Against the context of flooding, terrorism and corruption, it might seem a strange and somewhat misplaced time to be writing about the benefits of economic investment in Pakistan. But those who know me as a writer, will know my attempts to wring out inspiring news stories and splash a spotlight on a side to life that is uplifting, but no less real.
I was recently sitting amongst a sea of suited businessmen in a swanky club in the heart of London, when an American-Pakistani friend shared the news that Forbes Magazine has produced an article saying that Pakistan was a good place to invest. She delivered the revelation in an excited whisper, and I watched the jaw of another friend drop to the floor. As a British-Pakistani businessman, he of course knew this to be true – but the fact that one of the most respected business magazines in the USA was saying it was an utter delight. What the media says does matter – especially in business.
The writer of the article, Helen Coster, talks much about Lahore, the Indus Entrepreneurs and an internet mogul named Monis Rahman. Coster doesn’t shy away from some of the obvious challenges about doing business in Pakistan, but ultimately insists that “the promise of doing business in Pakistan outweighs the frustration”.
I’m right with Rahman when he says: “You tend to hear the worst 5 per cent of the Pakistan story 95 per cent of the time,” but Coster’s story was so focused on the successful entrepreneur that I wonder whether his experience of the business landscape was unique to him, or at least unique to Lahore.
On closer inspection, I discovered many others are saying the same. In an article in Blue Chip Magazine, another businessman from Karachi claims that Pakistan is “entrepreneurial to the core” – something others I spoke to agree on. The Invest in Pakistan website lists the top five reasons for foreign investment in Pakistan as being: abundant land and natural resources; human resources (huge English speaking population); a large and growing domestic market (a growing middle class); well-established infrastructure and legal systems (road, rail, sea, IT); and geographic location – as principal gateway to the Central Asia Republics and connections to the Middle East and South Asia.
Putting it crudely, the labour and raw materials are cheap, the population is 6th biggest in the world and growing fast with over 50 per cent of the 180 million under the age of 20, and tax and set-up incentives for foreign investment are good.
Business giants, like GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare are increasing investment in what it considers a “high growth market”. Rs2 billion will be invested in Pakistan over the next five years. And it’s not just inward investment that holds potential. Last week the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry announced that despite economic challenges, Pakistani exports had reached $25 billion (against the government target of $20 billion). One export, which may surprise my fellow British countrymen, is bagpipes – in fact Pakistan is the world’s biggest producer of the Scottish instrument (worth $6.8 million in 2010).
I am not ignoring the floods, or the allegations of terror-funding, my Pakistani friends in London wouldn’t let that happen. I have my eye on the tides of disaster, but as I commit professionally to exploring Business with Britain, I can’t help but think that Business with Pakistan should certainly not be forgotten.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.