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. As Pakistan marked its 73rd Independence Day on August 14, the nation is once again apprehensive of a showdown among politicians and fear for the future of democracy in the country. Dictatorship 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 its affairs through borrowing. Like the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, the PTI administration also relied on short-term foreign commercial loans. Against the budgetary estimate of $2 billion, it took $3.4 billion in foreign commercial loans, which are considered expensive due to their short maturity period and relatively higher interest rates compared with the official bilateral and multilateral credit.
The government is taking new loans to repay old loans. It took over $13 billion in foreign loans in the previous fiscal year ‑ the second highest amount in history. With fresh borrowing, Pakistan has received a whopping $29.2 billion in foreign loans in the past two years, including $26.2 billion by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan since August 2018. Since repayments have been made by contracting new foreign loans, it has increased the cost of debt servicing. For fiscal year 2020-21, the external debt servicing cost has been estimated at Rs315 billion despite over $300 million or about Rs50 billion worth of temporary relief due to the G20’s moratorium on debt servicing.
Skyrocketing prices of essentials have maligned the image of the government among the public beyond repair. An overnight and massive hike in the prices of petroleum products recently disappointed even its staunch supporters. 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 first two years. 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 government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The coronavirus pandemic is projected to push over 10 million more people below the poverty line, whose number is already 50-60 million. Between 1.4 million and 18.53m people have lost jobs in the country during the pandemic. These are the government’s own estimates in the Economic Survey 2019-20, and the situation could be even worse if analyzed independently.
Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, 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 age group 5-9 years, some five million children are not enrolled in schools and after the primary school age, the number of out-of-school children doubles, with 11.4 million between the ages of 10 and 14 not receiving formal education.
According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17, of the total educational institutions (149,852), only 51.5pc of the buildings are deemed satisfactory: whereas, 21pc don’t even have a boundary wall. In Balochistan, 51.64pc of school buildings require repair; 78.78pc don’t have electricity; 70pc don’t have latrines and 43.8pc of schools lack clean drinking water. Over 1.9 million children out of 2.7 million are out of school and the retention rate from grade 1 to grade 5 is 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, 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. 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 sham democracy in the country. People believe the US masterminds 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 that has not happened since 2002.
Contrary to its election manifesto, the PTI government has overburdened the common man with price hikes. The government should deliver now or people will lose faith in politicians and democracy.