Who will invest in Pakistan if its head of state constantly highlights its corruption and desperation?

Published: December 2, 2018

PM Imran, Malaysian PM Mahatir address joint press conference. PHOTO: RADIO PAKISTAN

Prime Minister Imran Khan, after taking oath, has so far been on six foreign trips despite initially stating that he would not go on any foreign trips for the first three months. Perhaps given the economic dire circumstances, these trips were inevitable.

The extent of success of these trips, with respect to obtaining economic aid and attracting investment, is still being debated in the national media. However, another thing which is under discussion is the way prime minister conducted himself on these trips. Like all rulers, Imran has also tried to market Pakistan by pointing towards its large young population, its investment-friendly foreign policies and strategic location. However, what he has been saying about its economic problems, institutions and opposition parties has created a lot of controversies.

For example, before going to Saudi Arabia, Imran in his first interview with foreign media openly stated that Pakistan was desperate for Saudi aid:

“We are desperate for money. Unless we get loans from friendly countries or IMF, we actually won’t have the foreign exchange to either service our debts or to pay for our imports, so unless we get loans or investment from abroad, we’ll have real, real problems.”

Subsequently, he reiterated the same thing during the Future Investment Initiative Conference, that Pakistan was in dire states and needed assistance.

Further, he also lamented about weak institutions and corruption during the same conference. He also raised the same issue of corruption of the ruling elite during his visit to China.

However, perhaps the most controversial speech was in Malaysia in front of the Pakistani diaspora, where Imran accused Pakistani opposition of ganging up against him in order to protect themselves against the anti-corruption crackdown.

Should Imran be saying these things? Some of his supporters say that it is better to be candid as the world already knows these things. A counter opinion is that since Imran is now the head of the state and is representing Pakistan, he has to be more careful.

I agree with the second point of view as I think Imran needs to show some responsibility when speaking about his country. My contention is that when you are the head of a state, what you say carries much more weight which in turn can have a counter intended effect.

For example, as a prime minister, Imran has admitted desperation to get aid and investment. I am not sure that showing desperation and constantly saying that the country is on the verge of collapse is going to even attract aid let alone investment. Regarding aid, signalling desperation merely gives the upper hand to the counter party who can put tough terms and conditions in the provision of aid. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Imran went to Saudi Arabia and openly admitted that Pakistan was desperate for loans. This open admission of desperation – despite the fact that Saudi Arabia itself is facing international backlash and actually needed our support – merely weakened Pakistan’s hand.

In the end, although Pakistan received some assistance, the terms – still undisclosed – might require Pakistan to do a lot more than it bargained for. Recently, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI)’s Shehryar Afridi was allegedly in a lot of trouble for merely speaking against Saudi’s lack of due process against ordinary Pakistanis in drug smuggling cases. The minister was correct in pointing out that Pakistanis often accused of drug smuggling were executed without even proper investigation and moreover, the worst kind of human rights abuses were being committed against prisoners in Saudi Arabia. However, it is claimed that he was made to apologise to the Saudi ambassador. Our open admission of desperation has weakened our position even in front of Saudi Arabia, which right now is itself in a very weak position.

Further, Imran’s admission of desperation also undermined Pakistan’s desire to attract foreign investment. It is obvious that investors don’t invest in ‘desperate’ countries and if they do, they seek a very high return in line of the high risk they are taking. When the head of the state acknowledges desperation and washes his country’s dirty laundry in front of the world, he is also amplifying the weaknesses and consequently, it is no surprise that investment becomes even more expensive. In Malaysia also, he lamented about ‘unprecedented debt’, which again puts a question mark on Pakistan’s efforts to market itself as an attractive investment destination.

More importantly, constantly mentioning corruption on international trips also has the same deterrent effect on foreign investment. Which investor would want to invest in a country whose head of state is constantly drawing attention to the country’s corruption? Another fact, which Imran and his government are perhaps unaware of or deliberately hide, is that although Pakistan is still considered a corrupt country, over the years its corruption level has steadily declined. In fact, according to Transparency International, controlling corruption is one area where Pakistan has shown progress. Instead of highlighting this improvement, Imran has been lamenting about absurd levels of corruption on his trips the same way he used to do in his electoral campaign.

