Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif trumpeted record profits by Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Nestle SA to investors in the U.S. as he seeks to improve ties between the two nations and turn around a struggling economy.
Sharif, who will meet President Barack Obama tomorrow at the White House, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that his government was focused on providing a secure environment for investments. Pakistan wants good relations with the U.S. and its South Asian neighbors, he said.
“It is true that there have been difficulties in the recent past,” Sharif said, according to a transcript of his remarks, referring to ties with the U.S. “However, the important thing is that both sides have remained fully engaged, even in that difficult phase. Happily, we have been able to put the relationship back on a stable and upward trajectory.”
Sharif’s comments reflect his four-month-old government’s efforts to put aside differences with the U.S. over drone strikes in tribal areas in an effort to revive an economy hurt by power blackouts and a Taliban insurgency. Pakistan averted the risk of a default on its foreign debt after the Washington-based International Monetary Fund agreed to provide a three-year, $6.6 billion bailout package last month.
“For Sharif, the economy is the top priority,” said Rashid Ahmed Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Sargodha in Punjab province. “Sharif knows this very well that the U.S. will not end its drone campaign as long as al-Qaeda remnants operate from Pakistan and his government is unable to enforce its control over the tribal belt. I don’t think he is going to push too hard on the drone issue.”
Profits at Nestle Pakistan Ltd., a unit of the world’s biggest food company, Colgate-Palmolive, the world’s largest toothpaste maker, and Unilever Pakistan Ltd. have touched record highs in the past two years. Nestle reported a 26 percent increase in earnings for the year ended December, while Unilever profit surged 34 percent in the same period. Colgate profits had surged 39 percent in the year ended June 2012.
“At a time when most countries confront the worrisome prospect of greying populations and the burden of demographics fatigue, Pakistan faces no such challenge,” Sharif said. “Nearly sixty percent of our population is under the age of thirty, thus offering huge demographic dividends.”
Pakistan is the world’s sixth most-populous nation with about 193 million people. Sharif, a former businessman, is moving to overhaul the economy through share sales of state-run companies and improved infrastructure to expand the economy by more than 6 percent in the 2016 fiscal year, up from an estimated 3.6 percent in the year ended June 30.
Relations with the U.S. remain delicate after a tumultuous 2011, when an American raid killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers by U.S. helicopters soon after compounded the falling out, prompting Pakistan to close supply routes for American forces in Afghanistan for more than six months.
Sharif strongly opposed the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas during his election campaign and promised to halt the program run by the Central Intelligence Agency that targets al-Qaeda, Taliban and other militants operating near the Afghanistan border.
London-based Amnesty International said in a report released today that the U.S. drone strikes have killed civilians. The group, which reviewed 45 known drone strikes that took place in northwestern Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013, found that a 68-year grandmother and 18 laborers were among those killed in multiple attacks.
“The U.S. has carried out unlawful killings in Pakistan through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes,” the group said, demanding information about investigations into the deaths and calling on the Obama administration to explain the legal basis for the strikes.
The U.S. plans to give Pakistan $1.6 billion in security and civilian assistance that had been held over from previous years, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington yesterday. The funds would partly go to help Pakistan’s military fight al-Qaeda in western border regions, she said.
“The prime minister’s official visit comes as we are strengthening U.S.-Pakistan relations,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters yesterday. “We want to find ways for our countries to cooperate even as we have differences on some issues,” he said.
Pakistani Taliban and allied groups have killed more than 1,200 civilians, soldiers and police this year, according to Sharif’s government. The escalation in violence since Sharif took office will remain a main concern for the Obama administration as Pakistan appears unable to tackle militants operating from its tribal areas, according Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general and analyst based in Islamabad.
“Obama will be asking Sharif to clean the house, especially the security situation,” said Masood in a phone interview. “Americans want Sharif to deal firmly with insurgents who they think use Pakistani territory to attack Western forces in Afghanistan.”