If the pledges are not met
The euphoria of democratic transition is gradually giving way to the realities of domestic politics and foreign policy. Every sector of governance is beset with problems that are multi-dimensional and interconnected with one another.
The ordinary people were told before and during the election campaign by the PML-N leadership that their problems were not resolved because the PPP-led government was incompetent, corrupt and inefficient and that the problems of the common people would be resolved quickly by the PML-N.
Now, the people are not going to wait for two-three years for the benefits of the policies of the PML-N government to reach them. A basic principle of politics is that if the people are mobilized heavily on certain issues they can go out of control of the mobiliser if the bases of mobilization are not accommodated into the governance arrangements. Pakistan can therefore experience more internal turmoil and violence if the high sounding slogans raised during the election period do not materialize into policies and help to improve the quality of life of the ordinary people.
The puritanical political ideologies that make people wait for total societal transformation have declined in Pakistani politics. The media and the political parties and groups are telling the people that Pakistan is ‘rich’ with resources and their socio-economic problems are caused because of corruption and mismanagement of the rulers. They have been mobilized for their rights without making them conscious of their corresponding duties. Consequently, the ordinary people have started judging the governments on the sole criterion of romanticized notion of good governance, an economy that provides material rewards and provision of civic facilities to the people.
The new federal and provincial governments, irrespective of their political identities, will face serious crisis in six months if they do not produce tangible results on the above issues. A failure to satisfy the people will make the people vulnerable to extremist appeals like that of the militant Islamic groups that pursue absolute control, violence and suppression to enforce their absolutist-tribal narrow vision of Islam. Though they tend to view them as an ideological Islamic entity these groups represent intolerance and violence to establish their absolute control devoid of any attempt for improving the quality of life for people. The people under their domain have to obey them unconditionally, leave their domain of authority or get killed. Such violent entities will increase in number in parts of Pakistan.
The scarcity of resources is a major challenge to the new government to satisfy people on the promises made during the election campaign. Pakistan does not have enough internal resources, hard cash, to run the state administration effectively and pursue societal development. This makes it imperative to prioritize domestic policies while not completely ignoring any sector.
The major focus should be on the domestic front because a country’s strength in world politics is derived mainly from internal political consolidation and economic resilience. Pakistan should work towards building peace on its border and creating normal working political and economic relations with immediate neighbours.
It is in Pakistan’s national interest to cope with the energy crisis (mainly electricity and gas shortages) to boost the economy. it should obtain energy from all domestic and external sources. Therefore, the prospects of getting gas and electricity from Iran and electricity from India need to be pursued. If Saudi Arabia and Qatar are making some offers for oil and gas these should also explored. However, if the energy offer from one country restricts Pakistan’s choice of getting energy from another country, this will adversely affect Pakistan’s national interest. No single country can underwrite Pakistan’s energy needs. Pakistan will have to explore different foreign sources simultaneously.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a major meeting on energy in Lahore on June 6. The decisions taken in this meeting reflect the government’s desire to cope with the energy crisis. However, all decisions will produce results in six months to two years. However, there was nothing significant in this meeting to show that the government was taking immediate steps to reduce the hours of electric load shedding from 12-18 hours a day to its half. This requires immediate funding to pay enough hard cash to the electricity generation companies to buy enough fuel to increase power generation.
The immediate improvement of electricity supply should be the highest priority because this will boost the economy and give relief to the people. How do they mobilize resources to pay for circular debt? The floating of bonds to get cash may be an option but this amounts to getting fresh loans for a government that is already burdened with loans and printing of notes.
If the federal government cannot reduce electricity load shedding by the beginning of Ramzan (second week of July), it will face street agitation. The reduction in load shedding will create space for medium and long term plans for socio-economic development and improvement of governance.
The increase in salaries and allowances in the next budget is no option for diverting attention from load shedding. Pakistan’s faltering economy cannot afford a big raise in salaries as was done in the past. Such an action wins some praise for the government but it adds to the government’s economic problems. The strategy of the government should be to make administrative expenditure cost effective, saving wastage and reducing unjustified facilities to top civilian and military officials.
There is an urgent need of giving enough representation to the provinces other than Punjab in the federal cabinet and other federal institutions. The PMLN mandate is heavily skewed in favour of the Punjab. Within that province the central and northern parts and especially the region from the city of Lahore to Rawalpindi/Hazara dominates high political positions, women for reserved seats and the composition of the federal cabinet. Out of 25 federal ministers and ministers of state, six belong to other provinces, mostly given lesser significant positions.
Nobody expects miracles from the government. However, it would be a mistake to assume that the people will wait and stay quiet for another 3-4 years for Pakistan’s economic recovery, significant decline in load shedding and improvement of law and order. The last election campaign has strengthened one-sided notion of citizenship. The people expect the state to provide them all kinds of services but they are hardly conscious of their responsibilities towards the state and society. This one-sided view of citizenship and expectations will be the major headache for the PML-N government.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.