1.The current government has now been in power for over six months. How do you see Pakistan evolving under the PTI government?

When PTI formed the government, the country was facing serious challenges on several fronts. Trade deficit along with external debts and liabilities were at an all-time high. Clearly the Country had been living beyond its means for a while.

Pakistan has always been a country with immense potential. However, the country has been unable to progress significantly because of many internal and external impediments. The most recent and significant of which has been the two decades of external conflicts the Country has been embroiled in while it took on non-state actors within. This resulted in a poor perception of the Country deterring investors due to security concerns.

Keeping these impediments in view, we had to devise a strategy that balanced the Country’s development needs against its macroeconomic stability and sustainability concerns. Essentially the government had to create order out of chaos on many levels. Ministry of Finance had to aggressively come up with strategies to manage the balance of payment crisis while ministries such as Maritime Affairs, had to stop the bleed and simultaneously plan a way to fix their own balance sheets.

Despite these enormous challenges, I’m happy to report that the country on the whole has started making significant diplomatic headway under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan. As a result, the Country’s international perception is also changing for the better. This is an important step in the right direction because apart from the Country’s very real structural challenges, Pakistan has had a serious image problem internationally. But the way we are progressing right now, the world view of Pakistan has shifted and the country is now being seen as an emerging economic zone.

Global conglomerates such as Exxon Mobil and Cargill along with several tech giants are now visiting Pakistan and exploring opportunities to set up their businesses. In a world where every avenue of growth is exploited to the max, Pakistan offers businesses the rare opportunity to explore an untapped market with enormous growth potential and educated and talented workforce.

Apart from private investors, many countries from our neighborhood and beyond have started viewing Pakistan as an attractive investment destination resulting in significant foreign direct investment.

2. How important are Maritime Affairs when it comes to the trading of goods in Pakistan? How does your sector contribute to the economy?

Boosting our blue economy and recognizing its contribution towards economic growth is paramount for Pakistan. The Country has a water shelf that is around 350,000 square kilometers, slightly more than the size of United Kingdom. About 95% of Pakistan’s trade flows through Karachi Port Trust (KPT), Port Qasim and Gwadar Port.

The trade flowing from our ports is the lifeblood of the Country’s economic engine. This is certainly true for Karachi which, since its establishment as a major port has evolved from a small fishing community to Pakistan’s premier industrial and financial hub.

The importance of the Maritime Affairs Ministry as a contributor to the Country’s economic progress, however, had been hitherto unappreciated. To streamline its operations and to realize the true potential of our blue economy, the Ministry, previously called Ministry of Ports and Shipping, has undergone significant restructuring. So while the Ministry continues to be responsible for Pakistan’s oceanic resources, the maritime affairs ministry is a crossover to all the other ministries in terms of transporting freight throughout the Country. Many tasks that previously fell under the direct purview of the ministry have now been redistributed simply due to the enormity of the operations. As a result, Ministry of Communications manages the entire road infrastructure, while aviation and railways have their own ministries.

As Minister of Maritime Affairs, one of my key priorities is the upkeep of the Country’s ports. KPT is over a 100 years old. Originally located at a distance from Karachi, the port, which has been at the heart of the City’s transformation, is now located in the center of the bustling and rapidly expanding metropolis. This has severely impacted KPT’s ability to process shipments as any containers and trucks coming form and going to the port have to navigate city traffic and congestion. As a result, KPT’s capacity has dropped from 150 million tons per annum to just 50 million tons.

We are working on several plans to resolve this issue. One of the plans under consideration is to create a freight corridor between Port Qasim to Karachi Port, similar to the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge. The corridor will include the railway link, a sea road and oil and gas pipelines to facilitate freight management and improve trade capacity.

We are also increasing the trade capacity of the ports by keeping Port Qasim operational 24/7. We are also looking into developing another industrial zone near the port.

Gwadar Port is Pakistan’s third port and the hub of great economic activity. With 80% of the world’s oil passing through this area, this port has enormous potential. It is the only suitable route for export from the Gulf Countries and it is the shortest route to China and Central Asia.

Managing the coastline and its resources is also a responsibility of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs. Karachi is among the most populous cities on the planet but it is ill-equipped to deal with our dwindling water supply. There is no sewage treatment plant in the city and on average about 550 million gallons of untreated factory waste get dumped into the ocean. To counter this we are putting up sewage treatment plants at 2 to 3 different locations. We will convert this sewage into grey water and sell it back to the factories. Thus reducing their burden on the clean water supply that can be used by the citizens of this great City.

3. With global logistics being transformed by digitalization (Perhaps use innovation). What steps are Pakistani ports taking to capitalize on changing global logistics patterns?

