Prime Minister Imran Khan, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Pool/Aly Song/Files
DAVOS: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday addressed the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2020, listing Pakistan’s advantages and reiterating that 2020 would be the year of growth for his citizens.
In the first part of his speech, PM Imran spoke of how Pakistan — “very vulnerable to climate change — would tackle environment issues and run a bigger episode of the 2013 reforestation campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where his party had won the majority back then.
“I saw these mountains, this wilderness, disappearing and especially the way we destroyed our forest cover,” he noted. “I always resolved that the second thing, if I ever got the opportunity, I would make sure that we preserve this God-given beauty of our country and we restart reforestation campaign.”
He told the audience that no one expected “one of the most ambitious campaigns” to happen but that the now-ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) provincial government had involved local communities.
“We first made them understand how important trees were for the future, we first made people understand how Pakistan was vulnerable to climate change, we appealed to the people and involved women in the mountainous areas to grow nurseries,” he said.
Women ‘good at developing and planting nurseries’
Underlining how the incumbent government was using its prior experience with reforestation and climate change, the premier said it was crucial to involve the local communities and “especially involve the women because they were very good at developing and planting nurseries”.
Pollution, he mentioned, had become a silent killer in the Pakistani cities, given that past leaderships had no course of action and Lahore — “where pollution levels are like Delhi in India” — rose because the metropolis’ planners had removed 70 percent of tree cover over the past 10 years.
The 2013 reforestation campaign “became one of the most successful campaigns in our country’s history of forestation […] so when I became the prime minister, we resolved that we would plant 10 billion trees in Pakistan in the next four years. This is now our objective.”
The prime minister said Pakistan’s “real strength” was the young people, who comprised 60 percent of its 210-million population. He admitted that the country had “neglected” them because there was no focus on skills development or training them for entrepreneurship.
‘Sadly untapped’ mineral wealth
However, his government, he said, had “now partnered with the World Economic Forum in this programme of skill gap and we have laid a huge amount of money for start-ups”. Young people were being encouraged to start their own businesses and it was the first time that apprenticeship had been launched as a proper, organised initiative.
“We’re encouraging our industries now to employ young people so this is really our big resource, which will we hope one day lift Pakistan,” he added.
PM Imran also spoke about Pakistan’s “sadly untapped” mineral wealth and how it was “sitting on one of the most precious gold and copper reserves” — enough, according to his claim, to pay off the country’s debt.
“We also have one of the largest coal reserves, we have rare earth minerals, we have unexplored gas reserves, so the whole government’s attention now is to develop these resources.
“We also have very fertile agricultural land but unfortunately, the practices which were done [in the past], we have not really explored our potential,” he claimed.
Lamenting how the agricultural productivity was one of the lowest, the PM said Pakistan had obtained China’s help — in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — to “help us in developing the productivity of our agricultural sector”.
Pakistan in ‘one of the most fortunate positions’
“I think we have, Pakistan has, made strides very quickly,” he added.
The premier also explained that his vision for Pakistan stemmed from the country’s strategic location — “probably one of the most fortunate positions in the world”.
“One the one side is China, one of the fastest growing markets and of course closely allied to Pakistan. Then, we have energy reserves in Central Asia and, the moment this peace in Afghanistan [happens], we then have access to all the markets in Central Asia.
“Then we have Iran and hopefully if things settle down, the more we trade with Iran, both countries will benefit,” he said.
Shifting his attention to Pakistan’s east side, he said India was the country’s “second biggest neighbour” but the situation was “not what it should’ve been” but refrained from an explanation as “this is not the right forum”.
Need to get ‘governance right’
Regardless, he said if the two nuclear-armed nations’ linkages became normal and trade started, “one can imagine the location — the strategic location — of Pakistan, with China on one side, India on one side, and then the countries with excess energy on the western side”.
“I am someone who believes that, in Pakistan, the moment we get our governance right, that’s the real issue. Sadly our governance, in the past 30 years, the way our governance deteriorated, that’s one of the biggest reasons we have been unable to fulfil our potential as a country.
“The country has tremendous resources, young population, [is] strategically located, and, from now on, my government’s biggest challenge now is how we can improve our state institutions so we can improve our governance, so we can tap our potential.”