Finally, a single window interface in Pakistan for GCC investors
The Pakistan government has constituted a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) to be a “single window” interface facilitation to potential investors from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
The composition of the SIFC shows that the ‘Apex Committee’ will have the Prime Minister and chief of the Pakistan Army, provincial chief ministers, and federal ministers; the ‘Executive Committee’ will include top ministerial bureaucrats and two members from the army and the ‘Implementation Committee’ will have a special assistant to the Prime Minister and a senior member from the army along with concerned government functionaries on board.
The structure of SIFC and its committees are under discussion in Pakistan due to the heavy presence of military men at operational positions of SIFC. Civil bureaucracy does not look comfortable with this arrangement and bureaucratic circles are promoting the idea that the direct involvement of military personal in foreign investment initiatives is an act of no confidence towards the civil bureaucracy as well as the civilian government. Nevertheless, if one goes through the history of strategic and important foreign investments that came to Pakistan from GCC countries, one can find the answer to why Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has included military personnel in the hierarchy of this important and very timely initiative.
Sources in the planning division confirm that this inventiveness was the idea of the army chief himself, who during the last meeting of the National Security Committee explained his vision for inviting foreign investments from friendly countries, particularly from GCC countries-- but only after putting their own house in order. Thus, one can assume he is the initiator of the Economic Revival Plan endorsed by Sharif.
Another important factor that should be kept in mind is that the process of security clearances of foreign companies is directly related to the intelligence networking of the state and the presence of military in the body will help smoothen the process of work-related permissions/approvals where security clearances are involved. Moreover, Pakistan is inviting investments in key sectors of defense production, mineral exploration and mining, that are directly linked with "work approvals" in sensitive and remote areas of KPK, Punjab, and Balochistan.
Instant approvals through the single window interface are only possible when all stakeholders-- including law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies-- are at one table to mitigate the infamous red-tapism that hampers and discourages foreign investments in Pakistan.
Shazia Anwer Cheema
Therefore, instant approvals through the single window interface are only possible when all stakeholders (including law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies responsible for providing clearances etc) are at one table to mitigate the infamous red-tapism that hampers and discourages foreign investments in Pakistan. Furthermore, security for foreigners is also an important factor in providing a conducive atmosphere for foreign investments and falls practically under the Pakistan Army.
If one goes through the history of major foreign investments that came to Pakistan from GCC countries, it is interesting to note that most key investments came to Pakistan when there was military rule.
Pak-Saudi Fertilizer (Mirpur Mathelo) and Pak-Arab Fertilizer (Multan) projects were initiated in 1980 when Pakistan was under the military rule of General Zia ul Haq. The third major investment that came from GCC countries was from UAE. In July 2005, UAE-based Etisalat invested in Pakistan and bought shares in PTCL when the late General Musharraf was ruling the country. There is no doubt that in military rule, there is no bureaucratic maze and approvals come directly from one place: military headquarters.
After the end of the Musharraf era, Etisalat-- the Emirati-based telecommunications company-- was facing numerous issues and a number of PTCL properties were not transferred to Etisalat though they were included in bidding documents and also in contracts the Pakistan government signed with Etisalat.
Since Etisalat considers Pakistan a friendly country, it did not go for the international arbitration option against Pakistan-- even though it was waiting to fix its issue with the Pakistan government for 18 years. The Etisalat issue can be taken as the best example of how civilian bureaucracy creates problems for foreign investors.
On May 19, 2023, the Pakistan government categorically accepted in the Senate Standing Committee meeting that the government was unable to transfer the PTCL properties to Etisalat as per the agreement. One can understand that no foreign investor would want to face the problems faced by Etisalat, and the experience made GCC-based foreign investors extra careful when thinking of investing in Pakistan. Their trust and confidence had been shaken.
Therefore, in these circumstances, the high-powered SIFC will be a huge psychological security to future foreign investors who can see that Pakistan has adopted a unified approach to ease investments through a cooperative and collaborative ‘whole of the government approach’-- and with the representation of all stakeholders to help in swift project implementation.
– The writer is an author, columnist, and foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media.
She can be reached at @ShaziaAnwerCh Email: [email protected]