Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday told foreign investors that now was the time to come to Pakistan, when "it is just going on the upswing", and that they should not miss the boat.
Addressing the World Government Summit in Dubai, the premier recounted his government's reform agenda which he said they undertook to improve all of the country's economic policies.
Khan made a point to repeatedly hit on the need for economic reforms as International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde looked on from the audience.
“I repeat the reforms are painful ... It's like a surgery. When you conduct surgery for a while the patient suffers but then he improves,” Khan said. “The worst thing that can happen for society is that you keep postponing reforms because of the fear that you would have opposition, the vested interests stand up and you don't do reforms.”
The prime minister said his government was making efforts to cut down the fiscal deficit and imports and improve exports. "We have unfortunately had to raise bills because when we got into power we had a massive fiscal deficit and current account deficit," he told the audience that included world leaders, policymakers and businessmen.
He believed that Pakistan "now has a chance", with optimism already visible and investors coming into the country.
"We feel that this is the time that Pakistan will take off," the premier said with confidence.
Noting that investors must be allowed to make money, Khan said the government has been focusing on making it easier for people to do business in Pakistan. "We are changing our tax laws which were very cumbersome," he said, adding that signs of improvement taking place due to the reforms can already be seen.
The prime minister said his government was opening up the country for investors and tourists, and cited a new visa-on-arrival policy in this regard.
"This is the time to invest in the country and don't miss the boat," he told investors.
Khan said people were making money in Pakistan until the 1970s, when during the tenure of a socialist government the country's bureaucracy and politicians started believing that making money was somehow a sin. "So now we are reversing the whole thing," he said, stressing the need to generate wealth that could be used to lift people out of poverty.
But Khan said his government desired equitable growth.
"We don't want the rich to get richer and poor to get poorer," he said. "I am really against this neo-liberal economics where you have 62 people owning as much wealth as 3 billion people on this Earth."
The annual World Government Summit sees global leaders and sheikhs cross paths at a luxury hotel near Dubai's iconic, sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel. While typically an upbeat celebration of business buzzwords and self-help talks, this year's summit comes amid a worldwide turn toward populism and anti-elitism.
The premier's participation in the 7th edition of the summit will underscore Pakistan’s strong interest in the knowledge economy, green development and the importance of innovation for growth.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while speaking to journalists before departing for the UAE, said that governance is an important issue in the region in general and Pakistan in particular.
He explained that bad governance has created a lot of problems currently being faced by the country. He said the premier has been trying to introduce a fresh model and reforms for improvement in the performance of institutions.
Journey into politics
Prime Minister Khan recalled his journey from international cricket to the world of politics and reminisced the earlier decades of Pakistan's history, during which he said the country was progressing rapidly.
"The life of a country is in cycles, it's never in a straight line," he said.
The premier said he realised that while Pakistan was among the top five most charitable nations in the world, it was at the bottom of the countries where people pay taxes. He ascribed this to a lack of trust in the government among the people.
Citing the rapid development of the UAE and China, Khan said the key to countries' development was governance. He said he wanted to see Pakistan function on the principles of justice and humanity that were the hallmark of the welfare state of Madina.
The premier said for Pakistan to rise, it must have the rule of law; the state must take responsibility for its poor people, and a reform programme must be started.
Khan recapped some of the steps his party took when it came into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as part of a coalition government in 2013. He claimed that they were able to halve the poverty in the province in the next five years and returned to power with a two-thirds majority in 2018.
Meeting with Abu Dhabi crown prince
Prime Minister Khan earlier in the day held a bilateral meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Dubai.
The prime minister, who is on a day-long visit to the United Arab Emirates, exchanged views with the Abu Dhabi crown prince on matters of bilateral interest. Sheikh Mohammed received the premier upon his arrival in the emirate.
Khan also held separate meetings with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
A tweet by the PTI regarding the premier's meeting with the Dubai sheikh said: "Both leaders underscored the importance of greater collaboration in all areas of common interest especially in enhancing investment and trade."
The prime minister was accompanied by Foreign Minister Qureshi, Finance Minister Asad Umar, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razzak Dawood and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain, according to a press release issued by the PM Office media wing.