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Saturday, April 13, 2024

China’s failure in Pakistan is America’s victory?

Elections in Pakistan cannot be stopped for very long, so an interim setup is anticipated very soon. Elections will not, however, end Pakistan's dire economic situation. A strong interim setup is required because even if Imran Khan wins the election, the economy's fundamental problems must be resolved. Pakistan needs aid from the US and the West. Power centres in the nation have come to the realisation that they have no choice but to turn to the US and its allies because China is unable and unwilling to assist Pakistan. Pakistan's official policies toward China, Iran, Afghanistan, and India must be revised for the US.

Global Village Space CEO and Editor Dr. Moeed Pirzada invited Shabbar Zaidi, Ex-Chairman FBR, to talk and explain his recent statements about a long-term caretaker set up in Pakistan. But the discussion spilled into other areas including CPEC and China’s BRI and Zaidi claimed that China did not have the capacity to help Pakistan in a real meaningful way and that country now desperately needs US trade quotas to salvage its battered broken economy.

Syed Mohammad Shabbar Zaidi is Pakistan’s most prominent chartered accountant and tax consultant. Under Imran Khan government, he headed Federal Board of Revenue’s as its 26th chairman. He is an expert in finances and taxes and has also held the position of provincial minister in Sindh’s government since the caretaker setup in 2013. Additionally, he served as PwC Pakistan’s territorial partner.

GVS discussion took place in a fast-developing political context. Before his interview with GVS, Shabbar Zaidi had appeared on tv channels claiming that a longer duration interim set up is needed in Pakistan to fix the economy. Elections without fixing the economy will be useless and the situation is now so bad that even the return of a popularly elected Imran Khan will not be able to resolve Pakistan’s economic crisis. Many concluded that Zaidi was speaking on behalf of the country’s powerful establishment and that he sees his own role in such a long-term interim setup.

Read more: Bureaucracy forcing PM Khan to change FBR Chairman: Shabbar Zaidi

Zaidi has never been shy of controversy. But these latest remarks jolted the political system more than all his previous statements put together. GVS Discussion took place in this background. Talking with Moeed Pirzada (Editor GVS), Zaidi strongly rejected the speculations that he was a messenger for the establishment. He insisted that its the other way round and he and a group of ex-IMF economists are trying to convince generals that Pakistan needs a longer duration interim set up.

There has been a huge online response to his interview on YouTube and Twitter. Few are however prepared to believe his assertion that he is not bringing the message from Establishment but rather selling ideas to them. While Mr. Zaidi has received praise for his blunt honesty on country’s failures, his criticism of China did not go well with most Pakistanis—who view their country’s friendship with China as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, and sweeter than honey”. Full interview can be seen on the GVS News YouTube channel under the title: China lost America won? Interim Setup coming soon in Pakistan | Shabbar Zaidi with Moeed Pirzada.

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At the very outset of this discussion, Zaidi sets the stage by asserting that in addition to the Pakistani establishment, the IMF and the Washington establishment have been heavily involved in the economic decision-making of Pakistan. According to Zaidi, the relationship between American economic assistance and Pakistan’s history is complex. Zaidi further notes that the US and its western allies absorb roughly $20 billion of Pakistan’s $30 billion exports. Due to these factors and their leverage over Pakistan as a result of its volatile economy, Western decision-making institutions can continue to influence Pakistan’s economic viability.

Moving on to the US vs. China debate, Zaidi claims that the US has a wide range of experience in managing political affairs in other countries, whereas China has never done so. Therefore, even if Pakistan asks China for assistance, China will fail since it lacks experience. In answer to a query from Dr. Pirzada, Zaidi says, “China is our supplier, while the US is our buyer.”

Zaidi continues by claiming that because the Pakistani establishment is more cognizant of the dire state of the economy, it has never shared Pakistan’s anti-US feelings, which is ludicrous and unfounded given that the US is the one who buys Pakistan’s exports and gives it financial aid. Zaidi argues that Pakistan’s perception that China and Pakistan are friends since they share an adversary in India is erroneous. Zaidi asserts that China has never taken any risks to conduct proper business in Pakistan: “I have 40 years of expertise in the area, and I can tell you that I have never seen a reputable Chinese company invest or function in Pakistan.”

Read more: China Pakistan Free Trade Agreement Opening bigger and brighter opportunities

Later, the discussion turned to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which has received much praise for China’s “investment” in Pakistan. According to Shabbar Zaidi, the entire investment value of CPEC is $62 billion, of which $11 billion is government-to- government investment and the rest is business-to-business investment. He continues by saying that although China did invest in the Sahiwal power station, it was only because there was no risk involved. He adds that China has a 17% dollar return rate on the project, which it allegedly refused to negotiate with Pakistan. All other Chinese “investments” were similar, and China was guaranteed profits. However, the US has frequently taken a risk by making investments in Pakistan – Zaidi asserted.

“The wider economic interests of Pakistan are with the West, and that is what I want Pakistan to understand,” adds Zaidi, who also accused Chinse companies of involvement in under-invoicing. His assertions have not gone well with many Pakistanis. Hundreds of comments that have appeared under the YouTube Interview both appreciate his candidness and condemn him for being slavishly pro-American.

To Dr. Pirzada’s pointed question that what the US will expect from Pakistan in return for an economic bailout in the form of trade access; Zaidi explained that the US will want Pakistan to revise its state policies towards China, India, Iran, and Afghanistan. He also refers to an article he wrote in August 2021, in which he said that the Taliban’s capture of Kabul would have severe repercussions for Pakistan because its citizens are viewing the fall of Kabul as a victory over one of their main trading partners, the US. According to Zaidi, Pakistan made a serious error by celebrating the occasion.

Read more: US places China Pakistan among countries of ‘particular concern’

The establishment of an interim administration for Pakistan was the main topic of discussion to which Editor GVS kept bringing him back. Shabbar Zaidi, was confident that within the next several weeks an interim arrangement will come into place. Interestingly, this interview discussion took place before the vote of confidence in Punjab -and much uncertainty had prevailed at that time. Since then, the Punjab assembly has been dissolved and assertions of Zaidi now look far more realistic. Making one wonder if Zaidi was indeed speaking on the behalf of powers that matter. He sounded like the man who knew the future.