The efficiencies realized through innovation not only enhance the functioning of the ports but they also boost transparency. From a ministerial point of view I’m very eager to introduce technology and automation for port efficiency which will ultimately benefit Pakistan’s blue economy. Port productivity is usually measured by how many number of containers are moved per hour. This may seem simple but there are various factors to be considered such as growing size of vessels, planning of labor and equipment, ensuring proper cargo flow and reduction of congestion at the port.

Now the traditional way of dealing with the problem would be to increase the amount of equipment on the port to better handle larger vessels and increased traffic volume. However, on a port the physical space is at a premium so there may be only a limited number of cranes you can add to a terminal. But live information sharing between terminals and ports can lead to much smoother and faster operations. Through digitization and data-sharing ports can better plan their labor and equipment assets prior to a vessels’ arrival.

So we will be looking to work on two fronts, we are looking to implement vessel traffic management systems and port management information systems on our ports. Furthermore, we are looking to enhance coordination between our own ports especially as we look to build a freight corridor between Port Qasim to Karachi Port. Ultimately, Our goal is to share and enhance information sharing between the ports in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.

4. You said that foreign investors were showing keen interest to invest in the fishing industry of Pakistan due to the business friendly policies of the incumbent government. How are you attracting investors to develop the fishery industry in Pakistan? [INPUT REQUIRED]

Pakistan’s fisheries, which currently fetch half a billion dollars in exports, can easily bring in a billion dollars a year. Unfortunately, historically the sector has suffered due to lack of clear policy and fragmented efforts by various government departments. The current government, however, is making fishing industry a priority especially as we now have a sea boundary of 350 nautical miles instead of 200 miles.

Although after the 18 th Amendment, the fishing industry is not part of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs’ purview, deep sea fishing remains part of the Minstry’s mandate. The Ministry is currently devising strategies that will not only develop the fishing industry in line with international standards but will also protect the rights of the local fishing communities.

The Ministry will educate local fishermen on sustainable fishing practices through development programs that will also train them for deep sea fishing, which requires specialized machinery and skilled personnel. The government will also install processing plants to boost supply of the seafood products in Pakistan and export around the globe. To build a sustainable deep sea fishing industry, the Ministry will work with the provincial governments to prioritize the development of coastal infrastructure, including modernizing harbors and fish landing centers and building new facilities. These developments will not only help boost the sector and provide jobs to the indigenous community but will also opening up opportunities for international organizations to supply sustainable marine technologies and services.

5. You want to get personal in order to eliminate corruption by setting up a mobile phone number and email address where people can report corruption. You said you would be monitoring it yourself. How does this example show the change of mindset in terms of good governance of the current government?

It is not just a corruption hotline in the interest of transparency, people can use this number to report anything to me about my ministry. This could range from a bribe demand to a process that could be taking too long. I have a team of people managing this data. All-important calls and messages are sent to me every night. It is not just the citizens but also the Ministry employees, who have been around for 15-20 years, who are also using the number to report on systemic problems that are crippling the system. People want to see Pakistan prosper but they have always been scared of speaking out. They can now speak to me directly without disclosure, which makes it difficult for anyone in the ports to continue corruption.

6. After a successful entrepreneurial and political career. You have been VP of Sindh for 6 months and PTI President of the Karachi Region and also you were the Founding President of the Imran Khan Foundation from 2005-2012, in the US. Could you please tell us more about you role at the Imran Khan foundation in the US? And what do you feel most proud of?

In 1995, I was running my own business in the U.S. I first met Imran Khan in the States at one of the Shaukat Khanum fundraisers. We stayed in touch afterwards. I became involved in the political arena towards the end of 1999 and contested my first elections in 2002.

When the 2005 earthquake struck Pakistan, I was in the U.S. watching the devastation on TV. I called Imran and said that we needed to help these people. But we could not provide assistance through the Imran Khan Cancer Appeal Foundation because even though it is registered in the US as 501(c)(3) charity, it only has one mandate that is to collect money for the hospital.

I went to the top lawyer and spoke to Imran Khan and the chairman of PTI back then and told them that I wanted to set up a foundation called the Imran Khan Foundation and raise money to help these people. We collected $600,000 to $1 Million in 10 days for the earthquake victims and then we got the 501(c)(3) status for this Foundation as well. We raised money and helped the NUML University. In 2010, floods struck Pakistan and during that time I raised close to $3 million in three weeks. Through calls and email campaigns, we raised over $6 million for the cause but when I joined politics and the PTI, I resigned from the foundation.

My proudest moment was seeing my family witness me taking the oath to become a minister.

7. What is your final message to the readers of USA Today who consider Pakistan as a potential investment in the maritime space?

This is a country with immense natural resources, from the mountains to the seaside, rivers, deserts and seasons. Pakistan has never been short of resources but it has always been short of management. Now, that the management has been put in place, investors should not miss out on Pakistan.