The new government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), spearheaded by Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi, has charted a well thought out road map for governing the country in the next five years, but there are numerous challenges to overcome. The major issues which PM Imran Khan has pointed at include pervasive corruption in the political-administrative culture and system, economic meltdown, institutional collapse, improper natural resource management, among others. These obviously are huge challenges to the country and its system. However, there are many obstacles in the way to addressing these issues.
In the words of PM Imran Khan, he is going to wage a full-fledged war on corruption because there is no option for his government and the country, because the country cannot progress under corruption. However, even controlling corruption or financial misappropriation through misuse of power and abuse of authority, let alone eliminating it, is a gargantuan task in the political-administrative culture of Pakistan.
There are various reasons for successive governments’ and regimes’ inability to contain corruption. First, important personalities of successive governments have been themselves involved in financial misappropriation by abusing their authority and misusing power. It is important to note that three elected government between 1988 and 1999, two-each of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and one of jailed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, were dismissed by the then presidents on the charges of financial corruption. Third-time elected former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was disqualified last year for his involvement in the Panama corruption scandal.
The second most important reason for increasing financial corruption has been the weakness and incapacity of institutions whose primary mandate has been to control corruption. These institutions include, Anti-Corruption Department at the federal and provincial levels, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Intelligence Bureau (IB), etc. The main cause of weakness and lack of capacity of the institutions and department to control financial corruption and abuse of authority in Pakistan has been their subservience to political governments. In other words, how can government departments be expected to probe and bring to light financial corruption of political leaders and public officials when the functionaries of these departments are appointed by political governments? Resultantly, anti-corruption or accountability departments, firstly, did not initiate probes into cases of corruption and, secondly, if cases had been registered, they were not actively and effectively investigated.
Now with PTI in the saddle and Imran Khan as chief executive of the country, who does not have any single financial corruption case pending against him in any court of law of the country, and with his most important aim to end corruption in the country, there is ample possibility that controlling corruption in the political-administrative culture of Pakistan has commenced. However, for this PM Imran Khan and his team have to think out of the box, because with existing institutions and functionaries it would be well-nigh impossible to firmly deal with the sources and forces of financial corruption. Therefore, he has to bring some persons of immaculate integrity to serve as the head of anti-corruption and accountability departments. Then, the federal government has to extend all its authority and resources to the anti-corruption and probing bodies so that the stalled case of corruption could be taken to a logical conclusion and new cases of corruption could be registered and expeditiously probed. It is also important to note that controlling corruption through the existing top civilian bureaucracy of the country is impossible. Because most of these bureaucrats have been part of one regime or the other, tainted with charges of financial corruption and many among them personally involved in financial misappropriation.
Fixing the country’s economy suffering from stagflation that is stagnation and inflation with dwindling foreign exchange reservoirs, yawning trade deficit of $37 billion and far bigger current account deficit and a foreign debt of $ 95 billion is indeed a huge challenge. In this situation going to the international financial institutions (IFIs) for a bailout package of $ 10 to $ 12 billion is the only way out of the economic morass. However, the government would do better if it gets as minimum as possible a financial package from the IFIs and looks for other sources of funding. It is important to note that since the PTI has won elections and Khan became the prime minister, Saudi and Chinese national leadership has had called upon Khan and offered to provide financial assistance to the tune of around $10 billion. This is a significant development and the silver-lining to the cloudy Pakistani economy. PM Imran Khan has also appealed to the Pakistani Diaspora to increase the amount of remittances to the country, as it is one of the mainstays of the economy. Hopefully, Pakistanis would increase their remittances to Pakistan, but much would depend upon the measures which Pakistani government would take to improve security situation in the country as well as demonstrating effective service delivery to the people.
Austerity measures by PM Khan and his government would go a long way to improve the economic conditions of the country as lavish spending and financial misappropriation in public procurement has been a key reason for the country’s economic woes. PM Khan is by nature a simple person and adoption of austerity measures by him would set an example for his chief ministers, cabinet ministers and even civilian officials. Hopefully, a culture of simplicity and austerity would thrive which would have wholesome effects on the economy of the country and resulting in reduction of financial misappropriation, if strict enforcement measures are also adopted on the other hand. More importantly, if the PTI government is able to implement its agenda of bringing back from foreign countries the misappropriated money from Pakistan, it would go a long way in putting the economy on a stable footing.
Institutional reforms in the government departments are also very important measures to meet the huge challenges faced by the country and its people. It is encouraging that PM Khan has included in his cabinet former Governor of State Bank of Pakistan, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, as adviser on institutional reforms. Dr. Hussain was given a task by a previous government to come up with a report on institutional reforms which he authored with a lot of effort. However, as the recommendations of the report required large-scale changes and bold decisions, due to lack of political will, the same could not be implemented. Now with PM Imran in the driving seat, who has been critical of the working of Pakistani institutions since long, it is expected that the PTI government would be able to successfully introduce institutional reforms in the country.
There may be huge challenges in the way of addressing the key issues of Pakistan, but with vision and dedication it is not impossible to effectively overcome them.