Tackling economy, energy, extremism issues top priority: Dar

KARACHI: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar discussed the challenges facing Pakistan, and presented the government’s focus on the economy, energy crisis and extremism during a talk at the Atlantic Council, a Washington based think tank, on Wednesday.

Dar claimed that even though the transition from a civilian elected government to another civilian elected regime for the first time in Pakistan’s history was a great beginning, there was inaction on the economic front by the previous government.

He added that this inaction combined with the global challenges of 2008 and the huge costs of the war on terror had created huge challenges for Pakistan’s economy. Dar laid out three priorities economy, energy and extremism that the government was working on.

Talking about the economy, he mentioned that taxes worth Rs 200 million had been introduced and large scale austerity measures were also taking place. He pointed out that spending cuts were also being made by the government. He said that steps were being taken to reduce the current expenditure by 30 %, and the federal ministers’ grants had been abolished.

He added that the Prime Minister’s office expenditure had been slashed by 40 %, which had been as high as billions of rupees. “Mohsin Khan, a senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, asked the Finance Minister how his energy plan, which would look to increase growth, and austerity plans, would provide better benefit to the country.

He also said that the government would have a greater push towards the exploration and production of natural resources in the country. Talking about the energy crisis that has plagued the country, the Finance Minister said that the government had been successful in clearing a circular debt of Rs 480 billion as of May 31st. He explained that the country was looking towards renewable sources of energy such as hydro and solar power.

Dar talked about the importance of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and Dasu hydropower project that could provide 4,300 and 4,500 MW of power respectively. He added that if possible both projects should be undertaken, but it was important to remember Diamer-Bhasha-Dam the advantage of holding water as opposed to simply a hydropower plan. Dar spoke about extremism and the fact that Pakistan stood with the international community on extremism.

Talking about the country’s nuclear weapons, he said there was “no risk at all,” and the safeguards in place to protect them were on equal footing with those of other nuclear countries. When asked about relations with India, Dar said Pakistan was fully committed to the peace process.

However, he said, “India is not ready to move the dialogue forward,” because of their upcoming elections. He hoped that once elections took place in India, the peace process would speed up.

The Finance Minister will lead the Pakistani delegation at the annual World Bank IMF meetings this weekend.