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Businessmen remain wary yet optimistic

Pak's business community fear violence during or after the polls, but simultaneously hope that once the elections are over, business will pick up, reports Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Feb 14, 2008 23:14 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Pakistan's business community is both optimistic and wary about Monday's general elections. Many
"Everything is on hold. There are few customers coming in. Everyone has put off decisions till after the elections," said Aftab Ahmad, who runs an electronics store on Karachi's Victoria Road market.

Thousands of shopkeepers across the country echo similar sentiments. They want the elections to be held, "but without much violence" so that life can return to normal in the country the day after. Many believe that the violence the country has seen in the past two months in the form of suicide bombings and attacks are all related to the polls. "We want to move on," said one disgruntled shopkeeper. "Sales have been very poor in the past month or so."

Heads of large corporate entities felt a little differently. Many said that while they were shaken by the violence that followed the death of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, the holding of elections in the country was "a natural progression in the chain of events that Pakistan has seen." They maintained that with change of guard in Islamabad will come political certainty. "The one thing we know is that economic policies will not change as we have President Musharraf at the helm of affairs."

Sultan Allana, chairman of the Habib Bank, Pakistan's largest bank, said that he was confident that the economic reforms the country had seen in the past years would "proceed unhindered." Allana said the banking sector in Pakistan had grown "significantly" in the last decade and the economy as a whole had prospered. "I am sure that whoever comes to power, the process will not stop," he commented.

Qaiser Shareef, country manager for Proctor and Gamble in Pakistan, said that his company was investing in Pakistan for the long term. "The numbers and the market make perfect business sense for us to be optimistic for the future," he said.

Pakistan's stock market continues to perform favourably despite the political uncertanity in the country. One market analyst said that this was because "the fundamentals are up," and that the market is resilient, having factored in future problems with regard to the political situation.

However, some business leaders insisted that it was not the economy that was the worry, but law and order. Stock market moguls said many investors were "sitting on the fence" - while Pakistan offered good prospects for profit, there were fears over how the country would fare in the coming months as the war on terror intensified.