Year 2016 saw positivity in Pakistan, laying foundation for better 2017

Salahuddin Haider

NOW that another calendar year 2016 — has said goodbye to us, a review becomes imperative to learn from our mistakes and to solidify gains for a prosperous future. The year 2017—does hold promise but would be beneficial only when we are wise enough to cash on the opportunities it is about to unfold.
The country did see turbulence on economic, political and foreign affairs fronts. Disruptions, disappointments, and despondency were there too. But the nation, determined to march ahead, remained steadfast on course, crossing the hurdles with grit and determination, which is what matters most.
A dispassionate analysis alone will help reach correct conclusions. That does not mean denying credit where it is due. A leadership, taking over reign three and a half years ago, had a bleak picture before it. Instead of being horrified by the abysmal situation, the government picked courage, mobilizing energy to accept the challenge. Measures taken by it did draw mixed reaction. Those at the helm invariably face such situations. The PML (N) regime was no exception to this rule of the thumb.
But the fact was it carried on with zeal and determination and that helped improve economy to a considerable extent. Focus, naturally, shifted on improving the energy situation, and combating terrorism. Both these factors were essential ingredients for direct foreign investment to return to Pakistan.
Partial success was achieved on that. But new plants, both of conventional electricity, and nuclear power were commissioned, or work began on new plants.
Luckily for the country, the army took over as its dire responsibility under outgoing chief, General Raheel Sharif, to rid the country of terrorism, and had its name written in history for being the world’s solitary army to win guerrilla warfare.
However, the menace has taken roots in a number of countries, and even the developed world like Europe and America have begun to feel the threat, having been victim of bomb blasts, street killings, shooting of school children. Pakistan too is conscious of the reality that it has to carry on the struggle against the menace because of conspiracies and designs against its integrity from the unfriendly neighbourhood. The happenings in Syria, Iraq, and Libya have, to a vigilant eye, for inflow of terrorists uprooted from Aleppo may try look towards Pakistan.
The Taliban terror was rooted out to a very great extent. Still, the threat persists, which is evident from sporadic incidents of mass killings, and suicide blasts occurring in Quetta, Karachi, and elsewhere. Happily their intensity had dropped substantially.
But the sad thing was the political upheavals, persistent attacks from opposition, street agitation, and religious radicalization caused problems of unforeseen nature. Result was an obvious negativity in attempts to rebuild the economy. The government, after initial success, saw decline in exports, remittances from overseas Pakistanis, and erosion of rupee parity to dollar which had shown substantial improvement earlier, but assumed difficult dimension lately.
The price rise of essential household items continues to haunt the minds of policy makers. The government, prime minister particularly, tried to keep the prices in control by turning down suggestions from petroleum and finance ministries, for rise in fuel prices, but now that oil price has begun to show upward trend in international markets, constant check on petrol prices at home, will need to be revisited.
Mega projects attracted attention of the government, but a simultaneous focus on social sectors like health and education too demands bigger allocations. While the federal government can play its guiding role in policy framing, provinces need to do their jobs more efficiently, for both these vital sectors are now their responsibility after the 18thamendment to the Constitution. Except for Punjab, the remaining three provinces have lagged behind in the discharge of their obligations.
Whether the government will be lucky to counter the frontal attack from the opposition, particularly from Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf on Panama Leaks issue, and allegations of corruption against some of its functionaries, remains to be seen.
Nawaz Sharif himself seems determined to take everyone along in his zeal and fervour to drive the country to its destiny, but must find anti-military courts stance from allies like Maulana Fazlur Rehman puzzling. The government has brought its anti-corruption legislation to eliminate corruption on a permanent basis, but its optimism for support from Pakistan People’s Party, with which it signed a reconciliation agreement in London, seems in jeopardy because of the stance taken by Zardari, and a charge sheet from son, Bilawal.
A compromise between the two looks a distant dream. It is, however, reportedly thinking to combine anti-terrorist and military courts into one new structure, for which necessary legislation seems underway. It has to find solutions to the satisfaction of popular opinion.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, rightly defined as “game changer” for Pakistan and the region, came as a blessing from out of the blue. The mammoth project of nearly $50 billion began a year ago, but intensified during the past year – 2016.
In defence and foreign affairs, mixed reactions were forthcoming. Militarily, the country has diversified its sources for hardware and on training of forces, which has been a solid gain for the country.
But the same cannot be said about foreign affairs. Pakistan’s relations with India kept deteriorating and the two countries at one stage looked like heading for limited war in Kashmir. Hostility seems to have subsided now, but tension stemming from repeated violation from India LOC and working boundary has to ease. Relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia too have to have a new look. Both are linked with fraternal bonds and top level political contacts have now become necessary to sort things out.
In Russia, Pakistan found a new friend. Enmity of three decades, which the former Soviet Union pursued against Pakistan, is history. A new spirit of cooperation has brightened the horizon now, which indeed is a welcome sign. With America, relations have always been victim of ups and downs, but cooperation between the two, continues unaffected and should be a matter of satisfaction of both.
Islamabad sent its delegation under Tariq Fatemi for contacts with the team of President-elect Donald Trump. Unfortunately, the visit to Washington could not yield desired results. The foreign ministry, therefore, must review the whole gambit of its realm and deliver. That is the demand of the time.
To summarise it must be acknowledged that Nawaz Sharif and his colleagues have done well. The country is much better off than what it was in 2013. The march for progress must continue.

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