Secondly, Imran’s constant attack on past governments and accusing them of corruption is also problematic. What he said in Malaysia in particularly was erratic and even irresponsible. What Imran perhaps forgets is that more than half of his party is comprised of individuals from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Saying that opposition is corrupt also undermines his party.

Furthermore, as pointed out rightly by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, it points towards insecurity on his part. It merely shows that since he is not able to deliver on his promises, he is trying to deflect opposition’s criticism by accusing them of corruption, not only in Pakistan but also on foreign trips. Foreign trips are not appropriate venues to discuss domestic politics.

This becomes even more regrettable when compared to PML-N and PPP’s leadership’s behaviour during their trips. In 2017, right in the middle of the Panama scandal, Nawaz Sharif went to Hong Kong to market Pakistan. While he lauded his government’s performance, he avoided attacking the opposition, which at that time was causing a lot of problems for him. Before that also, at every international forum, he avoided attacking the opposition and merely tried to present a positive image of Pakistan. Before him, the PPP leadership also invited foreign investment on several forums without resorting to attacks on opposition, lamenting about corruption and ‘weak’ institutions or accusing the opposition.

Prime minister needs to understand that he is now in the government and should come out of his ‘opposition mode’. The buck stops with him now; he cannot keep on blaming former governments for everything and particularly at every stage. Time has come for him to start acting like a statesman.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Patwari

    So Imran Khan should lie, deceive, misstate facts and be untruthful? And not expose the misdeeds of the previous govts. that has put Pakland in such a precarious position!?!
    After all, it was the previous cabals in the govts. that looted and plundered Pakland to almost
    bankruptcy. The only Nuclear Armed Muslim Country. Near penniless. With looted $200 billions sitting in off shore accounts. Not a day goes by with new scandals of corruption of the past rulers.
    In this day and age nothing is secret. Or hidden. Just about every country, except domicile,
    Papua/New Guinea knows the financial dire straits of the Land of the Pure. So why lie?
    Like some previous emperors of Pakland lied blatantly. With fake figures by a Finance Minister who has absconded to London. [he owns 14 properties in Dubai, on a minister’s salary!!??!]
    If they do not tell the truth,…Hindustan will make sure the truth is out.Recommend

  • Parvez

    On this one I have to agree with you Imran Khan should have adopted Zardari or Nawaz as his role model or at least followed Mr. Dar’s policies……after all the results after ten years are ” fantastic ” …..and our country’s coffers are overflowing and there is progress all around and due to their policies our credibility to borrow from the international agencies is rock solid.
    Sir, I have said it before and I’ll say it again, to be balanced it is necessary to give both sides and paint a full picture ….. otherwise the point you are making, even if it has substance gets diluted and loses credibility.Recommend

  • Iftikhar Khan

    Where even foreign cricket and hockey players decline the invitation to visit, it is useless to make a case to invest in Pakistan, no matter what you say to investors. But Imran Khan should be representing Pakistan by making a strong pitch instead of proving himself to be an honest, truthful and good Muslim. Unfortunately, many a times, trying to be a “great” Muslim also means “bad” for Pakistan – think about Zia ul Haq for a moment.Recommend

  • MMS

    you can make people feel that Pakistan became Asian tiger in 2013-2018 by media propaganda but can not fool the investors. IK is right atleast he is saying we have problem and we are trying to solve it.Recommend

  • Muhammad Faisal Nadeem

    Truth is solution of all Systems……Atleast IK is trying to clean our corrupt systems by telling real picture to INVESTORS
    People will do investment when the they know, Head of state is cleanRecommend

  • Abdul moiz

    It really is annoying to see every PTI member blaming the past government for everything, that is all they have been doing ,
    Ask them about economy – nawaz and his cabal,
    Ask about the writ of state nawaz and his cabal,
    Ask about u turns – Hitler
    Ask about performance – Nawaz and his cabal
    Ask about accountability for all – -Nawaz and his Cabal
    Ask about the purpose of ministries like ministry of culture – Nargis and her parrot green dressRecommend

