Newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan spelled out priorities in his first address to the nation. He identified Pakistan’s economic and social challenges and spoke about a roadmap to address them. His idea of a new Pakistan is a modern welfare state through wide-ranging reforms and strict accountability, which needs decades of dedicated struggle.
The new prime minster has promised sweeping reforms with a focus on safeguarding Pakistan’s resources and their redistribution from the rich to the poor. He recounted challenges of Pakistan one by one and then suggested their solution. “Never in Pakistan’s history have we faced such difficult economic circumstances. Our debt burden is now at Rs28 trillion. We haven’t been as indebted in our entire history as we have become in the last 10 years. The interest that we have to pay on our debt obligations too has reached levels where we have need more debt to pay it,” he said. Quoting from a United Nations report, he outlined deficiencies in Pakistan’s human development. “We are unfortunately among the five countries where infant mortality is the highest because they do not have access to clean water. We also have the highest rates of mortality for pregnant women.”
Pointing out the difference in the lifestyles of Pakistan’s rich and poor, he said, “I want to speak about how the rich and powerful live in this country. The prime minister has 524 servants and 80 cars. The prime minister, which is me, also has 33 bulletproof cars and helicopters and planes. We have huge governor houses and chief minister houses with every conceivable luxury.” The prime minster provided a five-point agenda to achieve his goals. “The first thing is the supremacy of law. The law has to be the same for everyone. The second thing is Zakat or taxes. The rich will have to pay more to subsidise the poor. This happens in the Scandinavian countries, where there is good healthcare, good education and justice for all. The disabled, orphans and widows have support of the government. The third is compassion. In the West, they care for even animals in a way that would shame us. The fourth is merit. Without merit you cannot do anything. The fifth is education. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) stressed education above everything else. After the Battle of Badr, he made it incumbent on his people to attain an education. Look at us today: we are nowhere because we have not followed his instructions.”
He also detailed how he will cut down his own as well the country’s expenditure. He has kept only two people with him out of the prime minister’s staff of 524 and stays in a three-bedroom house that served as the military secretary’s house. He wanted to live at his Banigala residence, but was forced to change his mind because of security issues. On reforming the financial sector, he explained that instead of trying to rebuild the economy through external loans, his government would try and fulfill its needs from within. “We need to pay our taxes. I am going to fix the Federal Board of Revenue on a priority basis. It has lost its credibility and that is why people don’t pay taxes. I will promise my people that I will protect your tax money and spend it on you.” He also announced the formation of a task force to bring back wealth looted from the country.
The prime minister said that rooting out corruption would also be a high priority for his government. “I will meet the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman and facilitate him with whatever he needs. We will also enact a law for whistleblowers like we did in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Whoever helps identify corruption will get a share of the money that we recover.” He also announced a revamp of the judicial system. “The next focus will be on revamping our judiciary. We have a massive backlog of cases. We will sit with the chief justice and discuss how we can ensure that cases can be wrapped up within a year. We have to do this for our people. We also need to fix our police. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police is our biggest success. We won the election because of how good our police had become. We will reform the Punjab police.”
Educational reforms are also high on his agenda. He said he would improve public sector education and seminaries.
He also stressed the need to fix the healthcare system. “It is immensely difficult to fix the pre-existing system. It takes a long time: the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health system did not start showing results till the fifth year. But we still need to do it. We also need to introduce the health card all over Pakistan. We have given every household in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Rs550,000 in case of a healthcare emergency. We should give it all over Pakistan.”
Most analysts believe Imran Khan has made lofty promises in his election campaign and the address to the nation and he would not be able to fulfill them. However, leaders of his party say he will deliver more than the promises but announce his strategy in phases. They say the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has already completed arrangements to address economic challenges. According to estimates, Pakistan urgently needs $25b to fulfill its economic needs and the government hopes to raise over $34b through different sources. The Islamic Development Bank, Saudi Islamic Bank and China are willing to support Pakistan. The government is working on an ambitious plan to halve the dollar rate in Pakistan by injecting $20b into the economy. The economic managers are optimistic that the value of the US dollar will plunge to Rs60 and foreign debt of the country would also reduce by 50pc. A low-priced dollar will also reduce prices in the country.
Imran Khan is impressed by modern welfare states of the West and he wants to emulate the idea in Pakistan. According to PTI leaders, he will replicate all noble values of modern welfare states in Pakistan but would announce them in phases. Under the plan, every child will be the responsibility of the government and it would pay for their education and health. Parents will also be provided with a subsistence allowance. Employment allowance will be provided to every unemployed youth and the government would build houses for the homeless. Every woman above the age of 65 will be provided with a pension, even if she has not worked in a government organization and whether she is rich or poor. The government will provide homes to the homeless and pay their rent until they get their own homes. The rate of taxes will be raised and nobody would be able to conceal assets or income. Rich people will have to pay up to 60pc of their income in taxes.
Pakistan can become a modern welfare state but the government will have to take harsh measures for years. Modern welfare states have gained the status after hard work of centuries and Pakistan will need at least decades to reach the destination. It will be a great achievement of the government if the people even start feeling that the country has been put on the path to become a welfare state. The next five years will make the outlines clear.