Pakistan is experiencing one of the darkest periods of its history. Political instability is eroding confidence in the nation's future. Declining economic growth and high inflation are hurting the people of all strata of society, particularly the poor whose numbers are rapidly rising. Is there any hope left for the country? Is it a case of the "darkest before dawn"? How do investors see it?
|Ex PM Imran Khan (R) with President Erdogan|
Writing in the Time magazine immediately after the recent arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, American investor, author and commentator Zachary Karabell who has invested in Pakistani startups sees rare hope for Pakistan. He sees Pakistan where Turkey was back in 2001-2003, "when a series of elections brought Recep Erdogan to power even as he was repeatedly disqualified by a military that was determined to retain control". Here's an excerpt of his article titled "The Contrarian Case for Pakistan" published in the current issue of Time Magazine:
"To some degree, this is an argument of “well, it’s not as bad as they say.” But it’s also a way of highlighting that Pakistan today may be a case of darkest before the dawn. With elections schedule for the fall, and with Imran Khan the most likely victor of said elections unless is his arrest leads to his disqualification as a candidate, Pakistan is in a very similar position to where Turkey was in 2001-2003, when a series of elections brought Recep Erdogan to power even as he was repeatedly disqualified by a military that was determined to retain control. Imran Khan has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of Erdogan, who after championing Turkish democracy and economic reform, then turned into the very type of corrupt autocrat that he had once fought against. But he nonetheless unleashed massive economic potential in Turkey and has left its 80 million people materially better off over the past 20 years, even as hyperinflation and Erdogan’s recent economic ineptitude is now eroding that. Should Imran Khan return to the head the government, he may well usher in a similar period in Pakistan, even as he has his own authoritarian and demagogic tendencies".
Here are some of the key points Karabell makes in his opinion piece:
1. Pakistan has a real and dynamic private sphere that is not only seeing a start-up and new business ecosystem that has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the past few years but operates freely in a way that would be inconceivable in many other countries. Compare it to Egypt, for example, which receives far less negative attention and more foreign money yet is almost entirely dominated by a military dictatorship. Or Algeria. And then there are countries which barely function at all, dominating a whole swath of Sub-Saharan Africa but also dot central Asia (Tajikistan anyone?).
2. Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world with 230 million souls, a median age of barely 22 and two-thirds of the population under the age of 30. That means unlike most of the world, it has a favorable demographic future.
2. Unlike, say, Nigeria, where the ethnic divisions and decades of corruption mean that it well-nigh impossible to treat the country as one unified market for goods and services, Pakistan is one common market even with its various tribal divisions.
|Pakistan Population Youngest Among Major Asian Nations. Source: Nikkei Asia|
Karabell concludes with the following:
State Bank Targets Fully Digital Economy in Pakistan
China to Further Expand, Deepen Ties with Pakistan
Pakistan Forecast to Become World's 7th Largest Consumer Market By 2030
Goldman Sachs Predicts Pakistan to Grow to World's 6th Largest Economy
Over a Million Pakistani University Students Enrolled in STEM Fields
Pakistani Startups Attract Record VC Funding
Pakistan at 75
Pakistan's Demographic Dividend: Record Remittances From Overseas Pakistanis
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