Addressing urgent pressing problems

The federal government and the provincial administrations in Pakistan today are beset with a heavy burden of daunting tasks and formidable problems. These tasks and problems demand high competence and expeditious action.
Take terrorism, which for the last many years has taken a huge toll of thousands of human lives, precious property and billions of scarce funds. Because of it the country has suffered disruption, insecurity and instability. The attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar was a game changer. The earlier lackadaisical approach to the issue to secure peace through talks was given up. The initiative to launch a full-fledged operation was taken up by the military. The top brass and the political elite came together to resolve to destroy the anti state armed elements. The operation was backed by a National Plan of Action unanimously agreed by all the political parties. While there has been no let-up in Zarb-i-Azab, the NAP has come in for considerable criticism. So much so that in a recent article a well-known, veteran police officer has dubbed it as an “Inaction Plan”. Extremist militant organizations continue under new names and terror financing has not been adequately choked. The madrassa issue too has not been seriously addressed. Various steps like their registration, expulsion of foreign students, closing of violence-prone seminaries, independent audit of funding which was to be routed through government institutions have yet to be taken. NACTA has yet to be properly staffed and funded. Although some required steps have been taken by government, a lot remains to be done. The government’s inadequate action has forced the army chief to get the army directly involved, a demonstration of which is to be found in the setting up of provincial apex committees. General Raheel’s personal interest in making these committees functional especially in Sindh and his frequent meetings with the Prime Minister in regard to Plan implementation has exposed the gap in government’s commitment and actual performance. Every other day, newspapers report terrorist attacks on security personnel and civilians in different parts of the country. There is no escape from ruthless and comprehensive efforts on the part of the government to implement all the elements of the National Plan.
Another pressing issue is the energy shortage. Load shedding continues. And government’s promises have not been fulfilled. Some relief is being provided to the industries. The circular debt has again risen to billions of rupees. There is no clear picture of how much enhancement of supply will be achieved in the next year or so. Extreme shortage of power has hit the economy hard. There has been talk of using coal for power but little of action on the ground. The hydel projects implementation is excruciatingly slow. While initiatives like the solar project in Cholistan are commendable, the problem facing the country remains largely unattended. It is time Pakistan comes out with a White Paper on the projects in hand, the future plans and when Pakistan would have overcome the hurdles to secure adequate and stable supply of power. Hopefully the Chinese investments for these projects will yield the desired results.
A tremendous boost to country’s morale and confidence has come from the pledged Chinese investment of $45 billion plus, signed during President’s visit to Pakistan.
Here is a tremendous challenge for the government to recover economically and strive to become an Asian Tiger as Mr. Xi Jinping put it in one of his speeches during his visit.
PML-N Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif deserves a pat on the back for sorting out the differences that had arisen in regard to the routes to be followed in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. ANP and others had kicked up a lot of dust on this point and it was apprehended that the project may fall into a protracted controversy. The question of security of Chinese personnel working on various projects too has been addressed by the creation of a division of the army.
This security question has assumed considerable significance in view of reports that India is out to sabotage the projects to be undertaken under the Chinese investment plans. It is good that a high level working group is being set up to oversee the implementation of the Corridor and linked projects. Considering that devolving of substantial powers to the provinces their role in national development has acquired new dimensions, there is need for the federal government to carry them along and carefully heed their demands.
Our smart finance minister, Mr. Dar claims to have brought stability to our economy. He can cite prestigious credit-rating entities acknowledging improvements in our standing. His successful negotiations with IMF too are mentioned as a return of confidence, also witnessed in the successful bond floatation. All eyes are on him these days for the kind of budget he unfolds. Mr. Dar can say that drought, dharnas, considerable additional allocations running into billions for military’s Zarb-i-Azab operation and the requirement for an increase in the defense budget have restricted the scope of other needed allocations. Keeping in view India’s substantial strengthening of the defense apparatus along with its belligerent stance towards Pakistan, he has to find ways and means of increasing the revenues. Gas Infrastructure Development Case for instance is being discussed with stakeholders.
Although with the 7th NFC Award, provinces now have a lot more resources from the national pie, the central government is expected to raise allocations for the welfare of the people at large.
In this fast moving world there is no escape from the rapid spread of knowledge and technology. Pakistan’s allocations for education and health are grossly inadequate. A measly 2% of GNP for education is totally unacceptable. It is the lowest even when compared to other South Asian countries. Pakistan according to the Unesco sponsored Global Monitoring Report has only 58% literacy rate which means that nearly 60 million Pakistanis cannot read or write. Can there be sustained progress in a country where more than one third of its population cannot read a calendar or traffic signs? Tens of millions of children are out of school. Public School management leaves much to be desired. Private schooling has to some extent filled the gap. But a vast bulk of the poor children remain deprived of even a low quality education.


The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst

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