by SIRAJ WAHAB
JEDDAH – Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has suggested that Saudi corporates and the private sector invest in his country’s power industry.
“They can set up coal-fired power stations in Pakistan,” he said during an informal meeting with journalists at his Jeddah residence on Tuesday.
“We now have a stable economy and we are offering excellent returns on investments.”
One coal-fired power station requires an investment of $1 billion. This could be an attractive proposition for large companies and powerful businessmen as well as for energy giant Saudi Aramco. Sharif’s comments came in response to the ways and means of leveraging the excellent ties that currently exist between the Pakistani and Saudi leadership.
Sharif said the element of “affection” has added a new dimension to our relationship. “We had fruitful and meaningful meetings with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, Crown Prince Salman and Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin in the presence of National Security Council chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, intelligence chief, Prince Khaled bin Bandar, National Guard Minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah,” he said.
The visit and the unprecedented honor that the top Saudi leadership accorded to Sharif sent a powerful message to one and all — that Saudi Arabia remains firmly and fully committed to Pakistan’s elected political leadership.
“This visit has taken our relationship to a new level, and I felt particularly overwhelmed when King Abdullah called me his brother and when Prince Muqrin visited me at my residence in Jeddah,” said Sharif.
His close confidant, Finance Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar, who was also present during the meeting, said: “The world has acknowledged our efforts. They have praised the direction we have taken. International ratings agencies have revised their prognoses. From a ‘negative’ rating, we now have a ‘stable’ rating. This is their vote of confidence in our government.”
He said it took Pakistan one year of firefighting to put things in order in Pakistan.
“When we took over, the situation was dire. International financial agencies were suggesting that we would go bankrupt by June 2014. Nothing of that sort has happened because of our transparency and good governance.”
Dar listed a number of achievements on the economic front. “The biggest barometer of any government’s success is the stock market. The moment Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was voted in, the (Karachi) stock market went up. “It was at 14,000 points when we took over and its is now at 30,000 points.”
The another important highlight, Dar pointed out, was the stability of Pakistan’s currency. “We have managed to achieve 98 rupees to the dollar and it has been in that range for a fairly long time,” he said. “These are the wages of good governance and a transparent government.”
Sharif said it was extremely important to maintain political stability. “Investment is directly related to political stability,” he said.
The prime minister admitted that the government and some sections of the media have not been able to communicate and appreciate the gains that the government has achieved on the economic front in a short span. “We need to create greater awareness among the people,” he said.
Sharif, who is known as an indefatigable fighter for democracy in his country, dismissed any threat to his government from any quarter.
“Having gone through all kinds of revolutions, there is now near unanimity among our people and most of our political parties, including religious ones, that democracy is the only solution. Any revolution in Pakistan is possible only through the ballot,” he said.
Referring to the protest marches called by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri on Aug. 14, Sharif expressed surprise at the perpetual politics of agitation.
“I fail to understand his (Imran Khan’s) reasoning,” he said. “After the elections, Imran Khan publicly accepted the mandate. He did express some reservations and that was it,” said Sharif. “What has happened now for him to indulge in such subversion?”
Without mentioning Qadri, he said: “How can someone with a limited following hold hostage a government with a massive mandate?”
Exuding the confidence, Sharif said those who are interested in organizing protest rallies were free to do as they wish. “This (Aug. 14) too shall pass,” he said.
Picking up from Sharif, Dar said: “The question to us is that why the prime minister made that victory speech so early on the day of counting last year. Well, results from more than 100 constituencies were in. And it was a clear landslide for us. Should we have waited for a permission from Imran Khan before we made our victory speech?” asked Dar. “That is ridiculous.”
To a question about the criticism that he has faced on Kashmir, Sharif gave a pragmatic answer. “Our stated policy on Kashmir is crystal clear. There is no deviation (from that policy),” he said.
“We need to understand that any solution to Kashmir is possible only with the convergence of views of all three parties — the Kashmiris, the Pakistanis and the Indians. If any one of these parties is not on board, then the chances of any solution is negligible.”
In a blunt statement, Sharif said: “Those days when we thought we are always right are gone. The world has changed. While we should make efforts to help the world understand us, we also need to change with changing times and move ahead.”
Sharif said he had an excellent meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I found him to be a forward-looking person,” he said. “The courtesies that were extended to me during his (Modi’s) swearing-in indicated that everyone wants to move ahead for the good of everybody.”
He said Pakistan was looking forward to opening a new chapter in its ties with Afghanistan.
“We had good ties with President Hamid Karzai, and now that a new president is about to take over, we are full of hope,” said Sharif. “We will build on our relationship with Afghanistan.” — ArabNews