  • ali

    Didn’t the investors know it already?Recommend

  • Muhammad Irshad

    IK is head of Govt not head of state… PM is head of Govt and President is head of the state.. so the heading of this article is defective.Recommend

  • Patwari

    You started being right, then halfway you became totally wrong. Typical Pak mentality and maneuvering in spades.
    See, nothing beats being an honest, truthful and good Muslim. Or a Christian, or a Hindu.
    Zia was an aberration, something you will wish on your enemies. Nothing more.
    He would have sold his mother down the street to stay in power.
    “Think about Mohd. Ali Jinnah for a moment.”Recommend

  • Humza

    I don’t think you are understanding what the author has written. No leader in the world plays petty local politics on international trips and expects others to invest in the nation. Imran Khan is the PM for all Pakistanis, even those of us who did not vote for him. It takes maturity to understand that he is the PM of all Pakistanis and to stop attacking other parties and Pakistanis with different political views while abroad. The same Imran Khan who called CPEC a joke or who mounted never ending dharnas to deter Chinese and Turkish leaders from coming can’t now turn about and encourage CPEC and investment. His simplistic corruption rants against his own country will never encourage anyone to invest in Pakistan. Especially when his own party is riddled by Ministers who rank amongst the most corrupt themselves! So of course the rupee will deflate and the country’s international ranking will go down. Compare with the last government which had a clear policy for infrastructure, energy and CPEC which continues to bear fruit with the arrival of foreign car manufactures such as VW. No one can deny that Pakistan’s ranking among all international financial houses improved under the last government but now I fear that everything will slow down.People like Trump and Imran Khan use simplistic rants which may appeal to simplistic minds but they do irreparable harm to society.Recommend

  • muzaffaralisyed

    who was willing to invest before IK came into power ?
    why do we keep fooling ourselves. He genuinely told the world that the corrupt elite is now out of power so it’s time to invest.Recommend

  • RHR

    I understand the hurt of PTI supporters. This argument that one has to be candid and investors are not stupid does not work. Because when a head of the state is saying we are desperate, he is also signalling his incapacity to rectify the situation. Moreover, a head of the state is privy to the actual situation and showing desperation openly is NOT going to solve problems.
    No other PM has done this. You can keep on spinning Imran’s every blunder but this is not how you market your country.
    No one is saying that Imran should lie but this attitude and choice of words is poor.Recommend

  • RHR

    can you take the trouble of actually reading the blog?
    Then tell me where I went wrong?



  • RHR

    I understand the hurt, as “change” is proving to be a complete farce..
    Dua karein…because ab Allah he theek kar sakta haiRecommend

  • gp65

    Your sarcasm too has a touch of class just like every other comment you make. Having said that, every blog does not have to be a comparative assessment of Imran with Nawaz and Zardari. Imran is now the PM of Pakistan and his actions/inactions can be viewed independently.
    If Dar is being tried by NAB, he should not get a clean chit for corruption because Zardari was more corrupt. His accountability should stand on its own. Similarly, accountability of Imran Khan should stand on its own. It is obvious that the Pakistani people were not satisfied with the earlier rulers and hence they were not re-elected.
    Granted, one cannot blame Imran for the currency devaluation because it is a direct outcome on the current account deficit and overvalued rupee left behind by PML-N. But surely Imran can and should be held accountable for his own speeches?Recommend

  • gp65

    “So Imran Khan should lie, deceive, misstate facts and be untruthful? And not expose the misdeeds of the previous govts. that has put Pakland in such a precarious position!?!”
    No need to lie. One can choose what one says and to which audience.Recommend

