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SIFC – an economic revival plan 

Col Ikram Ullah Khan

Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan 

Amidst the continuing depressive and dismal economic environment that has been prevailing around during the past few decades barring General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure (2000 to 2008), the need for a representative forum like SIFC had long been felt that could facilitate foreign investment to revive the country’s moribund economy. For this purpose, the Special Investment and Facilitation Council (SIFC) has been set up which comes as a ray of hope to resuscitate the collapsing economy of the country.

It may be pertinent to mention here that during General Pervez Musharraf’s regime, the country saw an unprecedented economic boom with 7.6% annual economic growth, and the country’s external debt was brought down to 32 billion dollars which stood at 38 billion dollars during PML-N regime in 1999, and which stands at the staggering figure of 124.5 billion dollars today. It was again during Gen Musharraf’s regime that Pakistan managed to make an exit from IMF loan program. 

As the name suggests, SIFC is a special forum set up to facilitate foreign investment smoothly and speedily free from bureaucratic hurdles/red tapism. It’s primarily a brainchild of military leadership to lure foreign investors and attract massive foreign investment to revive the economy and steer the country out of an economic morass it has been sinking in deep during the past several years, and put the economy on the path of sustainable growth. To put in simple words, it’s an economic revival plan. 

The forum is headed by the Prime Minister, with army Chief and Chief Ministers of all the provinces as its members. It’s a key decision-making platform that aims at bringing essential structural reforms within the economy. It may be pertinent to mention here that SIFC is functioning under the direct oversight of the army which ensures that no bureaucratic hurdles are created to scare away the potential investors both foreign and domestic. In order to create an investor-friendly environment, all necessary measures such as the facility of one-widow operation and removal of all unnecessary formalities involving typical red tapism have been taken.

To begin with, SIFC concentrates on key economic sectors like agriculture, corporate farming, mineral resources, energy, mining, petroleum, information technology and defence production. It’s primary objective is to attract foreign investment in these sectors from friendly countries with special focus on Gulf countries. 

Though, the country’s ever-dwindling economy has a long sordid history, it took a speedy nose dive during PTI government and hit the rock bottom during the 16-month stint of PDM coalition government led by Shahbaz Sharif.  

SIFC, as already mentioned, will facilitate one-widow operation that will do away with the well-entrenched bureaucratic re-tapism to create investors-friendly environment and attract foreign direct investment (FDI), and address any concerns of foreign as well as domestic investors. Moreover, dispute resolution mechanism has been put in place under the SIFC platform that would help restore foreign investor’s confidence. In this context, it may be recalled that a few years back, a dispute had arisen between the government of Pakistan and Australia’s Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) over breach of the Australia – Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) after which the foreign investors felt reluctant to invest in Pakistan. 

However, it’s highly encouraging to see Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar evincing keen interest to make a massive investment in Pakistan in different sectors, specially in the field of mining and petroleum. Saudi Arabia has offered to invest in mining and buy stakes in Reko Diq, one of the world’s largest gold and copper projects. It’s hoped that a deal in this connection would be concluded with Saudi Arabia by December this year. In this connection, Pakistan had hosted officials from Saudi Arabia in August in its inaugural mining conference held in Islamabad where Saudi Arabia’s state-owned mining company officials were also present. 

SIFC has set for itself a target of up to 60 billion dollars foreign investment in Pakistan in the next five years, though it sounds not only too ambitious a target but elusive too. Although, overcoming the deep economic challenges won’t be that easy, but where there is a will there is a way. Everything is achievable if there is an iron will and dogged determination with a very well defined objective. SIFC pursues the project vigorously and has made great strides in this connection. 

There is a misconception that after general elections, all issues including economic challenges will be resolved, and the economy will experience a swift recovery. This is just a wishful thinking because no mainstream political party is adequately equipped and prepared with a well-thought-out plan to grapple with the daunting socio-economic challenges. Our past political experience bears testimony to the harsh reality that political parties are devoid of sound economic plan and find themselves at each other’s throats all the time. It would be very hard for the future government to overcome the economic challenges irrespective of which political party comes to power as a result of general elections when every political party prefers to plough its own furrow.  

In such a dispiriting situation, we see military leadership volunteering itself to jump into the fray and take the bull by the horns, saying “no more” to economic downslide and urging to “do more” to take the country out of the deep economic mire by floating an innovative idea to set up Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) to bring foreign investment to Pakistan. This is undoubtedly, a welcome development and is likely to auger well for the country’s economic future. 

Let’s rise above all kinds of prejudices and negativity and give the conceivers of the forum a pat on the back, and strengthen the hand of all those who spend their time, energy and even modest resources placed at their disposal to put the country on the path of economic recovery. Let’s stop trivializing the initiative and stop looking at it with a jaundiced eye. We need to back the idea and look at it with all positivity. Herein lies the key to open the door of economic recovery.

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