Sep 12 - 18, 2005


Two major policy initiatives taken by the Prime Minister during his busy schedule last week to meet public demand included permission for duty free import of cement and his government's commitment to boost the housing sector to meet residential requirements of the people.

He offered a forceful defence in the National Assembly of Foreign Minister Khurshid Mamood Qasuri's meeting with his Israeli counterpart in Istanbul (Turkey) saying it was a calculated decision of the government taken in consultation with friendly Muslim countries, particularly King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine President Mehmood Abbas. Besides, he had a meeting with Chief of Capital Market of Oman, launched a Rs. 2.59 billion plan to fight off hepatitis, met Governor NWFP and Sir Anwar Pervez, Chairman Bestway Group of Industries. He also had a meeting with visiting Indian Foreign Secretary.

The Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet (ECC) which met in Islamabad under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister decided to allow duty free import of cement, besides releasing 50,000 tons of sugar from TCP stocks two weeks before Ramzan to ensure stability in prices. The ECC decided to abolish 25 percent customs duty and withdrew 6 percent withholding tax on the import of cement to boost the construction industry in the country. Private sector will be allowed to import as much cement as needed free of customs and withholding tax. The ECC decided to allow duty free import due to increase in the demand of cement in the country because of the boom in construction industry. The construction industry is related to 30 to 40 industries and increase in prices of cement by local manufacturers was creating problem for these industries.

Prime Minister said that the government was committed to boost the housing sector in the country to meet the residential requirements of the people. He was speaking at the ground breaking ceremony to mark the inauguration of development work for D-12 sector which was pending for the last 17 years. He said starting of development work in D-12 is an example of good governance as the government is committed to resolve the problems of the people and provide them basic needs of life like housing.

He said the opening of second sector in the federal capital in just one month would reduce the prices of land and resolve the housing problems of the people. He said it would be followed by opening up of five more sectors, which would be a big boost to the construction industry. The Prime Minister said there would be no fixed quotas in allotment of plots in any sector, including for himself, except the quota for journalists. The plots would be allotted through open and transparent system by computerized balloting.

Prime Minister described the start of development work in D-12 as historical as the project is being materialized after 17 years due to the dispute of compensation to the affectees. He appreciated the efforts of Ministerial Committee and the affectees for resolving the issue of compensation. He said the housing industry is the heart of country's economy and directly affects over 40 ancillary industries. He said the housing sector would not only create numerous employment opportunities for thousands of people, but would also help everybody boost country's economy. Saying that having a personal house is a dream of everybody, he assured that his government would utilize all resources to make this dream come true.

Speaking in the National Assembly on Friday last Prime Minister said that Pakistan's foreign policy totally moves around the national interests, adding that the government would never make compromise on national interests. He said Pakistan has not made any decision to recognize Israel and meeting of Pakistani and Israeli Foreign Ministers in Turkey in no way means recognition of Israel. He made it clear that any decision in this regard would be taken in the supreme national interest after due consultation of the parliament.

Dispelling the apprehensions of the opposition regarding this issue, the Prime Minister said Pakistan is only playing a role on the request of Palestinian President to move forward for the settlement of Palestinian issue through political means. The Turkish Prime Minister had also requested him during his visit to Ankara to play an effective role to resolve the Palestinian issue as Pakistan has a leading role in Muslim Ummah. He said this engagement also aims at promoting interfaith harmony and would even cast positive effects on the resolution of Kashmir issue.

He said there is no harm to meet anybody but there should be confidence that we will protect our national interests while talking to anyone on any international issue. He informed the House that the foreign minister during his meeting with his Israeli counterpart reiterated Pakistan's principled stand on Palestinian issue and once again demanded complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied Palestinian territories.

Since Islamabad's calculus of national interest 'engagement' with Israel was widely aired for some time, when the handshake actually took place in Istanbul between the two foreign ministers it did not come as a complete surprise to many in the country. When President General Pervez Musharraf had invited public discussion on the question of recognition of the Jewish state last year, it was oblivious that the government was inclined to review the country's long-standing policy on the issue. Yet in view of the extremely emotive nature of the issue, the government did not undertake the necessary groundwork to present a rational public case for engagement.

Talking to the Executive President of Capital Market, Oman, Yaha Bin Said, Prime Minister called for increasing, expanding and institutionalizing Pakistan's economic relations with the GCC countries for greater economic integration in the region. There was wide scope for further expansion and promotion of Pak-Oman economic relations to their mutual advantage. He particularly called for greater interaction between the private sectors of the two countries. "We welcome joint commissions to expand the economic operation between the two countries," he added.

PM Shaukat Aziz said that Pakistan was located at the cross roads of South Asia, Central Asia and the Gulf , and has the potential to become a manufacturing hub in the region. The policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatisation have yielded rich dividends and the country was in a high growth mode, having already achieved a growth rate of 8.4%, he said adding that the government was poised to build upon the solid foundation provided by the long term reforms carried out in the economy earlier. "Efficiency and transparency are the watch words under the present set-up, " he added.

