FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 51

Our economic and political challenges

People are passing through the hardest time of their lives after prices of essentials have skyrocketed in the country. The country is also facing serious economic and political challenges. However, it has failed to realise its full potential because of inaction by successive governments for their political considerations and vested interests.

The biggest issue of Pakistan is that it could not stand on its feet since its inception and it has to seek financial aid from international institutions and other countries to run its affairs. The country’s population is growing at an alarming pace and it struggles to provide them with basic needs. Millions of children do not go to school and there are at least three education systems in the country; one for the rich, the other for the poor and yet another for madrassa students. Successive governments have taken only cosmetic measures to solve issues, without making a long-term plan. It is also because speculations start about the future of a government soon after installation. As a result, every government takes decisions keeping in view its limited and short-term political interests rather than long-term national interests. Pakistan’s political parties also lack democracy in their ranks. Most of them have become dynastic parties. That is why democracy has not flourished in the country.

The nation is once again apprehensive of a showdown among politicians and fear for the future of democracy in the country is growing after ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan has launched a movement against the government. 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 the previous governments, the new coalition government is trying to run its affairs through borrowing. The last PTI administration relied on short-term foreign commercial loans. Like the PTI government, the coalition government also ran from pillar to post for the revival of an IMF loan package. When it was in opposition, it criticized the government for turning the country into a “beggar” and promised to abandon the “harsh” IMF programme. After coming to power, it accepted even harsher conditions of the IMF. It also savaged Imran Khan for seeking loans from China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It has done the same now. The new government is also taking new loans to repay old debt, like its predecessors.

Skyrocketing prices of essentials have already maligned the image of the government among the public. It had promised to reduce prices after coming to power. Instead, prices of electricity, gas, foodstuffs and essentials have increased.

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 of 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.

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 public representatives proved to be inept, corrupt, egotist and tried to concentrate all powers into their own hands. The threat to Pakistan’s sham democracy has always come from inept, corrupt and belligerent politicians.

Pakistan has also been a battleground for foreign players since its inception. Civil governments were toppled in the past when international forces wanted to advance their agenda in the region. As all dictators held local government elections in the country, all political parties have tried to avoid them at any cost, 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 polls within three months of a general election but that has not happened since 2002.

The situation in Pakistan has reached a point where it badly needs political stability and a long-term plan to solve national and public issues. All political parties should sit together and sign a charter of economy to face national challenges, which are compounding with the passage of time.