22 July, 2018
Pakistan is due for its 11th General Elections, simultaneously with its four-state assemblies’ elections on 25 July 2018. Pakistan has already been passing through a very critical phase given its economic and political fragilities and internal security threats. Moreover, it has been entrapped in the conundrum of political corruption, unemployment, radicalization, poverty, inadequate infrastructures etc. As far as its foreign policy is concerned, its relations with a major ally like the US is in the flummoxed state. With its neighbours, Pakistan is at loggerheads. Pakistan has been placed in a grey list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Moreover, the coming events cast their shadow before seems sound well for Pakistan. In this backdrop of myriad socio-economic, political and security challenges, how the roadmap of new Pakistan can be realized, likely to remain a major challenge for the new government.
Pakistan’s 11th General elections are scheduled to be held on 25 July 2018, in which the fate of total 342 seats going to be decided. Out of 342 seats, there are 272 directly elected general seats for the lower house and 70 seats are reserved (60 for women and 10 for ethnic minorities). Simultaneously, the four state assemblies’ elections (Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) are going to take place. The total candidates of the four states are 3,459 candidates, (1,623 Punjab); (824 Sindh); (725 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and (287 Baluchistan).
During the incumbent term, controversies have remained the part and parcel of PML-N government. Despite the several allegations of massive vote-rigging, Chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan tentatively had accepted the election results, but at the same time, he had demanded a probe of election frauds in four constituencies. He had also demanded the ouster of PM and conduct of new elections. Government’s inaction and unresponsive led the PTI Chief to organize the Protest March, particularly in Punjab, which is generally believed to be a political stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The protest was continued from 14 August to 17 December 2014. It put Pakistan in the doldrums, as the movement had been opposing the PM Nawaz Sharif over the alleged charge of systematic election-rigging of the general election (2013). Ultimately, the pressure on part of PTI had genuflected the Sharif government.
The threat of political fragility of Pakistan was further increased, with the launch of another separate protest by the Chief of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri. These informal alliance and parallel marches spread across the country and very shortly turned into violent, in which about 13 people killed and several police officers were injured.
The exponential increasing pressure given the demands like ouster of the PM and conduct of new elections on part of two parties (PTI and PAT), the Pakistan government had become paralyzed. The government had called Imran and Quadri’s demands as "undemocratic" and a ploy to "derail democracy." Provincial General Secretary of Awami National Party (Iftikhar Hussain) was of the opinion that Imran’s long march could endanger Pakistan's democracy. National President of PTI (Javed Hashmi) and some members had also warned that Imran would be responsible if martial law was imposed in Pakistan. Ultimately, the announcement of the withdraw of protests was declared in view of the terrorist attack on the Army Public School (Peshawar), killing 132 school children out of 149 killed people on 16 December 2014.
The impressions of these protests were still fresh in the minds of the people when the corruption case like Panamagate case hit Pakistan very seriously. As per the corruption watchdog Transparency International’s Annual Corruption Perception Index (2016), Pakistan is being taken as one of the most corrupt countries, i.e., standing at 116 rank out of 176 countries. The place shows the scale and substance of corruption currently prevailing in Pakistan. As per Pakistan’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2002), the political corruption, bank loans write off, development project and procurements (particularly in defense and the public sector corporations) are some of the major areas of corruption, creating major challenges for Pakistan.
In order to check this cancerous problem, particularly political corruption, Pakistan has put in place well designed anti-corruption mechanisms at the Federal and provincial levels. The mechanisms like the Prevention of Corruption Acts (1947, 1950 and 1958); the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA); National Accountability Bureau (NAB); three sets of courts and provincial right to information are put in place at the federal level. The Anti-Corruption Establishments (ACEs) have been working in the provinces. Despite these anti-corruption mechanisms, the problem of corruption had not come check, rather it has been increasing exponentially.
The Panamgate is one of the most controversial and most debated cases in Pakistan. It made a lot of uproars in Pakistan in general and its national assembly in particular. Pakistan was politically paralyzed and the government came on the backfoot given PM and his family members’ names involved in eight offshore companies, which had been figured in Panama papers for money laundering and tax evasions. As per the record of the Panamanian law firm (Mossack Fonseca), the family members hold the ownership of four offshore companies (Nescoll Limited, Nielson Holdings Limited, Coomber Group Inc., and Hang on Property Holdings Limited). After a long trial and investigation, PM Nawaz and his daughter have been convicted and got imprisonment for 10 and 7 years respectively.
Meanwhile, the relations between the PML-N and Pakistan’s military had lost cordiality and congeniality. PM Sharif and his cabinet ministers had alleged that it was just conspiracies being hatched to topple down his democratically elected government. Rather than doing introspection, PML-N led government had bluntly blamed the military establishments and the judiciary for their unnecessary interventions in political and foreign affairs of the country. During the full term, the Pakistani government has been remained genuflected under the pressure from opposition political parties (PTI and PAT), military and judiciary given its entrapment of political corruption cases.
The other failure on part of the incumbent Pakistan government is a recent currency crisis. It has pushed Pakistan in the financial crisis. Given this, it has been suffering from critical macroeconomic imbalances, low GDP rate, fiscal and current-account deficits and low forex. Despite the currency devaluation in December 2017 by the Pakistan government , the Current Account Deficit has been continued to grow which is further putting pressure on the rupee. It is compelling the Pakistan government to borrow more money to manage the day to day expenditure. The current account gap reached 4.7 percent (compared with 3.5 percent) of the GDP.
