Pakistan’s 180 million people make up an exciting market. Looking at the way markets and services in Pakistan have expanded in the last few years, it is safe to say that the provision of variety and efficiency appeals to Pakistanis, as much as any other country.Where businesses cater to existing demands, which are sizeable given our huge population, the future requires that we pay attention to demand creation. The activity generated by intense competition between various mobile service providers is one such proof of the success of demand creation. A facility that has now become a common necessity and is no longer considered the luxury it once was.

Creating, not just serving existing markets is the way forward. It will help provide employment, generate economic activity and lift the pall that has settled on a nation fighting a war it is not convinced it believes in. Such innovation is most likely to come from the private sector. Government-run businesses, such as PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan Railways, are inefficient, nepotistic and have no incentive to produce a profit, if they are confident of being bailed out with hefty subsidies and grants,whenever the numbers don’t add up. However, taxpayers are fast coming to realise that it does not have to be this way. There is no reason why these entities should not be privatised and run successfully. As a case study, the privatisation of PTCL has improved services and made it a more cost-efficient enterprise.

Those at the helm of affairs in such organisations would have you believe that without them, we would be in a state of collapse in days.Well, with them at the helm, we’re there anyways. The private sector has already begun taking an interest in these gaps. This week’s inauguration of the luxury business train between Lahore and Karachi, which has the help of private sector investors, is an example of this. The venture looks promising and it may do for Railways what the Daewoo bus service did 10 years ago for inter-city travel by road.

Pakistan’s list of dormant assets is impressive. But, while these assets remain dormant, they are not of much use to Pakistan’s people. Even their morale boosting value begins to sour, if year after year they appear on the list as something to be grateful for, but provide no real contribution to the country’s economy and subsequently to providing a better quality of life for the people who are meant to praise them. RekoDiq, Thar Coal, and the Gwadar Port, all are examples of excellent resources with tremendous revenue and employment generation possibilities - if developed. However, at the moment, Pakistan does not have sufficient capital to sink in such ventures. The management of these massive projects would requireprofessionals of the highest calibre, wellcompensated and empowered, to ensure no repeat of the traditions of favouritism and inefficient decision making that have plagued our state-owned enterprises so far.

Foreign interest and investment would be welcome, but fears exacerbated by scaremongering over the appropriation of these resources, make people nervous of welcoming such proposals. At a time when Pakistan is considered an insecure environment, such propaganda makes it seem downright hostile to foreign investors. High risk goes hand-in-hand with high profit, but with news about Pakistan routinely sounding like an unbelievable political drama, at times, the risk may be too high for investors to sell to their boards.

The need for breathing fresh ideas into the economy is being felt with a greater urgency than ever before, to develop dormant assets, provide employment opportunities and improve the variety and quality of products and services on offer. We need to earn from our good ideas now. Why are they so hard to sell to those making the decisions? How much time and energy does it need to realise the obvious? Long-term solutions are not really that many in number. They need to be assessed, queried and then put into action, before we find ourselves in the future, without having prepared to face it, trying to hold back a tidal wave of fierce competition from economies, which have been smarter than us in thinking ahead.

Email: rnizami@nawaiwaqt.com.pk