ISLAMABAD: Qatar emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani will visit Pakistan this month as Islamabad tries to balance its economic and political ties with Arab nations which are competing for regional dominance.
The Qatari emir’s visit will build partnership between both countries and further strengthen bilateral ties, announced Minister for Planning and Development Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar while addressing a press conference on Saturday. The emir is expected to arrive on June 22.
However, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which bailed out Islamabad six months ago, has reacted in the past against warming ties with Qatar. The UAE had announced $3 billion in cash assistance for Pakistan but withheld the last tranche of $1 billion after Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Qatar in January, senior government officials told The Express Tribune last month.
Before PM’s visit to Qatar, the UAE had assured Pakistan of $3 billion in cash deposits and $3.2 billion of oil supply on deferred payments. It has already declined to provide the oil facility and disbursed only $2 billion in cash.
Now, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has placed a condition that Pakistan should get short-term loans obtained from China, the UAE and Saudi Arabia rescheduled. There are apprehensions that Qatar emir’s visit can undermine Pakistan’s efforts to get financial relief from the UAE.
“Pakistan’s relations with Qatar are independent of its ties with other countries,” said Bakhtyar, while responding to a question whether the emir’s visit may undermine efforts to get the $2-billion UAE loan rescheduled.
“There is no pressure from the UAE on Pakistan about its relations with other countries and our foreign policy is independent,” said the planning minister.
The finance ministry spokesman did not respond to a question about the IMF’s condition for the rollover of short-term loans, including $2 billion from the UAE.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have boycotted Qatar and cut trade and economic ties with the oil and gas-rich nation.
Qatar in the past has played an important role in determining Pakistan’s political landscape.
Bakhtyar also spoke about the PTI government’s development priorities in next fiscal year 2019-20. The minister said prioritised Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and construction of the Mainline-I project of Pakistan Railways were the priority of the government.
But he did not share the exact amount that the government had allocated for CPEC projects in 2019-20. He also ducked a question over delay in appointment of Abdul Wajid Rana as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and Dr Nadeemul Haque as vice chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).
Bakhtyar hoped that work on the ML-I project, which was already facing over three years of delay, would begin this year and said financing details of the project were expected to be finalised with China in the next fiscal year.
The planning minister said the government would undertake development activities in neglected districts across the country, adding that Rs73 billion had been allocated for development in merged districts of the erstwhile Fata.
For Balochistan, Rs76 billion had been allocated and another Rs48 billion would be spent in the less developed districts of south Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and interior Sindh, said the minister.
He claimed that the government had also proposed Rs34 billion for 45 projects being undertaken in Karachi.
The government faces the challenge of meeting growing development needs with a shrinking envelope available for development spending.
Against this year’s original allocation of Rs800 billion, the Ministry of Finance has slashed the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) to only Rs500 billion. Against the Rs500-billion space, the Ministry of Planning authorised development spending of Rs611 billion as of the end of last week.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2019.