The present government believes that the strong
economy of Pakistan is the most effective deterrent against all types of
external aggressions. Therefore, all the policies aim at reducing the
dependence on foreign assistance, providing impetus to accelerate the
GDP growth rate and making locally produced goods uncompetitive in the
global markets. The biggest achievements has been the hike in foreign
exchange reserves, now exceeding US$ 7.54 billion.
Some of the critics still do not believe that
Pakistan has attained a level which never looked achievable. They
suspect that it is simply a jugulary of figures. Some others say that
high reserves have not brought any change for the common man. Only a
small group raises a pertinent question, will Pakistan be able to
sustain this level as well as the rate of increase in reserves in
future? While the first two opinions are based on the pessimistic
attitude with which the nation as a whole has been suffering, the third
demands reviewing the recent past and the emerging future trends.
Going forward, it is necessary to compare the
performance of Pakistan's economy in the post September 11 era viz a viz
developed countries. While even the most developed countries witnessed
reduction in GDP growth rate, increase in unemployment and hike in level
of uncertainty, Pakistan posted better performance, compared to previous
years. One of the factors attributable to this was the growing forex
reserves. To start with, higher level of foreign exchange reserves kept
the exchange rate stable, rupee emerged stronger. There was hardly any
cost-pushed inflation. Local manufacturers managed to boost exports.
Manufacturing facilities achieved better level of capacity utilization.
Those who suspect the authenticity of the data must
refer to periodical reports of State Bank of Pakistan released over the
last 32 months. The central bank did not hesitate in disclosing that the
country had US$ 995 million foreign exchange reserves in October 2000.
For the first time in its annual report of 1999-2000 the central bank
gave the comprehensive details of external debts as well as the details
of reserves held by the central bank and commercial banks. It was also
reported that on September 10, 2001 the total foreign exchange reserves
were 3.2 billion. Since the gradual increase was reported consistently,
there should not any reason about the authenticity of data.
As regards the impact of high foreign exchange
reserves on the common man, one should try to visualize the scenario
without such a high reserves. Since the middle of nineties, there
existed the potential threat of Pakistan's default with regard to debt
servicing. To avoid the default country was forced to borrow more and
more funds at stringer terms. Had the country not achieve modest level
of foreign exchange reserves, it would have been forced to borrow more,
exchange rate went up and debt servicing increased in rupee terms. There
would have been cost-pushed inflation which would have resulted in
erosion of competitiveness of local manufacturers and reduction in
It is important to clarify an opinion that Pakistan's
foreign exchange reserves have swelled only because the country chosed
to join war against terror. It is true that this decision has helped in
withdrawal of economic sanctions, reprofiling of external debts, and
greater access to European market. During financial year Pakistan paid
US$ 6 billion towards debt servicing, about 40 per cent of the total
exports. This was despite that there was a reduction of US$ 1.5 billion
in debt servicing.
Critics say that a large part of the reserves was
accumulated through purchase of dollars, by the central bank, from the
kerb market. Pakistan needed US$ 3.756 billion during 1999-2000 and US$
5.101 billion during 2000-2001 for debt servicing. It had two options:
either to acquire more loans or to buy dollars from the kerb market to
discharge this liability. It was difficult decision but the government
decided to buy dollar from the kerb market. On the one hand this helped
in keeping the exchange rate stable and on the other hand, avoiding
increase in debt servicing quantum.
The most important point to consider is, will
Pakistan be able to increase its foreign exchange reserves in the
future? This largely depends on the policy adopted by the next elected
government. The present government has abstained, so far, from using the
foreign exchange reserves for pseudo development projects initiated by
the previous governments. It has mainly concentrated in initiating
market-based policies and bringing structural changes.
Therefore, it is suggested that future government
should not initiate economically unviable projects to achieve political
mileage. If any effort is made to achieve political mileage by using
these foreign exchange reserves, the country may once again face the
potential threat of default.