Living through rumours of postponement of elections, we see the grand vote draw closer. Even though the political happenings point to a coalition government at the Centre, nothing can be said for sure until the polling results are announced on 25th July. However, too many expect a new face to take over the coming government, after a series of promises and plans to bring a much-awaited transformation in the status quo ‘corrupt system’ as well as a series of judicial verdicts that had landed the Sharif family in jail leaving their party members as well as voters deserted. This has driven out any opportunity for the PML-N to be seated again at the Centre, unless any overnight miracle happens to take place with the Shehbaz-Nisar’s venture to avert the losing edge.
To the contrast, the PPP has all geared up with the sweeping statements of its Chairman, Bilawal — a youth who has failed to accumulate the support of his peers of age, despite chanting about his progressive policies for young ones and much to offer to foreign donors — as enunciated within its manifesto 2018. However, at present, it has been confined to Sindh to face an anti-PPP Grand Democratic Alliance, all set to topple over the politics of Sindh. Moreover, they have nothing left to lose to beg for sympathy votes as in 2013, despite contending with its only political rival, MQM-P, in the economic hub of Pakistan, Karachi. While scenes have been predominantly occupied by the MQM-P in Karachi, this time it’s different with the party struggling to resolve its internal differences since the emergence of Mustafa Kamal’s PSP, which may hinder its performance in front of those asking for Roti, Kapra Aur Makaan, Ilm, Sehat, Sab Ko Kaam.
Meanwhile in K-P, the ANP has gained a mass support, amongst once the tigers of Khan. To their concerns, the PTI has failed in efforts to transform Peshawar into Lahore. Even the much-touted Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is yet to hit the roads of the provincial capital.
Besides, recently conservative Islamist parties have emerged on the scene. There has been the revival of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal ahead of elections, offering more to the inspired narrative of Gen Ziaul Haq. This might not land us anywhere else than in the clutches of the likes of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list.
As a patriot, presently I am more concerned about external threats to my land, due to the absence of a proper foreign policy and the internal havoc wreaked on education. This helps in increasing the economic deprivation, and breeds conflict and repression. Hence, pondering deep into the manifestos unveiled by the following political parties reveals:
PML-N: Like other sectors, efforts to lift education were disappointing during the Nawaz Sharif government. This important sector had received the lowest percentage of the budget over the five years of the PML-N tenure, resulting in absence of reforms and a rise in the percentage of children out of school. The party is still hoping to form a government and has a vision to transform the current education system by 2023 to produce a citizen grounded in values, driven by ambition to compete in the global market. On the foreign policy front as well, the party’s performance was no less than a failure, mainly in view of the trust deficit Sharif had had with his cabinet members as well as his inclination towards anti-state elements. Ironically, he did not even have any foreign minister until deposed. His lack of robust policies and vision had landed Pakistan in great trouble and the country had experienced the worst diplomatic ties with the US, which could have been avoided easily.
PPP: As envisioned in the Constitution of Pakistan, education is a fundamental right of every child, but failure to recognise this right is depicted through the dilapidated condition of schools and ghost teachers found in the PPP’s hub ‘Larkana’. The party has been ruling Sindh since 2008. Nonetheless, the manifesto mentions the disparity between the rich and the poor in terms of education, promising to woo back out-of-school children, which currently stands at 24 million approximately. On the foreign policy front though, the PPP government, back in their reign, had had the best diplomatic relations with the United States and the rest of the world. The party now aims to strengthen ties and redefine policies with Washington.
ANP: Despite having failed to form the government in K-P after the previous general election, the ANP promises to bring the best education system for its people. With the highest allocation of funds at 6% of GDP, the party aims to elevate female literacy level by 25% by opening universities and colleges in each district, besides introducing students’ exchange programmes within the country. The ANP has dedicated its efforts, and the biggest portion of its manifesto, to address the education issues through comprehensive reforms of the education sector. Meanwhile, the party has summarised its foreign policy, revolving around a few monotonous sentences by emphasising peaceful and friendly relations with foreign nations.
MMA: The grand alliance of the Islamist parties has stepped forward to implement the sharia law throughout Pakistan and provisions to safeguard the Islamic laws. Its election manifesto for 2018 pledges free education for all citizens and implementing an independent foreign policy.
MQM: Claiming to be the only political party, comprising members belonging to the working and downtrodden class, the MQM has a great ambition to prioritise the education sector, calling it the only option left to empower the poor masses. A glimpse of its manifesto reveals abolition of the dual education system and, most importantly, upgrading the standards of Urdu-medium institutions. This is their effort to curb the educational disparity from our society. The party has only a brief mention of foreign policy, just for the sake of making a mention to fulfil the requirements of an election manifesto.
PTI: Taking over from the ANP in 2013, what the PTI got in K-P was a nearly devastated infrastructure, massive corruption and embezzlement in every department and sector. But the PTI undertook the task, as promised in its manifesto 2013, and successfully elevated educational standards in the province through transparent recruitment and engaging international partners to monitor the progress. The situation with the health sector was no different, needing an urgent attention, as per the reports by international donors. Imran Khan has now made another cancer hospital, the first in K-P, catering to millions of people, not just in the province and the country, but to those flying from neighbouring countries to get a free of cost treatment. Moreover, he insists on an independent foreign policy to withstand any external pressures, as a sovereign nation.
The political scene in Pakistan had thus far been predominantly occupied by the PML-N, PPP and MQM, but in the wake of recent happenings at the political front, one may expect a change — a change for the better.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2018.