He said climate of investment was very conducive in the country and referred to the boom in telecom, real estate, construction and unprecedented increase in air traffic as being healthy signs of a robust economy. The country received foreign investment to the tune of US $1.5 billion last year and expects to attract foreign investment worth US $3 billion this year. He said the number of mobile telephone subscribers was increasing at the rate of one million monthly and has already swelled to 13 million. Besides, he added, the government was currently putting a lot of emphasis on expanding and enhancing micro credit facilities especially to women to accelerate poverty alleviation and improve their empowerment, he added.

The Executive President informed the Prime Minister that the investment company was likely to launch and initiate its operations immediately after Ramzan this year. He also lauded the achievements made by Pakistan in the economic field during recent years.

The Prime Minister, while inaugurating Rs. 2.59 billion national programme to prevent and control hepatitis in the country, said the government was committed to provide quality healthcare to the people at their doorsteps. He formally launched the programme while addressing a function at the National Institute of Health. He said it was one of the most fundamental public health interventions that would save lives of people and ensure protection to the children.

The Prime Minister said hepatitis meant inflammation of the liver, and the most common cause was infection with one of the five viruses called hepatitis A,B,C,D, and E. He said under the programme, the government would take both preventive and curative measures to save the people from this deadly disease. He said as hepatitis A and E were water borne, while hepatitis B, C, and D were blood related, therefore, the government would take adequate measures through this programme to protect the people from hepatitis. He said the government has already banned the use of glass syringes and added a bill was being introduced in the parliament to ensure full implementation of the use of disposable syringes.

Explaining the vision and strategy for health programme, the Prime Minister said the main vision for health sector was based on "health for all" approach. He said people needed to be healthy and have access to health service and it was the duty of the government to ensure those facilities. He said the strategy of government in the health sector was focused on prevention and disease control, ending malnutrition; providing maternal and child health care and ensuring nationwide outreach of public health facilities. The government had decided to focus on disadvantaged, weaker sections of society especially those belonging to rural areas, he added.

While talking to Indian Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyan Saran, The Prime Minister appreciated that the completion of the second round of the composite dialogue between Pakistan and India has created a positive atmosphere required to make tangible progress on the issues of mutual concern including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Kashmir is the core issue between Pakistan and India and progress on other issues will move in tandem with progress on Kashmir issue, he added.

He said that the peace process between the two countries is irreversible. The composite dialogue process is the key and we must maintain its integrity, the Prime Minister said, adding, Pakistan is committed to peace and wants multifaceted relationship.

The Prime Minister said the two countries have to recognize problems and resolve all outstanding issues including the core issue of Kashmir. We must make progress on Kashmir as we owe it to our people, he said. "We can create history and change destiny if we broaden our horizons," said the Prime Minister, adding that SAARC has a great potential as it is endowed with human capital, which is second to none and needs to be fully exploited for the development of the region.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the culture of integrity, efficiency and transparency introduced by the government in the country has won the confidence of the investors from all over the world and they are coming to Pakistan for investment. He was talking to Chairman of Bestway Group, Sir Anwar Pervez, who called on him at the Prime Minister House on Wednesday last.

He said good governance is at the top of the agenda in the reforms programme of the government. "Pakistan of today is a success story and all the sectors of the economy are showing signs of unprecedented growth and development. The progress made by telecom, banking, real estate and construction industry is particularly impressive and amazing," he said.

He said so many gigantic projects have come up in such a short span of time, adding that projects like Gwadar, Mirani Dam, Subakzai Dam and Coastal Highway have the potential to transform the country. Referring to the recent boom in the construction industry, the Prime Minister said the cement industry has shown extra ordinary growth owing to this bonanza and it had even created a shortage of skilled construction workers in the country. Shaukat Aziz said the government is putting a lot of emphasis on vocational training and skill development to fill the skill gap and setting up a National Vocational Training Authority with in this regard.

Governor NWFP Khail-ur-Rehman called on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Saturday last and discussed with him the local bodies elections as well as the law and order situation in the province. The Governor updated the Prime Minister on local bodies elections held in the province and the progress of development projects in the province with particular reference to development projects in the Tribal Areas.

The Prime Minister said that a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is not only in the interest of Pakistan but also in the interest of the region. He said that Pakistan has close and cordial relations with Afghanistan and the trade between the two countries is now over one billion dollars. This, coupled with the growth in the economy due to the economic reforms carried out by the government, has made Peshawar a hub of economic activity. There is an upswing in economic activity in NWFP, which is creating new job opportunities and contributing to the development of the province.

During meeting with Balochistan Chief Minister Jan Muhammad Yousuf, the Prime Minster discussed implementation progress on the ongoing mega projects in the province. The Prime Minister said that the process of development and empowerment of the people initiated by the government in the past six years including implementation of mega projects like Gawadar Airport, Subakzai Dam and Coastal Highway have come of age and the people are themselves feeling the difference between hollow slogan mongers and real doers. He reiterated that the government will continue to take steps for bringing about further improvement in the lot of common man.