Shakeel A Malik
In Pakistan, we have been experimenting with a variety of political systems and modes of governance without waiting for completion of any one experiment in order to evaluate its viability and mend loopholes. The calls for premature transition usually emanate from impatience of the politicians in the opposition not as much to correct the system or from frustration over outcome of the system, as to give “tough time” to the ruling political party in order to usher in early elections or un-elected dispensation. These experiments have wasted nation’s precious time as we squandered several opportunities for development which came our way. The adage says that time is the great healer. But time is also a great trouble shooter. On its way, the continuity of the constitutional political system evolves and fine tunes its own checks and balances to rectify the shortcomings of the status quo. If we let the system proceed ahead without interruptions, we shall definitely witness strengthening of institutions and gradual emergence of effective whistleblowers.
The nation is at a juncture where it will be no less than an existential risk to fall to the temptation of hasty transitions. After long drawn nerve straining struggle, the country has been able to come to grips with colossal challenges, particularly those of security and energy. The completion of five year tenure, for the first time in country’s history, by the previous elected government was a significant precedent. The masses got time to assess the performance of the previous government and voted it out of power in 2013 polls. Though some politicians may like to blame “turn-by-turn strategy” by the two major political parties i.e. PML (N) and PPP, yet it is a fact that previous two stints of PML (N) were prematurely aborted and the party was deprived of mandatory time to fulfil its development agenda during 1990s.
In a report that appeared in December 2016, the prestigious business journal, Forbes mentioned “clear signs” of macroeconomic improvement in Pakistan’s economy with a growth close to 6 percent in 2016, adding that PSX index spiked 400% overtaking other regional markets. The report also flagged falling inflation rate which plummeted to 4 percent from 10 percent four years ago. As 2016 closed, the Topline Securities ranked Karachi Stock Exchange 100-share Index at 45.6% to become Asia’s best performing market.
At the close of 2016, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves amounting to $23.286 billion were at all time high. According to State Bank of Pakistan the reserves had stood at around $15 billion in June 2013. Earlier in 2016 Pakistan’s credit rating outlook was raised to positive from stable by Moody’s Investors Service on the basis of vibrant fundamentals including strong external liquidity position and fiscal consolidation. Moody’s, however, indicated to country’s vulnerability to political risks. On the heels of Moody’s upgraded assessment, the Standard and Poor’s improved Pakistan’s long-term credit rating from B-Negative to ‘B’ with stable outlook. The world credit rating organization lauded Pakistan’s improvement in governance and issued forecast of rise in growth prospects.
In October 2016, the World Bank projected Pakistan’s economic activity to accelerate to 5 percent and 5.4 percent in 2017 and 2018 respectively. In its report the Bank said the growth was result of infrastructure projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and related public investment. A report for 2017 published by Switzerland-based World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan ahead of India in Inclusive Development Index. A perception survey conducted recently by the American Business Council of Pakistan revealed that around 80 percent US companies would like to increase their investment in Pakistan. The sound “economic policies at difficult time” led Britain-based publication ‘The Emerging Markets’ to present ‘Finance Minister of the Year for South Asia Award’ to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
The buoyant economic activity prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to say adieu to International Monetary Fund as the latter cleared final payment of $102 million tranche in August 2016. The Premier remarked that Pakistan was able to stand on its own feet economically and “It is now my desire that we say goodbye to the IMF”. Earlier in October 2016, Fund’s Managing Director, Christine Lagarde pronounced that Pakistan was out of economic crisis as short-term vulnerabilities had receded on the back of improved macroeconomic stability. During a visit to Pakistan by a Fund chief in several years, Lagarde termed solid economic position in a brief period of two years as “a fantastic step”. She also appreciated country’s strengthened social safety nets, tax policy and administrative reforms.
The economic stability and growth have happened also due to highly improved security situation in the country. A write up recently published by The Spectator, Britain’s popular weekly magazine, highlighted “extraordinary reduction of 75 percent in violence over the past three years”, calling it an “extraordinary and unexpected” phenomenon that could be traced to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decisions to depute Army Rangers in Karachi, initiate a military operation in North Waziristan and embark on a National Action Plan.
The sharp decline in violence across Pakistan was accompanied by remarkable reduction in power shortages as electricity load shedding has been brought down to 3 to 6 hours a day from 14 to 18 hours a day three years ago. A combination of coal-fired, solar, wind and nuclear energy projects have either been completed or are in the process of installation on war footing as government’s declared deadline of eliminating energy deficit by 2018 draws near. This windfall of good things happening to a crisis ridden country will surely trickle down to people’s welfare only if the system is given chance to move ahead in unhindered fashion.
In an unprecedented struggle by the government to put the country on a trajectory of economic growth, peace and energy sufficiency, can we afford any distraction? Is this much awaited moment in our national journey worth-losing? The answer must be ‘No’ as we have almost run out of the option of delaying key development initiatives, particularly amid simmering tensions on our borders and the genie of terror yet to be wiped out. As political history of the country has come of age, it would be wise on the part of politicians to show maturity and allow the government time to deliver on its promises. Let ruling party’s performance be evaluated in the next elections scheduled for 2018. By all rational standards, this appears to be the most important imperative and the moral lesson of our seventy-year odyssey.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.