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Keeping afloat

With PPP self-destructing into a regional Sindhi party and the ‘Nawaz league’ in various stages of disarray because of accusations and conviction because of corruption, Imran Khan’s election victory was no surprise. From being in the Opposition to taking over the reins of the country is however not easy, particularly given their relative lack of experience in Federal matters. Nevertheless, PTI should have been better prepared for going into the governance mode.

Having inherited the mess that the previous two governments had created by plundering the assets of the nation, the first 100 days of PTI government have primarily focused on the economy and finances. With endemic corruption threatening to destroy the fabric of the country, accountability starting from the top has not been easy to implement. Hopefully some of the money stolen can be repatriated.

With incomplete information and communication, fiscal policy has become a real problem for this government; nevertheless Asad Omar has done well in the circumstances. With balance of payments becoming worse by the day, the government should more emphatically encourage not buying foreign-made goods wherever possible. With 95% Pakistanis not in a position to buy luxury items this is very possible to ban items that can be produced locally. Are government officials driving Pakistan-made cars? Most imports being oil and gas, machinery, purchase of computers, etc, cannot be substituted easily.

Much more than one hundred days, or even five years until the next elections, are needed to turn things around. Things may become worse before they get better, PTI must communicate this successfully to the public. Putting the focus on helping the poor and closing the gap between rich and poor in this country, Imran Khan’s government is devising a universal educational system. Improvement of health care will be attempted by working on public hospitals especially in the far-flung areas and making health care accessible through health cards. Plans to limit population growth in Pakistan are very important.

The government is benefitting from the changing geo-political equation. Understanding the international situation a forward-looking foreign policy for Pakistan is now focussing on building and strengthening regional alliances, the main focus is on peace in the region. Efforts must continue to support alternative peace initiatives in Afghanistan by Russia supported by China; this has goaded the US into engaging again with Pakistan despite recent tweets to and fro.

The CPEC has been made a contentious issue by vested interests, China can be trusted not to let Pakistan down. However, China’s ideas about what would be best for Pakistan may be different from what our economic gurus think; however their decision to give investment in socio-economic sector is in line with Imran Khan’s thinking. One understands their reluctance to hand out loans and “bail out” money given our horrible track record not in spending this wisely. One always spends hard-earned money in a different way than that doled out.

With a hostile Indian government facing elections soon and fanning hatred for Pakistan an easy route to popularity, the government’s efforts to improve relations with India seem a non-starter. The opening of Kartarpur Corridor is a master stroke for turning the opinion of the Indian people positively, laying the ground for building support for better relations in future. Give Bajwa credit for this! Noted Indian analyst Barkha Dutt thinks Imran Khan is India’s best bet for peace.

What is still a bit lacking is the right balance between Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia; they have again helped us to tackle our financial woes, and our neighbour Iran with whom we share not only common border but common political and economic interests in Afghanistan, in Balochistan and elsewhere.

Having straight forwardness unusual in a society that is used to lies and cover-ups, Imran Khan does not have the natural talent of politicians, which requires sensing what the public wants to hear and how it should be said. Certainly, it is not clever to talk about the army support for his party. However, the crisis created by religious parties in the wake of the Aasia Bibi verdict has been handled 100 percent better than by the previous government.

From day one, a hostile opposition continues to make life difficult for the new kids on the block. Senseless and unfounded accusations are definitely counterproductive for the country and will not even help those parties regain political support. An Opposition normally acts as a balancing power to a sitting government by opposing the wrong decisions, by personal attacks the PPP and PML(N) are attempting to distract attention from the fact that they are the root cause of most of the problems that the country is facing currently. The opposition and government have to work together to find the best possible solution in matters of national interest.

Ikram Sehgal, "Keeping afloat," Business Recorder. 2018-12-07.
Keywords: Economics , Federal matters , Endemic corruption , Educational system , Horrible track , Indian analyst , political support

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