past five years has really clamped down on corruption,” he said. “We have corruption so we are going to look for ways because white-collar crime is very hard to prosecute.

“Secondly, the way in which they have brought this huge number of people out of poverty …we have already asked the Chinese government to help us in these two areas.”

PM Khan also apprised his audience of the measures his government is taking to empower women.

“You can only empower women if you educate them,” he said. “The five years we were in power in KP we decided that for every 100 colleges built, 70 would be for women.

“Secondly, we have started a housing project … there too we are involving women, as we have found that women pay back loans more efficiently than men.

“Women also do not get their inheritance rights, which is mentioned in the Shariah, so we are also financially empowering them so that they get their rights.”

The prime minister had travelled to Saudi Arabia on Monday to attend the conference on the special invitation of King Salman Bin Abdel Aziz.