Troubles mount for Sharif

It is still early to say whether the government is likely to fail or whether it will pull itself together.

Shahid Javed Burki August 10, 2014

Having assumed power in June 2013, after a decisive electoral victory in the May 11 elections, the administration headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems to be faltering. An impression has been created that the prime minster is losing his grip on power. This was not expected of a man who had won the coveted office on the basis of a large mandate. His party had won a near-majority in the national legislature and a clear majority in the Punjab Assembly. The PML-N took office, promising to focus on what they called the “3Es” in making public policy choices. These were extremism, energy and the economy. They could have focused on more ‘Es’ — education, employment, environment, external relations. Some ‘Ws’ could also have been added. The government, for instance, needed to formulate and put into operation a plan for developing and conserving water resources. Women are another ‘W’ that need government attention. They are socially deprived, often the victims of violence. Pakistan has an extremely low rate of female participation in the workforce. By getting more women to be productively employed, it could lift the economy to a much higher plane.

Even without expanding the list of policy priorities, the government could have made different policy choices with respect to the ‘3Es’. It could have developed a more comprehensive approach towards the twin phenomena of extremism and terrorism. The two are not always closely associated. Violence and terrorism are the products of a number of developments. These include sectarianism, growth in ethnic politics, spread of weapons after their easy availability following the war fought against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, drug trade, economic slowdown, and poor political development. Added to these was the rise of gangster activity.

Extremism, while also resulting in violence, is the product of entirely different circumstances. It is the consequence of ignorance, poor education, the state’s weakness to enforce its authority and also developments outside the country. Unthinkingly, the government has combined the two phenomena, limiting itself to the use of force against one source of extremist violence — the Taliban. Even while focusing on the Taliban, attention should not have been limited to one geographic space, North Waziristan. It is now well recognised that the Taliban have established themselves in several large cities. They have a large presence in Karachi’s Pashtun areas. They appear to have infiltrated the Pashtun colonies on Islamabad’s periphery.

Energy, the second ‘E’ on the prime minister’s list of priorities, has led to the development of a long-term plan to increase the capacity to generate electricity. The World Bank has approved the financing of the Dasu run-of-the-river hydroelectricity project. The Bank is also working on developing a series of projects it has included in a programme it calls the “Indus cascade”. China is helping with the building of two second-generation nuclear power plants near Karachi. These are welcome moves, but the number of hours in a day of load-shedding did not decline this summer. To bring that about would have required significant improvements in the power system’s management. The government also took the relatively easier option in dealing with the issue of economic revival. It went to the IMF to get urgently needed foreign funds to remain current with its external obligations. The IMF developed a programme that will require a number of steps to raise domestic resources, as well as increase the value of exports to pay for most imports. Islamabad will have to take politically difficult steps to improve tax collections, bring more people into the tax net and reduce subsidies.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is a widespread feeling that the government has not met the high expectations raised by its electoral triumph. That said, it is still early to say whether the government is likely to fail in addressing the problems Pakistan faces or whether it will pull itself together.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2014.

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M K Sufi | 8 years ago | Reply

Mr. Burki, Sir, you have had a world of a exposure from civil service to a Minister to World Bank. Government can only make policies, People are employed for execution of government policies. Over a period of time institutions have been crumpling. It takes a very long time to make something but doesn't take time to break it. Regarding 3 Es. No one has a magic wand to make things happens in wink of eye. Energy crises did not developed overnight. Commercial activities should stop at sun set.Street lights should be switched off by 11 pm. Like wise extremism was brewing for a long time. It is at it's peak. Economy. The government is the largest employer.Private sector was never allowed to develop. W factor.Pakistan is not an industrial Country. It is society where the male member looks after the financial needs of the family. Men are finding it difficult to find jobs. With women in the field competing for jobs, it is bringing about social as well as economic problems. Situation was different in Europe. After the second world war, there were lot of male casualties. Women met the work force requirement in the factories and it is continuing. Ours is basically an agriculture Country and the women folk, along side the men, put in their contribution. What is needed to lead us to road to socioeconomic progress, is good communication, quality education (starting at nursery level with good parenting, both father & mother giving children sometime). Disparity in earning should go. pension and health care for everyone. Concentration should be more towards professionalism, more trade schools rather than universities. Agriculture should be developed and taxed.

Most of all we need leaders with vision.Dubai has become an important hub for commercial activities, tourism. India is fast on way to being economic power, so have some of the countries of South Asia. Pakistan has the potential. Only requirement is political stability. Unfortunately the politicians today have created a situation, on non issues that may derail democracy. Media also has a part in it. They lack political analytic capabilities.

Rex Minor | 8 years ago | Reply

Mr Burki writes what should be of interest not only for the Government ministers but also for the citizens of the country who get the chance every now and then to be taken to a dark corner in a room and allowed to caste their vote in favour of one or other candidate. However, it is NOT the electorate who decides what transpires in his name. The little man who finaly gets the position of the conductor may or may not have any knowledge of music.. This appears to be the situation which the country is facing. The Sharifs are the people from 80's are not qualified to perform in the 21st century. The alternative could be to form a Government of technocrats like the author, which is heade by a Prime Minister who is very popular among the citizens and a visionary too.. This is not a readily available commodity.

Rex Minor

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