Finance Minister Makes a Sincere Case for Pakistan in Washington
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Washington, DC: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar made a sincere case for Pakistan in Washington during a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on October 9, 2014. He spoke to South Asian experts and students and was introduced with warm remarks by Dean Vali Nasr. Mr Dar was accompanied by Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani.
The finance minister discussed “Pakistan's Economic Recovery and Emerging Role in the Region” with the aim of assuring the international community about the hopes for steady economic growth in Pakistan. Although he delivered a written speech looking down on the text for most part, his demeanor was both confident and unassuming. The spoken words conveyed sincerity and purpose. In his words, the economy was growing at a rate exceeding 4% and was expected to pick up momentum to even reach 7% in a few years.
The audience seemed to accept him as a manner of numbers, which he was firing at a very brisk pace. He spoke about the boost in per capita income, a 5% rise in industrial production, about 7% reduction in inflation and over 16% increase in revenues. He mentioned that the deficit was a little over 8% and talked about more money for development. Discussing the telecommunications sector, he seemed pleased to say that the auction of 4G license was successful and it not only brought a lot of money but also could help create about 900,000 jobs, heralding brighter future for many in the work force.
He also discussed government borrowing, a notable increase in exports and “success of Pakistani bonds in the international market.”
The finance minister also discussed the concerns of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the macroeconomic imbalances and structural impediments to growth. But, a number of people came away with the impression that he was a bit too optimistic and perhaps presented a rosier picture of the economy.
In an attempt to explain the economic problems in Pakistan, in the context of IMF concerns, Mr Dar said that the “sit-ins caused 4pc depreciation in the value of rupee, which will cost around Rs250 billion to the country.” He went on to say that the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) protests negatively impacted the stock exchange trading and foreign direct investment.
His critique of the protestors appeared rational and he made no attempt to demonize either PTI or PAT. But, it was quite obvious that he was neither a fan of the “cricket captain” nor the “expat cleric.” In presenting his case, he described his own political experience in the confident tone of a seasoned politician.
Moving away from the number, he addressed the concerns voiced about the safety of Pakistani Nuclear Weapons. “Pakistan is a responsible state,” he said. He told the audience that he is a member of the Nuclear Command Authority and mentioned that there is a “tight control over nuclear assets.”
Mr. Dar spoke about the four “E”s – Economy, Energy, Education and Elimination of Extremism.
He left the audience with an impression of his command on the numbers, perhaps from his professional background as an accountant. But, he also conveyed the aura of a vision for the future by discussing not only the challenges but also the opportunities in the neighborhood where almost 3 billion people share close geographic proximity. He talked about the natural resources and the efforts to harness energy, including the Bhasha Dam, and also how Pakistan can tap into the growth potential promised by the New Silk Road.