People are passing through the hardest time of their lives after prices of essentials have skyrocketed in the country and more than half of the working-class has either taken a pay cut or lost a job, or both, because of the Covid-19 outbreak. The nation is once again apprehensive of a showdown among politicians. Dictators and dictator-like elected leaders have brought Pakistan to a point where problems of the people have compounded and politicians change parties to remain in power to line their own pockets.
Like previous governments, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying to run the affairs of the country through borrowing. Like the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, the PTI administration also relied on short-term foreign commercial loans. The government is taking new loans to repay old loans. Since repayments have been made by contracting new foreign loans, it has increased the cost of debt servicing and little is left for the public.
Skyrocketing prices of essentials have maligned the image of the government among the public. The PTI had promised to reduce prices after coming to power. Instead, prices of gas, electricity, foodstuffs and essentials have doubled, if not tripled, in its three-year rule. The government has failed to stabilize prices, which fluctuate daily. It has eroded the credibility of the government in the public. Their belief in the government’s ability to perform has shattered badly and they are convinced now they will continue to face crisis after crisis in the remaining tenure of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The coronavirus pandemic is believed to have pushed over 10 million more people below the poverty line, whose number is already 50-60 million. Between 1.4 million and 18.53m people lost jobs in the country during the pandemic.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44pc of the total population in this age group. In the 5-9 age group, 5 million children are not enrolled in schools and after primary-school age, the number of OOSC doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education. Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are significant; in Sindh, 52pc of the poorest children (58pc girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, 78pc of girls are out of school. Nearly 10.7 million boys and 8.6 million girls are enrolled at the primary level and this drops to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls at the lower secondary level. Gender-wise, boys outnumber girls at every stage of education. Gaps in service provision at all education levels is a major constraint to education access. Socio-cultural demand-side barriers combined with economic factors and supply-related issues (such as availability of school facilities), together hamper access and retention of certain marginalised groups, in particular adolescent girls. Putting in place a credible data system and monitoring measures to track retention and prevent drop-out of out-of-school children is still a challenge.
Latest figures are not available, but according to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17, of the total educational institutions (149,852), only 51.5pc of the buildings were deemed satisfactory; whereas, 21pc don’t even have a boundary wall. In Balochistan, 51.64pc of school buildings required repair; 78.78pc didn’t have electricity; 70pc didn’t have latrines and 43.8pc of schools lacked clean drinking water. Over 1.9 million children out of 2.7 million were out of school and the retention rate from grade 1 to grade 5 was 41pc in the largest province of the country. A report states that each year 165,869 girls are enrolled in the primary section and the number drops to 44,076 in the middle section and further down to only 20,015 in the higher section. In Sindh, 36.5pc of the buildings don’t have latrines; 42.77pc don’t have drinking water; with more than 6.4 million children out of school.
Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is still a challenge in Pakistan. The total economic cost of poor sanitation in Pakistan is nearly Rs343.7 billion – 3.94pc of the country’s GDP, according to the World Bank. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), 27,000 children die each year from diarrhea-related diseases in Pakistan. Though prices, health and education are provincial subjects after the passage of the 18th Amendment, yet the Centre cannot absolve itself of the situation.
In Pakistan, dictators toppled civilian governments and ruled the country for about 30 years in the past. However, elected governments have also failed to make a difference as elected representatives proved to be inapt, corrupt, egotist and tried to concentrate all powers into their own hands. The threat to Pakistan’s sham democracy has always come from inapt, corrupt and belligerent politicians.
Pakistan has been a battleground for foreign players since its inception. Many Pakistanis believe the US interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs is the main reason for weak democracy in the country. It is a fact that the US masterminded a regime change in Pakistan, when and where required. Civil governments were toppled in the past when the US wanted to advance its agenda after a domestic or international crisis. Pakistan’s history reveals that the US has encouraged military takeovers and then exploited the “illegitimacy” of the military rulers to advance its designs in the region.
As all dictators have held local government elections in the country, all political parties have tried to avoid them, even though local bodies are considered basic democracy all over the world and the best way to empower people on their doorsteps. According to the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the provincial governments to hold local government polls within three months of the general election but all political parties attempt to avoid or delay them as long as possible.
Contrary to its election manifesto, the PTI government has overburdened the common man with price hikes and bad governance. The government should deliver now or people will lose faith in politicians and democracy.