What is the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government’s scorecard during its two years in office? The official point of view is roses all the way, but the opposition says that the situation could not be worse. The truth lies somewhere in between. As against the tall claims and listing of achievements on the domestic and external fronts by cabinet ministers, opposition leaders Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have come out with scathing criticism of the government’s performance. Surely, there is an element of point scoring in both the opposite points of view.
To begin with, the PTI inherited a formidable bag of problems left behind by the previous government. The economy was in a mess and foreign policy in tatters. But the task that the new administration undertook was made more onerous by its lack of experience and a clear sense of direction. It resulted in shaky governance marked by ill-advised decision-making and frequent policy reversals.
Managing a ramshackle economy was the immediate challenge. As a result of the government’s initiatives, the economy has grown despite the Covid-19 crisis and the past month saw a six per cent increase in exports. Cement sales and exports have also increased substantially. Due to the government’s policies, economic observers and organisations, like Moody’s, Fitch and Bloomberg, have lately improved Pakistan’s rating.
A signal achievement was the launching of the Emergency Cash Assistance Programme, under which the government handed out cash to lower-income families hit by the lockdown crisis. It was for the first time in the history of Pakistan that a government had introduced a relief programme on this scale to support the masses. Millions of people benefitted from the programme.
At the same time, the government introduced soft loans to assist small traders so that they would not have to reduce their staff due to lack of funds. The government also provided relief to traders by paying their power bills for three months.
The PTI government can claim due credit for the successful handling of Covid-19 that has brought the pandemic under control. The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has been a success story, and it managed the Covid-19 crisis with clarity and vigour. Bill Gates, while comparing the coronavirus situation in India and Pakistan, said that Pakistan had performed much better. The visiting UN General Assembly President-elect Volkan Bozkir, in his meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, also said that the world could learn from Pakistan as to how to successfully tackle the pandemic. The influential Wall Street Journal too acknowledged that Pakistan was a bright spot in the world when it comes to the coronavirus.
On the external front, the case of Kashmir was presented in a forceful manner at the UN as a result of which the issue was internationalised and now the whole world is talking about the violation of rights of the people of occupied Kashmir by the Indian forces.
Islamabad also played a crucial role in carrying the Afghan peace process forward. Two years ago, the US had declared Pakistan as “part of the problem”. However, due to Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process, the country is now considered as part of the solution. Pakistan also made efforts to develop an “economic partnership” with African countries which have a population of 1.3 billion people, and the Engage Africa Initiative has gone a long way in exploring trade and investment opportunities in the continent. In the wake of the Balakot incident, Pakistan’s calibrated and mature response to Indian aggression was perhaps Prime Minister Imran Khan’s finest hour. It was part of a new pattern of diplomacy that has manifested itself in stable and balanced foreign policy and handling of external issues.
However, on the domestic front, the government’s performance left much to be desired. Relations with the opposition remained strained and the parliament witnessed much of its time wasted due to mud-slinging by firebrand members from both sides. The administration signally failed to control the rising prices of essential commodities and rein in sugar and wheat mafias which continue to fleece the common people.
All said, it is not fair to judge a government at the two-year mark of its five-year term. The value of such an assessment lies in discovering the trends and sense of direction. From this point of view, the PTI government does not seem to have done too badly. For the first time, the country got rid of the two-party system which had degenerated into a game of musical chairs in which the corrupt rich got all the goodies, while the people were left high and dry.
In a nutshell, the first two years of the PTI government were a period during which it tried to fathom the depth and find its feet. Now that it has overcome its teething problems, it can be expected to deliver much better results in the coming days.