Islamabad, Pakistan: Pakistan has high hopes for the results of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) and believes it can attract much-needed direct foreign investment in the sectors of minerals and agriculture. It is understood that irritants who do not want to see a stable economy in Pakistan are targeting this initiative through their proxies and one such proxies is the media in Pakistan.
The target market for immediate investment is Gulf countries and China while critical reviews of SIFC coming from think tanks indicate that the initiative can not be a successful economic venture without structural reforms and the mandate of “SIFC neither include institutional reforms nor simplification of procedures despite the acknowledgment that complexity of business regulations and bureaucratic hurdles are the reasons behind dismal state of economy”. Such criticism regarding the complexity of business regulations and bureaucratic hurdles is valid and this situation compelled the state to form SIFC because large-scale overhauling of the system is time-consuming while the economic health of the country cannot survive in existing circumstances. Therefore, SIFC is the short-term but workable option to mitigate the complexity of business regulations and bureaucratic hurdles.
There is no doubt that the reform agenda should be the priority of the next elected government by taking all stakeholders on board to create ease for Pakistani entrepreneurs and improve the provision of public services because the success of SIFC also requires sustainable solutions that are only possible through overhauling of the system.
It may be mentioned that SIFC has identified projects in four sectors: Agriculture, Mining and Minerals, I.T., and Energy and it surely replaces the redundant Board of Investment (BOI) therefore the BOI should be disbanded by the next elected government so any possible overlapping or conflict would be avoided between the two body—SIFC and BOI. The inefficiency of BOI is a known fact because civil bureaucracy never works for institutional and regulatory reforms that have been responsible for the reluctance of foreign investors and BOI failed to play its role in the formation of such regulations and did not go beyond just recommendations.
A recent report released by the Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRME) confirmed that the policy environment of the country is unconducive for business growth and the frequent changes and the repetition of ineffective policies have weakened the interest of foreign investors. In these circumstances indicated by the PRME report, the SIFC could be the best possible move to win the interest and trust of foreign investors and that is the core reason the SIFC was established.
The target market of SIFC for attracting foreign investment is Gulf countries as well as China and the initiative is receiving appreciation in Gulf media that believes that for the first time in its foreign relations with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and China, Pakistan is not asking for money but offering workable and sustainable business opportunities through the SIFC.
In the article “India-Middle East Engagement Should Make Pakistan Rethink International Relations”, the writer explained the history of Pakistan’s relations with Middle Eastern friends stating that Pakistan’s style of being “always in need” somehow or others frustrates its traditional relations with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and other gulf states. The writer is of the view that for the first time in its 50-plus years of foreign relations with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and China, Pakistan has something in its hands that is tangible and a respectful way of asking for support through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC).
The recent SIFC Roadshow in Dubai (November 5-7, 2023) was a success as the event was on projecting Pakistan’s latent potential and attracting global investments in the key sectors of the economy. The roadshow attracted many global businessmen and investors to the event. The Officials of SIFC held extensive engagements with global investors, highlighting Pakistan’s immense potential and investment opportunities under the auspices of SIFC; projects under SIFC were pitched for attracting prospective investments in the key sectors.
Since Pakistan is attracting business opportunities and direct investment from Gulf countries, it is the foremost duty of the state to be vigilant about irritants within Pakistan and abroad who will keep striking to make this initiative a failure. The foremost responsibility lies on the national media which can play a pivotal role in enhancing or damaging relations among Pakistan and Gulf countries. It has been observed that certain elements are trying to criticize certain Gulf states about the ongoing situation in the Middle East. Any irresponsible role of national media would have a far-reaching impact on Pakistan’s relations with friendly countries and even part II, chapter 1 of the Constitution of 1973 dealing with Fundamental Rights and Freedom of speech expresses reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or with contempt of court. Media laws also safeguard friendly relations with foreign States and do not allow criticism of friendly countries that can harm Pakistan’s foreign relations with friendly countries.
This is the duty of media law regulators like PEMRA and the Ministry of Information to keep an eye on any attempt that can frustrate Pakistan’s relations with friendly Gulf countries that have always been helpful to Pakistan and are potential partners in the SIFC initiative.