The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government claims to have put the country on the right track in its first two years in power and hopes people would start getting benefits in the remaining period of its term. However, the opposition sees worsening of all economic and social indicators and warns the next years would be even tougher.
According to the government, it has stabilised the economy after inheriting the worst external crises, faced down the Indian threat after the Balakot incident with courage and managed the biggest global COVID-19 threat by successfully balancing lives and livelihoods in its first two years. 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 recently 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 current year 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 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 present 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. The programme has been enhanced to reach 16 million people. Pakistan also played a pivotal role in intra-Afghan dialogue, which has been appreciated by the world community. 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. On the diplomatic front, a dramatic shift can be seen from isolation to effective representation after the PTI government took over in August 2018. 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, the main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), criticised the PTI government’s performance, terming it an “unmitigated disaster”. PML-N chief and leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif remarked, “Imran Khan’s mismanagement of national affairs has increased the woes of the masses manifold” and blamed the PTI government for a “massive decline” in GDP. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took to Twitter to lambast PTI’s performance. “Two years in power and Imran Khan has given us the worst economy in our country’s history, foreign policy failures from Kashmir to Saudi Arabia, democracy and human rights suffering, unemployment at all-time high, Transparency International has said corruption is higher than before,” he tweeted.
It is a fact that the first two years of the PTI government have been the hardest for the people of the country. Inflation has already 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.
Undoubtedly, the first two years have been a difficult period for the PTI government and the people. The government believes it has performed best in difficult circumstances while the opposition claims the PTI rule 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. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 2.3 million young people in Pakistan may 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.
It is a fact that the government has nothing substantial to show to the people on the economic front. But the opposition parties cannot blame the PTI for the poor state of affairs because they are responsible for it. They have remained in power for decades but failed to address Pakistan’s chronic problems. It is also unfair to judge the government on the basis of its two-year performance. The government hopes the situation will start improving in a few months.