Karachi Literature Festival 2023: A 'Watershed Moment' For The Pakistani Economy

Karachi Literature Festival 2023: A 'Watershed Moment' For The Pakistani Economy
The fact that Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits is long well known to citizens who reside here, and also to international friends and foes alike. Analysts, politicians and the general public have been glued to the news regarding the much debated IMF bailout. While the average Pakistani may not understand the intricacies of the field of economics, the word on the street is that the government both civilian and military is responsible for the rock and the hard place that the nation is wedged between.

While the drawing rooms of the elite are filled with passionate gusto about how their particular person can wave a magic wand, the working class public seems more subdued about their darkening fates. Even though some of them may support the same favourite as many of the elites, they are crushed by the extreme stress of simply providing food for their families on a daily basis.

The “right leader”, the alleged saviour is something the poor may let themselves daydream about when there is no other hope in sight. It is quieter and more wistful (and far more exhausted) than the “Jail bharo” exclamations at lavish dinners, in large houses, with multiple cars to transport them to said jails without having to worry too much about how much petrol or phone calls will be required for the mission.

As one of the concluding sessions of the Karachi Literature Festival, a much needed discussion on the economy was held, titled Pakistan Economy: Depth and Resilience. The panel featured leading figures in the field; Muhammad Aurangzeb, Akbar Zaidi, Azfar Ahsan and Miftah Ismail, moderated by Samiullah Siddiqi.

Although average Pakistanis have absolutely no idea what to do, Knowledgeable people like Muhammad Aurangzeb, opened the Pakistan Economy panel by announcing that “Everybody knows what we need to do. We know what we need to do, there is very little difference between what the PTI and the PMLN governments signed regarding the IMF deal.”

He also noted the thriving economy in Bangladesh. “In Bangladesh women in the workforce are very visible, and there are over 90 economic zones in Bangladesh”.

“This time around our hand will not be forced. This is a watershed moment. Whichever government comes, it has to follow the IMF… Friendly countries told us at Davos 'We will help you, once you help yourself.’… The private sector has to play a part…Do demand management and energy management...Pakistan has not defaulted at the Technical level yet… Everything is not black or white, there are grey areas. If the borrowing need is fixed then banks will start behaving… Our hands are now fast. Subsidies have to stop”.

“China is not happy with us. Saudi is extremely unhappy with us Saudi offered food security…People are doing Further investment in India and Kazakhstan, because Pakistan is incompetent…We must remember crops are only 40% of Agriculture. Dairy and livestock is 60% agriculture.”

Muhammad Aurangzeb joined HBL in April 2018 as the President and CEO. A former CEO of JP Morgan’s Global Corporate Bank based in Asia, he has a rich international banking experience of over thirty years in other senior management roles at ABN AMRO and RBS based in Amsterdam and Singapore.

Akbar Zaidi exclaimed “Destroyed nations do not have this many ministers or official cars! Look at the banks! Meezan took a lot of interest. People were lining up, and broke records to purchase Tim Hortons coffee for Rs 450 ! And what is this PSL tamasha?! In the Senate Jamaat e Islaami says disqualify the judges!

The people have been ruined ! It is important to differentiate who will be affected. It is not a mini budget. There is no spending control ! The IMF is not oppressing us the civiliian and military leadership is. IMF is only giving 1 billion dollars. For just one billion dollars we have degraded ourselves as a nation and we have compromised our sovreignty.”

Akbar Zaidi also received a round of applause from the audience when he said “ lets take the word resilience out of our vocabulary! It means we are tolerating something terrible. It is not time for resilience it is time for revolution”

In response to the moderator Samiullah Siddiqui saying that Pakistan is a food insecure state, Zaidi responded, “We have not been an agricultural state since decades, even though people think we are one. We need better trade. We do not talk to India, we do not trade with Iran because America prefers that we do not. India is booming. We should improve relations. If the Army now understands then what is the barrier?! We must move forward.”

Professor Dr. S. Akbar Zaidi is a political economist who also teaches and does research on colonial South Asian History. He has taught at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and at Columbia University from 2010 to 2020 and held a joint position at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA)

“Business creates wealth, and then wealth creation further multiplies… Telenor leaving because you don’t let them earn. You have to let local and international companies earn. There is a lack of political will and competence. The government needs to stay for 5 years without interruption… 90% of our building raw materials are imported from China. 8 Trillion rupees is Pakistan's informal economy. We must figure out how to bring it into the Formal economy.”

Muhammad Azfar Ahsan is a former Minister of State and Chairman of the Board of Investment, Government of Pakistan. He is the Founder of Corporate Pakistan Group (CPG). He is the Founder & CEO of Nutshell Group (Nutshell Communications, Nutshell Consulting & Nutshell Conferences. He has hosted more than 500 national and international conferences, seminars, training workshops and webinars.

Samiullah Siddiqui asked “When will we stop looking at our economy from the lens of defense expenditure? ”

Miftah Ismail responded to that. “We don’t want to be bombed by the Taliban, its not fun. I defended defense expenditure. I was called names for it. The Pakistani mindset is a national security mindset if foreigners work here they have to be checked by intelligence agencies. Pakistan makes it very difficult. There was not a single NOC for gas exploration during the PMLN government. The Army has understood that we have to stop our national security stance… We wanted to trade with India but I was told that Kashmir is not solved. India also does not want to trade because they get votes based on being anti Pakistan.

People have said ‘Let the government complete five years’ but Zia was here for twelve years and Ayub had 10 years. 40% of children in Pakistan are stunted. Half our children under 16 are not in school. They have no mental or physical health or school. Women have so much iron deficiency. PTI had almost four years and that did not bring any benefit either. We have systemic issues. Local government is needed. Half our children don’t go to school. The 50% kids who are left out of that go to private school. We fail all the children who go to govt school We do not have basic education in Pakistan. 2 or 2.5% of children do O levels. IBA and LUMS are for the children who do O levels only. Pakistan is only run for the 2% elite. This is a complete elite capture!

The income of 60% of Pakistan is less than 40 thousand rupees per month, for an entire family, some consisting of six children! Karachi Grammar School and Aitchison College is where most of the politicians come from. Half of rich people come from KGS. When the dollar goes up Audi cars start getting imported. I am begging you to think like a Pakistani not like a mohajir, or a rich or poor person. We need to stop thinking about the standard economic issues. We need to Re-imagine Pakistan. We should be ashamed of ourselves. 10 lakh children will not eat tonight,” said Miftah Ismail.

Miftah Ismail served as the Federal Minister of Finance from April 2022 to September 2022. He had previously served in the same office, from April 2018 to May 2018 in Khaqan Abbasi’s cabinet. He has also served as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, and as Chairman, Board of Investment, the Privatisation Commission and the Sui Southern Gas Company.

Samiullah Siddiqui is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Pakistan. Currently he is serving as Director Finance, Oxford University Press Pakistan Branch. He remained Executive Director and CFO of Linde Pakistan Limited and prior to that he has served with Siemens Pakistan in various position including CFO Energy Business responsible for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Dubai.