A BUMPY YEAR IN REVIEW

STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Kashmir is front and centre in Pakistan. A 72 years old dispute has flared up. It had an underpinning. Article 370 and 35A ensured autonomous status. It kept the dispute below boiling point. There was hope that the will of people would prevail. This was recognized through UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

This hope has been shattered by Prime Minister Modi. He has entered uncharted waters. Disputes are resolved either through negotiations or by use of force. In 20th Century we witnessed freedom struggles in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Palestine and Kashmir. Force was used as first option by all occupiers. Better sense prevailed in South Africa and Northern Ireland. Negotiations extinguished their bloodletting, ending brutal human rights abuses.

Kashmir and Palestine continue to simmer. Recent struggle by Kashmiris has led to unprecedented and senseless suppression. This is not 1947, it is 2019. It is not possible to brush brutality under the carpet and hide it. In this age of technology, images leaking out are jolting the international conscience and revulsion against crushing popular will.

Civilized world’s media, Governments, forums are voicing concern. It has cemented Pakistanis, their leaders and Armed Forces. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address in Free Kashmir Parliament conveyed this resolve, as did the speech by Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. A conflict between two nuclear powers does not bode well for the world. UN, USA, European Union need to play their role to resolve this issue. It’s not going away. Use of force against popular will is never a solution. Where is the bleeding hearted intelligentia?

Moving on, PTI completed its 1st year in office. The general perception promoted on the media is that thus far it is a journey to nowhere. I was mulling over it too, trying to separate facts from fiction when a savior entered. My school buddy of Burn Hall days, Salim Manzar is a Fellow of Society of Actuaries, CEO Princeton Advisory Group LLP and has been a part of top management of one of largest Insurance groups. An acute observer, he shared PTI progress with me which I summarize as under:

ECONOMY: Reduction of current account deficit by 30%; trade deficit by 14%. Repaid $9,886 billion external debt; averted default in balance of payments; implemented defense budget cuts with savings diverted to FATA and Baluchistan; introduced tax reforms that will grow the much needed tax base; announced policies to revive the industrial base; boost exports; encouraging public sector investments by friendly States; initiating steps to control rampant smuggling.

LOSS MAKING PUBLIC SECTOR: Turning around loss making entities towards profit in Pakistan Postal Services; NHA profit Rs 43 billion; PIA and PTV expected to be profitable this fiscal year; 30% savings in PM office; revival of railways usage and infrastructure.

CRACKDOWN ON CORRUPTION & ACCOUNTABILITY: Crackdown on money laundering and closing its loopholes; acting against electricity and gas theft; tax avoidance; recovery of State lands worth billions; full support of Accountability process that is netting big fish, unthinkable 2 years ago; giving them autonomy without political interference; ending the Benami culture.

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Merger of FATA into KP with special development package of Rs 162 billion; holding free and fair elections; inauguration of Mohmand Dam; launch of Naya Pakistan Housing Project with 5 billion allocation for under privileged home ownership; promotion of tourism; investing on infrastructure for it; Blue economy enhancing shipping fleet.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL DEFENSE: Successful defense against Indian aggression; whole hearted support for Kashmiris globally; efforts for a peaceful Afghanistan; ongoing construction of border fence to check terrorism and smuggling; revitalizing relations with USA, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia, Qatar, Turkey, Afghanistan; retrieval of Pakistani prisoner; activating the diplomatic corps;

PUBLIC SERVICE: Timely payments to farmers; Ehsas program for poorest segment, allocation Rs180 billion; Panah Gah for homeless; Health Insurance in KP, Sindh, Baluchistan; kamyab Jawan program allocation Rs 100 billion; Road to Makkah facility for Hajis; nationwide cleanliness; Climate Change mitigation and environmental conservation through planting billions of trees.

Viewed through unbiased lens it is quite respectable in a year. It outweigh initiatives by PPP/PML(N) combine over 10 years!

But there are missed opportunities too. I will identify three areas that have not received the attention they deserve.

OVERSEAS PAKISTANIS: PTI has thus far failed to harvest the goodwill it enjoys amongst the overseas Pakistanis. The turnout in Washington is just a glimpse of what they can bring to the table. They have resources, expertise, connections, work ethic and motivation levels that could raise PTI’s performance to another level. But they have issues, concerns, reservations, past bad experiences that need to be addressed. The leadership in this area is weak and lacking. IK knows this segment better than any other PM. Really do not understand the blinkers in this area!

POPULATION EXPLOSION: PTI has failed to address this area entirely. Given the present population and its growth levels, it can reach alarming levels in next two decades. It will double or more. We are looking at 450 million Pakistanis by 2040! Other than addressing a joint conference with former Chief Justice, I am not aware of any government initiative in this area. This is a ticking time bomb that needs to be recognized at its earliest!

AGRICULTURE: I have urged in multiple previous posts about the importance of focusing on this sector. An agricultural policy has been announced. It has focused on some areas that auger well for the sector, but a comprehensive plan for outreach to the farming community has not been adopted. This requires specialists, including Agricultural Economists in multiple segments to be working 24/7 to make the improvements so desperately required in this sector. This can bring unbelievable returns. While it will give political dividends to PTI, more importantly it will give Pakistan the much required economic boost.

Not a bad score card for a party that came to power with a one term experience of governing one province and leader with no formal experience in governance. This is the result of IK’s single minded effort and struggle over nearly a quarter of century to change the trajectory of Pakistan. To turn it from a failed nation to a developing nation.

Knowing Prime Minister Imran Khan, he will only move forward. I say Godspeed IK.

 

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