Development in Middle East has lessons and opportunities for Pakistan – Muhammad Azfar Ahsan

Islamabad: Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, Founder & CEO, Nutshell Group; former Minister of State & Chairman, Board of Investment (BoI) presented the keynote address at a Seminar titled “Developments in the Middle East: Lessons and Opportunities for Pakistan,” jointly organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and WE News, at a local hotel.

Azfar shared his observations on what has worked for the economies of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, and stressed that Pakistan needs collaboration and continuity at all levels, to be able to follow the same trajectory. “We cannot attract FDI without addressing our internal issues. With the continuation of policies and with collaborative effort of all concerned, we can draw FDI worth around USD 25 billion in the next 8-10 years.” He also highlighted his concern for the lack of a long-term policy and political will, leading to slow or no progress.

Talking about the need of the hour, Azfar declared competence and merit to be the best instruments for progress, as has been illustrated in the case of Riyadh and Qatar; both have come up as fast-progressing economies. “Meritocracy and competence should be the only criteria for people at the helm of affairs in the Government, and non-performers need to be removed.”

Azfar pointed out that the country lacks cohesion and coordination among all relevant stakeholders. He also emphasized that business is all about mutual benefit and that Pakistan cannot continue business engagements solely based on friendships and personal relationships.

Highlighting the need for a Big Rethink, Azfar said; “Things can improve with the appointment of competent individuals at the right places. Pakistan cannot compete globally with the current system and policies. These problems are solvable, and given the right direction, Pakistan will be ready to fly. To make this happen, however, the elite of Pakistan needs to put Pakistan first.”

Azfar also stressed on the importance of creating an enabling environment for Saudi investors. “Pakistan needs to identify the sectors where investment is needed and facilitate foreign investors instead of discouraging them. Rather than focusing on loans and subsidies, we should aim to attract a few billion dollars annually from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE.”

Azfar praised the efforts of Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, His Royal Highness Muhammad Bin Salman, as an exceptional visionary and credited KSA’s Vision 2030 to be a relevant blueprint for Pakistan. It was his strong planning that converted Riyadh into a center of investments where the global community is exploring joint ventures and other opportunities. Azfar said, “The number of women in their workforce has increased, and the ministries and government of KSA are now more efficient than the private sector. The credit goes to none other than HRH Muhammad Bin Salman.”

Closing his address, Azfar said that there are immense opportunities for Pakistan; “Saudi investors are willing to invest in Pakistan in eight sectors. As Chairman BoI, I took the responsibility to devise a strategy for collaboration between Pakistan and KSA for G2G, G2B and B2B investments.”

Azfar lamented that the biggest problem with Pakistan is political polarization. “How long will Pakistan continue to be an average performer? In order to turn around the current situation, there is a strong need for sustainable and investor-friendly policy frameworks, as well as a collaborative approach.”

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