By Nida Afaque
The political scenario in Pakistan is like a chameleon which rapidly changes color. We have highly contested credibility of politicians, a frail economy fueled by a dwindling supply of energy, international powers unhappy with the commitment Pakistanis show to their relationship and a public that is on the brink of losing their minds. Events in Pakistan transpire at the speed of lightening. With the fourth year of the PPP government approaching its end, the Prime Minister has been recognized as the longest serving official in his post. Is this Gilani's only accomplishment or has he and his regime fulfilled the promises it gave at the beginning of its term?
Perhaps politics in Pakistan have has been cursed with controversy or Prime Minister Gilani likes to honor the memory of his predecessors by continuing if not adding more controversies to the political landscape. Gilani enlists the restoration of judges as one of their first achievements since their coming into power. A fully independent judiciary honored one of the three elements of democracy. However, the public would recall the long march initiated by Sharif after a rift developed with PPP over this very restoration. Judges were miraculously reinstated shortly after the long march began. A failure right at the beginning of their term would have been shameful for the PPP.
PPP is very proud to have restored the 1973 constitution. They have introduced two amendments to the constitution so far. Under the 18th Amendment, the devolution of powers from the federal level to the provincial level are meant to happen. Provinces will no longer be shadowed by the federal government and will have a better chance to deal with the issues pertaining to their contexts. Two years have gone by since this amendment was passed and even now there are glitches in the transfer of power and resources. But if federal bureaucrats are unwilling to let their powers be snatched away, so are their provincial counterparts hesitant in losing their power. Devolution does not end at the provincial level, it must continue to the district and tehsil level too. We can't hope to see a positive report from the devolution committee being formulated to gauge the devolution process. Another significant aspect to the 18th Amendment was the containment of presidential powers.
This was followed by the 20th Amendment which gave legal protection to parliamentarians elected at the time of an imperfect election commission and helped create an unbiased care-taker government until the newly elected government takes over. It is indeed a positive step in the path of fair electoral process.
PPP has vowed to give the people their due representation. The first democratically run elections were held in GB after they were granted self governance in 2009. A separate budget and autonomy has helped tone down violence. Similarly, the wishes of the people of NWFP were fulfilled by renaming their province. At the moment, the fever of making new provinces is running high. PPP has transformed its rejection of a southern Punjab province into one where the Seraiki province would occupy a special part of the party's manifesto. The idea is not entirely wrong either; poverty levels and social well-being is much lower here than in central and northern Punjab. A separate province will give the residents more opportunity to express their opinions to the government. Unfortunately, support for Seraiki province in PPP has also led other ethnicities to fight for the creation of their own provinces. The opposition has a considerable hand in belittling the sentiments of these ignored minorities by proposing a new division of the country into 4 provinces!
Stability in Baluchistan remains a pending matter. Even though lack of cooperation on the provincial assembly's part plays a crucial role, little can be accredited to PPP for bridging the gap between the province and Islamabad. The law and order situation remains deplorable and target killings are rampant while missing persons cases remain pending. Internal discontent with respect to the centre, the role of Frontier corps and intelligence agencies is running high. Gilani's six pronged framework does not look promising either. PPP initiated the Aagaz-e-Haqooq-e-Baluchistan to bring Baluchistan at par with the other provinces. The initiative has proposed many developmental projects but most of them have not been implemented.
The security situation in other parts of the country is also getting worse. Fight for resources have ignited violence in Karachi that shows few signs of abating. Up north, sectarian differences in GB have created a state of unending insecurity. And now from the widespread lack of economic security and electricity, the public has starting protesting by destroying public property. On top of that, the War on Terror has complicated matters for the army and police. Constant pressure to control militants and destroy their safe havens is straining Pakistan's meager resources.
In matters pertaining to the economy, Gilani's government, as some like to believe it, has made situations worse. State owned enterprises have been incurring immense losses and except for the formation of committees little relief has been offered. Domestic industries have collapsed causing the trade deficit to soar to approximately $18 billion last year. Electricity shortfall has reached 6000 MW after the government has only been able to contribute merely 3600 MW to the national grid. In the past 4 years, load shedding hours have doubled. Rental Power Projects are engulfed with corruption while the government has not paid IPP for their products. Although many solutions were offered to manage the crisis, hardly any were implemented.
Some steps were taken to acquire petroleum products from neighboring countries but to date, they are still mired in red tape or financial constraints. The TAPI project is gaining momentum and hopeful will be able to sustain itself. Relationships with India have improved and both countries are eager to facilitate visas for trade purposes. It is believed that perhaps external stimulus can give our domestic industries a push in the right direction.
There appears to be a huge gap in the understanding of the government and the people regarding Pakistan's economy. The former believes federal reserves have increased while economists forecast an even higher pressure on federal reserves if the country continues to borrow without introducing reforms. Foreign creditors have begun to lose patience with Pakistan. The national debt stands at Rs. 12.3 trillion, a Rs.6.3 trillion increase in 4 years. The value of rupee has depreciated to Rs.93 against the dollar. Inflation increased by 9% in 2012 alone causing prices of all basic food items to sky-rocket. It was obviously not a disconcerting suggestion for the prime minister to make when he put forward the solution of printing more money to inject into the energy sector. The government has not been able to meet any of its economic targets for this fiscal year. At least our remittances have increased by 16%.
PPP has been successful in reviving the NFC award in which each province is entitled to a share in the National Financial Resources. However, the shortage of federal resources emerging from this award is being used as an excuse to cover up for the federal government failure in the economic sphere. If the award has failed, it is due to the lack of tax reforms which should have accompanied this award.
In the social spectrum, PPP has referred to the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) as a victorious project, one that could be a model for other welfare projects. BISP provides monthly cash grants to enrolled members so as to bolster their current income. BISP includes a health insurance program, educational support program, vocational training program and even a micro-finance program. Through these programs it is said to be helping over 6 million people in Pakistan. Reports have however shown that this supplementary income continues to be awarded to families which are quite self-sufficient. In addition, some embezzlement and misuse of funds have also been discovered with the BISP.
PPP has prided itself for the freedom of media. Many of its officials including the PM have lauded the efforts of the media in providing the people and the government with a clear picture of the state of affairs of the country. But this pseudo freedom has also costed the lives of many journalists and news reporters.
These "achievements" may indeed solely be attributed to the responsibility of the government but the prime minister himself, as the premier representative of the country, has equally out-done himself. He and his family have been allegedly involved in the Hajj scam, the ephedrine drug scandal, defaulted loans and a contempt of court case against resistance for asking Swiss authorities to re-open corruption cases against Zardari. The way Gilani responded in an interview on a foreign TV channel was hardly becoming for a prime minister.
For the moment short term measures show that the government has failed in several dimensions but the true effect of these actions will not be known until the next 5 or 10 years. For the first civilian government to have completed its term, PPP has done quite a poor job. Perhaps this is their only accomplishment.
A truly accomplished politician is not measured by the number of years he/she was in service but by the number of actions he/she did for his/her people to facilitate their wider interests. Unfortunately the concept of wider interest is disputed and holds no concrete definition. And this becomes the golden ticket for each government to exploit national resources and exit the government whenever they choose to do so.