STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

State of Union address by an American President is an annual event in USA. The President addresses a joint session of Congress and Senate, with a few invitees. He gives a performance review and outlines future policies. Invariably it ends by President stating “State of Union is Good”.

Not far from this location Prime Minister Imran Khan would be addressing Overseas Pakistanis on 21st July in Capital One Arena. It has a capacity of 20,000. It should set the tone for the meeting with President Trump on July 22nd ten blocks away. I have been following the preparations. Dr. Abdullah Riar, Secretary OIC, PTI’s overseas arm, is working full steam with IK supporters from all over USA and Canada, to make it a memorable event. Watching the positive energy it has unleashed on social media, it shall be a block buster. Mainstream media is likely to be present. It should boost Pakistan’s image.

The meeting of leaders will cover a lot of thorny issues. The good part is that Pakistan will be represented by a leader who can hold his own ground while negotiating with a US President who prides in extracting the best deals. A match of Titans. It is a huge leap from scribble notes reader Nawaz Sharif, mumbling disjointed sentences with President Obama.

Whatever the outcome, it is a positive development for Pakistan emerging from international isolation. We are no longer on the defensive offering excuses or explanations. Pakistan has a narrative, it is interacting with Global leaders, with IK promoting Pakistan’s interests. Efforts of Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and resurgent Foreign Office team is making headway. Commendable.

Back to Pakistan, what is the State of Union here? Detonation of explosive disclosures continues. Shahbaz Sharif is hogging the lime light. His money laundering expose by Daily Mail is a source of national shame. Stealing aid destined for devastated and homeless victims of a massive earthquake is beyond being criminal.

The simplicity of Shahbaz’s deceitful scheme is material for a Hollywood film or course material for Howard’s scholars studying fraud.

Collect bribe money, store it in sacks in Pakistan. Make criminal money transfers from UK to self or nominees from funds paid in by unsuspecting Pakistani workers remitting to families. Pay out from bribe money to innocent beneficiaries. A Ponzi scheme that grew Shahbaz and clans’ alleged fortune from 150,000 to 220 Million Pounds.

The audacity of “Eik Dhela” Shahbaz’s “tamasha” eclipses the loot by bro Nawaz and plunder by Zardari. He is threatening a defamation suit in UK. I will travel to London and have asked Dr. Tariq Amin to hold a front row seat to witness this drama! As the onion of corruption peels off, the stench is getting worse. Former PM Abbasi is now on the ropes, with others to follow.

The ruling by Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on Reko Dik threatens to unravel the economy. A remote location 70 km into Chagai district of Baluchistan is home to Billions in gold and copper reserves. The award against Pakistan is $5.97 Billion and growing with accruing interest. This is more than what we bent over backwards to borrow from IMF; unleashing a storm of inflation and discontent, depleting PTI’s goodwill.

Government is going to set up a Commission to look into How and Why?  Reko Diq Agreement was originally signed with BHP in 1993 in undue haste (2 weeks) on very unfavorable terms (75:25) when Mueen Qureshi (an Economic Hitman) was the Interim Prime Minister, through his underlings.

Whatever the findings; it is yet another case of greed, arrogance, ignorant ruling elite who don’t look beyond their noses. Aggravating it was the mindless ex Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s reckless overturning of Baluchistan High Court’s judgment. This pea-brained, self serving bull in a china shop obviously has no understanding of how corporate giants operate. Having done business globally, I know that no corporate entity invests a single dollar till they have covered all eventualities, and some more.

Reneging on international contracts after Tethyan Copper Company (entity that took over from BHP) had invested $220 Million is a disaster that can blow us out of water. Pakistan has paid $100 million in legal fees thus far. This could quadruple if not brought under control. In Corporate world’s dealing with Contracts, you don’t slug it out, you settle on the best terms available. Both Federal and Provincial Governments need to develop a sensible exit strategy. This project has the potential to pay off our national debt if handled right, or drown us!

Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Government are walking a tight rope on multiple fronts. On one hand a rebellious opposition is getting more belligerent by the day as the noose tightens around their necks; on the other hand implement its reform agenda.

There are no easy answers. IK started this journey in 1996. It was never easy. I know because I was part of it. He overcame insurmountable challenges through sheer grit and Allah’s blessings. He has a chance to deliver. He has to stay the course. His entire legacy depends on it.

Accountability has to reach its logical conclusion. Despite stiff resistance tax base has to be widened. Industry has to be revived to create employment. Ease of doing business and one window approvals are a must. Strengthening Agriculture sector is our panacea, our cure-all, our heal-all.

Add to that, Mr. Prime Minister 51% of our population, our women folk need to engage in revenue generating activities in a meaningful way. I just returned from Indonesia. A Muslim country with similar values. It has successfully incorporated females into the work force. Most households are two income families. Educated Moms raise better kids. Primary education is pretty much universal.

This takes me to the time bomb over which I lose sleep. Population explosion in Pakistan. It is unsustainable and untenable. A working Mom will have more say in the size of the family! In ten, twenty years as our water resources dwindle, feeding the hungry will devour all our energies. The time to act boldly is now.

The State of Union is sustainable, barely. It requires Herculean energy, commitment, mental strength and an incomparable work ethic. Disrupters and doubters be damned!!! IK stay the course.

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