Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is set to form a coalition government in Pakistan after an election which was marred by allegations of rigging by opposition parties. He faces a number of serious challenges, including a crumbling economy, terrorism, unemployment, health and education. His major test will be how to come up to the expectations of the people after he set difficult tasks for his government in electioneering.
In his campaign for a new Pakistan, he has pledged to create 10 million new jobs, build five million homes for the poor, an equitable justice system, reform the police and all national institutions. In his victory speech, he set his goals even higher. “When I came into politics, I wanted Pakistan to become the kind of country that our leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted. My inspiration is Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the city of Medina that was based on humanity. For the first time, the state was based on humanitarianism. That is my inspiration that Pakistan should have that kind of humanitarian state, where we take responsibility for our weaker classes. All of my policies will be to raise our weaker classes, for our labourers, for our poor farmers, who work all year and get no money. Over 45 percent of our children have stunted growth, they don’t reach the right height, or their brains don’t develop. There are countries with less than 25 million people, and we have that many children out of school.”
Spelling out his priorities, he said, “My government will not be involved in any kind of political victimisation. We will establish supremacy of the law. Our state institutions will be so strong that they will stop corruption. Accountability will start with me, then my ministers, and then all politicians. We will set an example of how the law is the same for everyone. The biggest challenge we are facing is the economic crisis. Our second problem is unemployment. We have the second youngest population in the world, they need jobs. I promise that I will protect taxpayers’ money. We will cut our expenses. I will not live in the Prime Minister’s House. All Governor Houses will be used for the public. We might convert some of them into hotels, as we did in Nathia Gali. We will change the concept of governance in Pakistan.” On his foreign policy, he said his government will establish good relations with neighbours, such as China, Iran, Afghanistan and India. “Saudi Arabia has stood with us in all difficult times. We will also maintain good relations with Iran. Peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest and Pakistan may have an open border with it in the days to come. Pakistan and India must resolve the issue of Kashmir through talks. We will play the role of a mediator in the Middle East and we will opt for balanced relations with the US.”
The opposition will be his first challenge which he would have to deal with immediately after coming to power. All parties have alleged rigging in the election. Though Imran Khan has promised to launch investigations into all constituencies where the opposition believed rigging took place, yet the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will attempt to disrupt his applecart with the help of its allies. However, it may not be able to win over the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). It will be difficult for the PML-N to launch a movement on its own, because it has a vote bank but not street power. In any case, the opposition will not give him a free hand to implement his agenda.
He will also not be able to fulfill the promise of a south Punjab province as his party has not gained two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, which is required to amend the Constitution. Almost 40 “electables” from the region had joined the PTI on the promise that a new province would be carved out in south Punjab. They could revolt against the party after the promise is not fulfilled. He will also face stiff resistance from them over his plan to hold strict accountability.
His government will have to take harsh measures to put the economy on the path to recovery. Pakistan’s current account deficit has risen by 43pc to $18b, on June 30, foreign exchange reserves have plunged to a four-year low to $416 million and the rupee has devalued by 22 percent since December. The imports remained exorbitantly high despite a decision to impose additional regulatory duties on over 300 items. On the other hand, foreign direct investment in the domestic economy dropped by 1.3pc to $2.47 billion, compared to $2.50 billion in the same period of the last fiscal year. The high current account deficit resulted in fast depletion of foreign currency reserves, which fell to less than two months’ import cover to $10.07 billion on June 8, 2018. The rupee hit an all-time low of Rs130.50 to the US dollar in the open market, as speculation about further depreciation of the currency encouraged heavy buying of the greenback. The economy is extremely vulnerable to external shocks due to the rising current account gap and foreign debt servicing. External debt servicing has reached $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2017/18.
Every Pakistani now owes about Rs130,000. The figure was Rs90,772 in 2013, when the PPP completed its term. It was Rs80,894 in 2012 and only Rs37,170 in early 2008. Pakistan’s external debt will climb to $103b by June 2019. In its last assessment, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put Pakistan’s gross external financing needs at a record $27 billion for the next fiscal year and warned that arranging the financing at favourable rates would be a challenge due to risks to the country’s debt sustainability. For additional borrowings, Pakistan’s external debt would jump to $103.4 billion by June 2019, up from this June’s projected level of $93.3 billion. Pakistan’s public debt would remain higher than the limit prescribed in the revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act.
The new government will face challenges which are difficult to resolve in a few months or years. All the issues are decades-old and deep-rooted. Decades of dedicated efforts are needed to resolve them. The government will need a strong political will and the cooperation of all provincial governments and political parties to resolve them. People have high hopes of the new government. The PTI made tall claims during its election campaign and fulfilling them will be its real challenge. People of Karachi will also look to it to resolve their issues.