The contrast in consumer and business behaviour in the country is too stark to ignore, especially in times of heightened political activity.

Businessmen dislike street politics which, they feel, infuses uncertainty and hurts sentiments, while people are drawn towards it as they perceive it focusing on their concerns.

The variation in the collective behaviour of people and businessmen is reflected in their respective confidence indices. Market watchers and researchers confirmed to Dawn that the Pakistani consumer is undeterred by the current happenings and continues to spend liberally.

They warn, however, that business confidence is shaken and might suffer if political parties and the government fail to reconcile their differences and disruption tactics are adopted to outsmart rivals.

Dr Asad Zaman concurs that a discrepancy exists in the conduct and perception of the producers and consumers in the country, which he thought, would be hard to explain without incorporating the informal sector into the matrix.

“The parallel economy has its own dynamics, operates beyond the governance frontier and is largely insulated to policy shocks. The formal sector performance and outlook depends directly on government policies and their consistency. Many deal with overseas partners. Their stakes are big and relationships complex. They are vested in the status quo and get unnerved by change that could go either ways.

“It’s probably the stable informal economy of Pakistan that lends resilience and contributes to consumers’ confidence even when big businesses feel insecure”, he said over phone from Islamabad.

Pushed to the sidelines in the current charged political environment, Pakistani businessmen when reached for comments, expressed concern over what they consider ‘inflexible positioning’ of politicians in a volatile situation.

They accused the government of arrogance and the opposition of immaturity hinting at the Nov 2nd plan of an Islamabad siege. They fear that the country might again be entering a stretched phase of uncertainty, threatening economic gains and scaring away prospective investors.

“Who does that when a country is facing external threats?” asked an agitated tycoon trying to give a nationalist spin to his business concerns. “To me it’s all very puzzling. I am deeply disappointed by the tone and tenor of politics in Pakistan when, with CPEC, the country has a huge opportunity for economic take off”, he observed.

The big businesses seemed particularly concerned, according to another source. “They might put their investment plans on hold till after the next elections to mitigate risks”, he said.

“For the last decade and a half major business houses of Pakistan preferred rolling money in short term options of property, currency, commodity and capital markets over expanding their industrial base in the country”, an executive shared.

“Thanks to CPEC they rediscovered Pakistan as an investment destination and quit using it as a spring board to launch themselves in other countries”, he added.

Mohammad Sohail, CEO Topline Securities was optimistic. He counted several factors to reinforce his perception of better times ahead. “There is nothing out of the ordinary on the political front to sway business sentiments. Business confidence is improving, better qualified next generation of entrepreneurs are assuming leadership positions, transforming outdated models to plug-in better in the global value chains, and textile millers are aiming at diversification. I am confident the future holds great promise for this country”.

Majyd Aziz, a business leader of Karachi thought that the level of anxiety in businessmen over the past month’s developments was higher up-country compared to his home city.

Results of a series of surveys produced by varied reputable organisations showed business and consumer confidence improving persistently over the past two years. Because of time lag the current report is based on three months old surveys.

Arsalan Ashraf, regional MD Nielson, declined to comment, in absence of current data, on business sentiments. His office forwarded extracts from consumer confidence index Q2 2016. It shows that Pakistani consumers were comparatively more upbeat than their counterparts elsewhere. Pakistan scored 104 against the global average of 98, up two per cent over the first quarter.

A survey of business sentiments prepared by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and Institute of Management Accountants confirmed that Pakistan business confidence was driven up by CPEC.

M Abdul Aleem, secretary general Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry partially blamed media for drumming up contentious issues internally. He stated in a response emailed, “The media hype on the aggressive posture adopted by a neighbouring country with the stated aim to isolate Pakistan is a perfect recipe to hold back investment, not only by foreign investors but also local players….

“The dismal FDI for Q1 2016-17, which is 38pc lower than the already lowest ever level of FDI in the same period last year, once again points to the fact that the government has not managed to change the perception of the potential overseas investors, despite improvement in the economy over the last couple of years, visible improvement in the security situation and initiatives underway to reduce the energy shortages”, he said.

“There is need to ensure that the positive business environment developed in the past 12 months is not sacrificed to accommodate political exigencies of the upcoming 2018 elections and other diversions…for investment…stability of policy over long term is absolutely necessary”, he advised.