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Opinion divided in Punjab

February 19, 2017

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SO far, Pakistan has mostly remained off the new US administration’s radar. But it has only been a month. How long? The question is keeping on their toes people related to economy, business and exports.

Interestingly, not many Punjab-based businessmen are bothered about the potential fallout of a possible American policy change towards Pakistan. Many of the businesspeople Dawn spoke with brushed off any negative impact of US protectionist approach.

“Economic and business relationships have never been a cornerstone of the bilateral ties between Islamabad and Washington,” argued CEO of a major textile company that sells most of its products to American firms.

“In fact, our economic relationship with the US has always been a byproduct of America’s strategic and military interests in Pakistan and the region. As long as these interests remain part of the US foreign policy objectives and they continue to get the desired results, we don’t have to worry about Trump’s policies or his treatment of some Muslim nations,” he insisted, refusing to lend his name to his thoughts.

Some even took comfort in the fact that the Republican president had spoken quite “effusively” about Pakistan and its leadership when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had telephoned him to congratulate on his victory.

“We aren’t like any other (Muslim) country whose citizens have been barred from entering the US,” asserted a senior executive of a major commercial bank.

“The Americans realise this and are aware of our strategic importance in this region, and will keep away from drastic decisions.” The banker actually feels very much “encouraged” by Trump’s willingness to mediate between Islamabad and New Delhi.

Some insist that Pakistan’s reliance on the US for investment and trade has already been on the decline. “How low can Pakistan’s economic and business relationships with the US further sink? In the worst-case scenario, Trump will curb immigration from Pakistan, cut aid and put restrictions on future American investments here. But he will not go to that extent because it will erode whatever political influence it still enjoys on Islamabad,” a former president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, refusing to be named for ‘personal’ reasons.

He was of the view that China was fast substituting America as the largest foreign investor in Pakistan and becoming its biggest trading partner under the $55bn CPEC. “The completion of the corridor has the potential to turn Pakistan into a regional trading hub and connect its exports with new markets. But the government will have to tweak its policies here and there to boost domestic investments in the export-oriented industries,” he added.

However, there are businessmen who think the Trump policies could indirectly, if not directly, hit Pakistan’s economy.

“What if his protectionist and anti-Muslim policies weakened the fragile global economy? Another global recession will hit Pakistan’s exports hard, slow down investments — including from China — and lead to job losses.

“Let’s pray President Trump doesn’t implement the agenda of Candidate Trump,” the chairman of a major business group with interests in textiles, cement and other industries concluded.

Why the turnaround in US policy

• Clip the influence of others in evolving a multi-polar world.

• Appease the anti-establishment sentiments.

• Trade social gains for economic promises.

• Reverse the progress of liberal ideas.

• Secure more jobs in US at any cost.

• Play on US citizens’ base instincts to broaden support.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2017