  • Humza

    Ever heard of 60 billion dollars invested in Pakistan during the last government’s tenure? Or how about the automotive policy which has encouraged VW, Renault, Kia and Hyundai to invest in Pakistan? Or how about the Saudi financed refinery which was being inked before the election? You need to dig up reports from the NY Times, Standard and Poor or other Western financial houses which will show you that Pakistan’s economy and markey was being reclassified as a middle income nation. You really think Imran Khan telling the world that India is less corrupt than Pakistan is going to encourage investment in our country ? By the way, he spoke about corruption in the Middle East where corruption is more rampant than Pakistan and many would argue Indian corruption outshines corruption in Pakistan. It seems to me only that Imran Khan is intent in shooting himself in the foot since he has no concept of leaving domestic politics at home and working to create a positive impression of the country where people would want to invest. In the US, Trump and his supporters keeping chanting DRAIN THE SWAMP at rallies and they blame all the corruption and problems on the US on the democrats and past politicians. In Pakistan, Imran Khan keeps harping about corruption and all of Pakistan’s problems due to past politicians and dictators who ruled for most of the nation’s existence. The difference is that even Trump does not talk about it abroad !Recommend

  • Parvez

    Agree….but my issue is with the persistent tone of the writer who displays, what I can only call immaturity when he constantly paints a picture that exudes simple bias …… and by doing so he does himself a disservice.
    No one is denying that Imran Khan and his set up are making mistakes.
    ….and thank you for your comment. It’s always good to listen to a sane objective voice.Recommend

  • Patwari

    That still amounts to not being forthright. By skipping over facts, or not mentioning
    them, to one target audience while mentioning some dire facts to another, reduces the credibility.
    And if you loose credibility, you are like Trump. A sad sorry joke of a president. Hated and reviled everywhere, except by White Supremacists, the Klan, bigots, racists, Aryan Nations and everything crawling out of the woodwork.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    No. Imran should tell the world that Pakistan is going to collapse because of ‘oh so much corruption of previous government’ so that they don’t give him anything.

    Btw, not even a single penny of corruption has been proven against the Nawaz league. Aleema on the other hand has admitted ill-gotten income and used amnesty, paying fines.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I have read your blog and will still keep reading them ….but you should read my comment and try to understand what I am saying….and I say it because I think you are capable of better.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I did reply to your comment ….. but there are times when ET or the net just swallows it up.
    Yes Imran khan has made mistakes …. but my disappointment is with the writers of such articles, who display a certain immaturity when painting the picture and that is but sad, because despite them having some valid points, when they are blind to the ‘ other side ‘ and deliberately supress it, it simply comes across as biased writing.Recommend

  • gp65

    When you have 20 minutes to impress investors, you can and should be selective in what you will share in those 20 minutes. If you focus your available time to speak on issues that maybe of interest to investors for example areas where investment is sought, where there is large unsatisfied demand in Pakistan, any tax cuts or other schemes that maybe of advantage to investors. I do not think that global investors are babes in woods who are unaware of widespread corruption everywhere and particularly in developing countries. If you talk about being upfront, did he talk about religious extremism, infrastructure gaps, BLA and PTM etc. ? No he did not and not speaking about those things does not reduce the credibility of what he says as long as what he said was 100% true, he would retain his credibility.
    I am not one that supports censorship in India, US or Pakistan and am not suggesting media should hide information so as to project a good image of the country. But the PM as a global ambassador of the country can be expected to present the country in the best light.Recommend

  • gp65

    Fair comment. I noticed later that there was a series of articles with the same theme by this author and understood where you were coming from.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Your taking the trouble to check out my point of view was a nice gesture……I hope the author manages to understand it as well and manages to grow …… because I like reading him.Recommend

  • RHR

    Immaturity is name calling…If you want to criticize me then deconstruct what I have written..rather than indulging in immaturity yourself.
    By the way, I write on many subjects not just PTI. I have written a lot on gender, religious extremism, minorities, India, US politics and even cricket
    I always find you getting irritated when it comes to PTI. I understand there is an instinctive soft corner for PTI, which is “hurt” when PTI is criticized. I have my reasons for attacking it and I have articulated those a number of times.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I stand by my comment ….your ability to write on many topics is appreciated. Its your lack of balance when it comes to writing on the PTI that is what I am pointing out. You yourself have said ” ….I have my reasons for ATTACKING it… ” and that spoils your rational thought process leading to your write ups on PTI appearing biased.
    I have pointed out that much of what you say has substance but it is the way it is presented ( one sided only ) that spoils it.Recommend