FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 11

New year, old challenges

A weak economy, political instability, governance and terrorism will be Pakistan’s biggest challenges in the current year. Though terrorism has largely been defeated, yet recent incidents show it could overshadow other national challenges, if not tackled seriously.

According to ministers, millions of dollars have been provided to terrorists by enemies to create unrest in Pakistan. Their main target is to fan sectarian strife in the country and according to PPP Senator Rehman Malik, the next few weeks and months could be crucial for Pakistan. As the Afghan peace process has entered the final stage, militants opposed to the Taliban can target Pakistan, besides creating unrest in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government claims to have put the country on the right track in two years in power, but rising prices and unemployment have overburdened the common people. The opposition sees worsening of all economic and social indicators and warns the coming months would be even tougher. According to the government, it has stabilised the economy after inheriting the worst external crises and managed the biggest global COVID-19 threat by successfully balancing lives and livelihoods. It is a fact that despite internal and external challenges, economic indicators suggest that the country is moving forward now. Pakistan’s economic performance has been hailed by international organisations, including the IMF, Moody’s and Fitch while Pakistan’s stock market has been recognised as the best performing market by Bloomberg.

Pakistan’s current account deficit has dropped from $20 billion to $3 billion in two years. The government also repaid Rs5,000 billion loans borrowed by past governments. At the same time, several benefits were offered to the business community while no new taxes were imposed in the budget despite the fact that the government needed extra funds to tackle the pandemic and challenges created by it. Huge incentives were offered to enhance exports and encourage investments. The government also took drastic measures to curtail its expenditure by reducing the budgets of the President’s House and Prime Minister’s House.

Pakistan is also among few countries which tackled the coronavirus pandemic successfully – a strategy appreciated by global leaders including philanthropist Bill Gates. Its smart lockdown policy was lauded all over the world. A relief package of Rs1,240 billion was announced, including cash transfer, to support the vulnerable communities. The timely decisions by the government during the pandemic period helped mitigate huge losses. Government policies on electric vehicles and mobile manufacturing are two significant steps, which will generate jobs and boost the economy. To mitigate the suffering of the vulnerable segments of society during the pandemic, the government launched the Ehsaas programme, the country’s biggest ever social safety net, under which Rs145 billion were distributed among 12 million daily wagers.

Pakistan also played a pivotal role in intra-Afghan dialogue, which was appreciated by the world community. However, Pakistan could see a surge in terror incidents, because all anti-Taliban militants have joined hands and they can attack Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, terrorism has already increased in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in recent weeks.

Pakistan’s relationship with China is evolving into a strong economic partnership as the second phase of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has started. Despite India’s attempt to isolate Pakistan at regional and international forums, Prime Minister Imran Khan raised the Kashmir dispute at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and other platforms.

On the other hand, critics say Imran Khan’s mismanagement of national affairs has increased the woes of the masses manifold and they blame the PTI government for a “massive decline” in GDP. They say Pakistan’s economy is worst in the country’s history with foreign policy failures from Kashmir to Saudi Arabia, democracy and human rights suffering and unemployment at all-time high.

It is a fact the PTI government has brought unprecedented miseries to the common people. Inflation has hit a five-year high. Prices of vegetables, fruits and meat have posted a persistent increase in major urban centres. The government has increased prices of all petroleum products almost every month. Power and gas tariff have also been revised upward. The rupee has depreciated by over 33pc against the dollar, which has skyrocketed prices of all essentials. The period was quite difficult for the government due to an economic crisis it had inherited from the previous regime but the PTI claims to have laid the foundation of good governance and reforms.

Critics say the PTI has been a total disaster for the country and it failed on all fronts. It is a fact that the government’s performance has been below par so far. It failed to stabilise prices and provide jobs to people, which is a yardstick to assess the performance of a government all over the world. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 2.3 million young people in Pakistan have lost their jobs during the six-month lockdown period. According to the government’s own estimate, at least another 10 million people are expected to slip below the poverty line as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. “The Covid-19 is expected to have a negative impact on Pakistan’s economy, and the number of people living below the poverty line may rise from the existing figure of 50 million to 60m,” the Economic Survey 2019-20 said.

Besides the economy, terrorism and governance, political instability will also continue to haunt the country in the coming months. The government and the opposition will have to initiate talks to resolve their issues, so that the government could concentrate on real public problems.