BUILDING THE ECONOMY WHILE ACCOMMODATING OUR COMPATRIOTS ABROAD

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Pakistan Economy

A prominent British Pakistani invited me to a private gathering in London, where a former member of the British Parliament noted that Pakistanis have a stronger attachment to Pakistan than the Jews towards Israel. This is true for all Pakistanis, including the millions scattered around the globe.

While overseas Pakistanis in the Middle East are mostly visiting workers with Pakistani passports, most overseas Pakistanis in Europe and America are permanent residents of their respective countries of domicile. Most of the second generation of these permanently settled overseas Pakistanis (PSOPs) have very strong ties with their country of origin, and have in many cases retained their business and family ties therein.

This has occurred despite the many problems faced by them, such as illegal possession of their properties by extended families and friends in Pakistan, harassment by various government departments, and discriminatory treatment by the government and the private sector.

There are frequent discussions in the Pakistani media on the contribution of overseas Pakistanis to foreign exchange remittances. $13 billion (or Rs1.17 trillion) was remitted by them in 2012. These remittances equal almost 7% of Pakistan’s GDP, and nearly 60% of total tax revenues. Additionally, there are other forms of contribution from overseas Pakistanis which are by and large been excluded from these discussions.

PSOPs in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia number more than 3.25 million. In the western hemisphere, the UK has the distinction of having the second largest population of overseas Pakistanis (1.2 million), second only to Saudi Arabia (with 1.5 million overseas Pakistanis). The UAE also hosts 1.2 million overseas Pakistanis (and hence shares number two position with the UK). There are an estimated 240,000 PSOP households in UK, and another 210,000 households in other countries in the western hemisphere.

The economics of UK-based PSOPs’ ties with Pakistan reveals some interesting conclusions. According to London-based Edbiz Consulting, UK-based PSOPs spend Rs27 billion on travelling to Pakistan on an annual basis. This provides potential revenue of Rs18.9 billion to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), if only 70% of these PSOPs actually opt for PIA for their travels to Pakistan. These PSOP families spend an additional Rs12 billion during their stay in Pakistan, if it is assumed that only half of PSOP families visit Pakistan on an annual basis, and spend Rs100,000 per family during their stay in the country.

In addition, a number of PSOP families have invested heavily in Pakistan. While the Bestway Group of Sir Anwar Parvez is the most cited example, there are hundreds of other projects and businesses that have attracted investments from PSOPs. For example, Dr Muhammad Sharif’s family (no relation to Mian Nawaz Sharif), a London-based PSOP, set up Bhikki Power Plant on Sheikhupura-Faisalabad Road, with a generation capacity of 225 megawatts. There are numerous other power projects in Azad Kashmir which are led by PSOP families from the UK.

These families have the capacity and resolve to play an even bigger role in the economic development of Pakistan if the government assures them of safety of their investments and a level playing field to operate their businesses without undue hindrance and harassment from different government departments and authorities.

It is, however, unfortunate to observe the hostile attitudes of some bureaucrats as well as the unsympathetic views taken by judicial institutions towards the PSOPs. A recent decision to bar PSOPs (or Pakistanis with dual nationalities) to contest elections in Pakistan reflects this hostility. There is no doubt that overseas Pakistanis in general, and PSOPs in particular, have played a very significant role in the Pakistani economy. It will be a great disservice to Pakistan and its people if these sincere and patriotic Pakistanis abroad are pushed away through government policies and undue hostility towards them.

If the new government takes a sensible stance towards overseas Pakistanis, they will be ready to help the country out of the rut it finds itself in. This is particularly important given the external financing gap of $5-7 billion faced by the economy. A successful campaign by the new government, aimed at increasing foreign remittances, is only possible when overseas Pakistanis are happy and feel wanted and respected by the government, judiciary and other departments and authorities.

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