Future of Pakistan Conference at the London School of Economics

Political stability and continuity of policies essential for economic take-off:  Minister Ahsan Iqbal

Mr Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms termed political stability and continuity of policies essential for economic take-off and development. This is the lesson Pakistan has learnt the hard way and today no political party wants to derail the democratic system, said the Minister. He was speaking as Chief Guest at the Future of Pakistan Conference held at the London School of Economics (LSE) on 19 November 2016. The event was organized by the LSE Pakistan Development Society in collaboration with Pakistan Society and the High Commission for Pakistan in London.

In his address that lasted well over an hour, the Minister gave a detailed overview of the government’s development agenda and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He said that as promised in its election manifesto, the
government of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif at the very outset developed a roadmap for socio-economic development of the country and came up with the Vision 2025. The four key areas of this vision, popularly known
as 4 Es, are Economy, Energy, Extremism and Education, stated the Minister.

Speaking on economic turnaround of Pakistan, the Minister said:” In the last three years, the economy has seen a steady growth from 2.5% in 2013 to 4.8% last year. In 2013, the inflation was in double digit whereas it is
the lowest currently. Karachi Stock Exchange is considered on of the best performing stock exchanges in the region. The International Financial Institutions and credit rating agencies are showing confidence in Pakistan
economy. The international media that used to run stories about Pakistan’s economic collapse, is today calling Pakistan the next emerging market.Political stability and right economic policies bring about economic

The Minister updated the audience on the improved energy situation in Pakistan and said from 18-20 hours daily load shedding in 2013, it has come down to 6-8 hours. He said: “The biggest ever investment in the country is
being made in energy sector, which is US $35 billion out of US$46 billion portfolio of CPEC. Not only is the government focusing on power generation, but its current priority includes setting up new transmission lines and
efficient distribution system. Energy alone is a big multiplier as it increases growth, production and job opportunities.”

Speaking about Pakistan’s successful fight against extremism and terrorism,Mr Ahsan Iqbal said that in 2013, state was hostage to extremism and was on defensive whereas now the extremists are on defensive and the state on
offensive. He said peace in Karachi has been restored and the city is again becoming hub of commercial activities. The Minister commended the role of civil and military intelligence agencies in fighting extremism.

On fourth priority area of the government i.e. eduction, the Minister said after the 18th Amendment, the education has become a provincial subject but the federal government is still assisting the provinces to modernize the
education system. In this regard, he said, National Curriculum Council has been set up in Islamabad in partnership with provinces aiming to revise curriculum for promoting critical thinking and innovation as well as
develop technical skills. Similarly, the government, under its holistic approach to modernize the education system of the country, has also initiated Reform of Examination Boards and Teachers Training Programme,elaborated Mr Ahsan Iqbal. He further said that during the US visit of the Prime Minister Pakistan-US Knowledge Corridor initiative was launched and it was agreed that 10,000 Pakistani PhD’s would be produced in leading US universities in next ten years that would help meet the demand of qualified teachers at our universities. He further said, Federal government has increased allocation of Higher Education Commission from Rs 100 b to Rs 215 b in last three years. Every district will have ab university campus in three years.

The Minister said the government has successfully delivered on the above four key priority areas that it promised to the people of Pakistan.

Mr Ahsan Iqbal spoke at the CPEC in detail and termed it a game changer. He said: “The CPEC would turn Pakistan’s geo strategic location to its geo economic advantage. Within three years, the first convoy of goods has successfully travelled from China to Gwadar through Western Route that has made CPEC operational.”  He stated that all provinces of Pakistan would benefit from CPEC as it would generate surplus energy and set up industrial
zones and fibre optic. Expressing his satisfaction on the pace of the work on CPEC, the Minister informed that the Western Route would be completed in 2018 and the Eastern Route in 2019. However, he cautioned the audience not
to pay heed to negative propaganda from some quarters about CPEC.

The Minister thanked the students for putting together such a wonderful event and giving him an opportunity to put across governments vision for the development of the country. As a word of advice, he asked them to remain positive and trust the political leadership as the government was fully focused on economic development of the Pakistan and empowerment of the people at the grassroots level. The Minister spent the whole day at the Conference and made necessary interventions during other sessions;particularly, responding to a question he updated the audience about
government’s developmental work in Gilgit-Baltistan. Dr Mukulika Banerjee, Director of the South Asia Centre at LSE moderated the session with the Minister.

The Conference was inaugurated by Syed Ibne Abbas, Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK. In his address, he said the Conference was being held at a very opportune time when the narrative about Pakistan in the world is changing fast as the economy of Pakistan is growing and security situation has improved significantly. This is happening due to the vision of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He congratulated the students and South Asia Centre at LSE for holding the Conference and assured the students of High Commission’s support for their future events.

Dr Miftah Ismail, Minister of State, Board of Investment, spoke on the topic of Economics: Challenges for CPEC and the Taxation System and apprised the audience about tax reforms. He said the enforcement capacity of the state to collect taxes was being improved and the economy was being formalized and documented. Dr Miftah Ismail said CPEC would build infrastructure and develop trade linkages. Investment in energy sector under CPEC would remove energy shortfall that would automatically boost GDP growth by 2%, added the minister. The second panelist was Dr Adeel Malik, a development economist, emphasized on taking into consideration the socio-economic aspects of the CPEC for its successful execution. Dr Adnan Khan of LSE moderated the session.

Dr S. Akbar Zaidi  and Dr Simbal Khan, as panelists discussed Politics: Challenges for Democracy and Inter provincial Relations. They said democracy was taking roots in Pakistan but emphasized on the need to ensure
continuity of democratic process. Umair Javed, a PhD candidate at LSE moderated the session.

Dr Umar Saif, Chairman of Punjab IT Board and Dr Mehvish Shami of LSE spoke on the topic of Development: Core Priorities. Dr Saif gave an overview of the structural reforms being carried out by the Punjab government. Dr Shami
underlined the importance of connectivity through physical and digital infrastructure for the empowerment of the people. The session was moderated by Dr Nabeel Goheer of the Commonwealth.

Mr Ahsan Salim, Co-founder, The Citizen Foundation gave an introduction to the educational work of his Foundation in Pakistan and highlighted the importance of introducing critical thinking in curriculum.

Mr Iqbal Latif, a renowned entrepreneur, struck a very optimistic note about the progress and development made by Pakistan thus far. However, he emphasized on the need of an early census for effective future planning.

The Conference provided a useful opportunity to discuss all what matters to the future of Pakistan and helped connect the young and bright students to the experts and scholars in various fields.

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