The declining of the foreign exchange reserves in the backdrop of IMF loan programme ended in 2016, further pushed the government to the wall. One Pakistan scholar Tareen has argued in his commentary (The Express Tribune, 19 March, 2018) that, the devaluation by 5% (December 2017), undoubtedly would increase the cost of day to day necessities like petrol, diesel, LNG, cooking oil, electricity, cost of transportation, imported fertilizer and seed, and almost all other commodities and items used in our everyday lives are now going to move up.”
Internal security has emerged as another horrendous problem. Since 2001, internal terrorism attacks have increased exponentially in Pakistan. Though Pakistan has always been posing India as it major security threats, but it seems that the internal terrorism has been an emerging major security challenge for Pakistan. Even the same has been accepted by its political leaders and military officers as well.
Seeing the performance of the PML (N) government, there are certain reasons to believe that the performance of the government has remained mixed one . On many fronts, the government remained unsuccessful and whereas on the other it has made some achievements . If we take failures, it is a very long list. Politically, it has remained hamstrung given a lot of pressure on part of opposition parties, military establishments, judiciary and civil societies. Political parties like PTI and PAT pushed the government over the edge.
On the contrary, the completion of five years term as a democratic government is one of the best achievements of the government in Pakistan’s democratic history. Hamil Ali has argued (Pakistan Observer, 29 January 2017) that the PML-N government had some achievements in its account. These achievements include improved law and order, Zarb-e-Azb, Metro bus, Pakistan Railways. The conclusion of the CPEC is one of the major achievement along with the successful manage of Foreign Policy. He has also claimed that PML-N government has done some remarkable jobs particularly to boost the economy, eliminate of terrorism and check the political corruption. However, the ground realities do not corroborate the same. In the opinion of most of the Pakistan people, politicians, military officials that CPEC is the game changer, not only for Pakistan and China, rather for the entire South, Middle, and Central Asian regions.
If one takes the political history of Pakistan into account, it becomes crystal clear that since its inception (1947), about 30 years, it had come across with the military rule (1958–1971, 1977–1988, 1999–2008) and about forty years, it trysts with democracy deficit. During these 70 years of self-rule, what Pakistan has achieved, needs to be analyzed here, so that one can imagine how the “ Roadmap of New Pakistan” can be visualized and realized ?
One usual question for New Pakistan, what is a common requirement of the common citizen of the country -food, shelter, and clothing? In this respect, the glaring situation has been highlighted by the statement of Ban Ki-Moon, who said, “Our world is one of the terrible contradictions……. Billions spent on weapons to kill people instead of keeping them safe.”
Can Pakistan be seen through the prism of the above statement? It seems that Pakistan is also a country of contradictions. What is the status of food security in Pakistan? As per the report of the Global Hunger Index (2016), Pakistan is stood at 107th position out of 118 countries. About 22.0 percent of people have been facing undernourishment, which takes the lives of about 8.1 percent of the children, who used to die before the age of five. Given the agrarian economy, the successive government has been failed to ensure food security and even currently 43% of people are believed to be food insecure.
As per the report of Pakistan National Human Development Report (2017), Pakistan is one of the youngest countries not only in the South Asian region, rather in the entire world as well. The share of youths in the country’s population stood at about 64% percent, who are below the age of 29, about 30 percent between 15-29 years of age. In this large pool of youth population, the major chunk is struggling for affordable accessible education in the country. Syed Fazl-E-Haider has argued in one of his articles (26 March 2018) that unemployment is one of the major challenge being faced by the youth. All categories like unskilled, skilled labor, educated youth and professionals have been experiencing the pangs of the unemployment which is believed to be 10%.
As per the report of Asian Development Bank (2013), about 29.5% people in Pakistan are still living in abject poverty. As per the report of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), about 65.5 percent of people’s are able to earn below US$ 2 per a day. The growing urban-rural division is creating inequality of opportunities for the rural youths who have scanty access to the financial services, education, health etc. In this backdrop, it is worth to quote here Herum Hafeez, who argued in his opinion (25 June 2017) that, “However, if a large cohort of young people cannot find employment and earn satisfactory income, the youth bulge will become a demographic bomb.”
The list of problems and challenges is very exhaustive. Political instability, democratic deficit , affordable education, health facilities, unemployment, abject poverty, food and drinking water insecurity, internal security threats would also remain the major challenges for the coming new government. But at the same time, Pakistan is known as a rich country but having a poor economy. Why it is a rich country, as it is sitting on trillions of dollars given its rich minerals like copper, gold, coal and rich productions of wheat and rice in its account. Alas! it is managing its economy by borrowing money from China, IMF, WB etc.
In this backdrop, it is concluded on the positive note that the new government whosoever come in power, may make Pakistan a rich country by not manipulating the economy by borrowings rather by managing with its own resources/sources. Youth is an asset to the country provided education and employment made available to them. Otherwise, an idle man is a devil’s workshop. Out of this workshop/s, terrorism, radicalism, fundamentalism, abject poverty, internal security threats are easily avaialble which could move the country in the negative direction. In order to make a roadmap for a new Pakistan, the new government has to take care of these issues. Then only peaceful, prosperous and strong Pakistan can be visualized and realized!!
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