In less than two months, Pakistanis will exercise their democratic right to elect new federal and provincial governments in what appears to be historic transition. The process of reaching out to the electorate involves methods and manners, with an increasingly dynamic use of the media being a pronounced fact of political life. One way of making a case for public support on the polling day is to roll out the programme and policy actions that a political party intends to implement if it is voted into power.
As a result, a manifesto is a serious document that represents a party’s overall position on key national and international issues. In presenting a manifesto, a political party not only spells out its key objectives with the ‘how’ part clearly articulated but also shows how it will be different from the objectives of the rival parties in overcoming the challenges in a manner that resonates with the voters.
In a polity with strong democratic traditions, the performance of a political party in power has to be judged in light of its public commitments contained in the manifesto. These days, at a time when the think-tank of our political parties are busy in putting together these critical documents by surveying the national landscape, we are justified to expect that they will identify the most pressing issues and offer practicable solutions to them. The following issues hold national implications and deserve to be accommodated within the manifestos. The list is by no means exhaustive. It only takes a broad view of challenges that we can ignore at our own peril.
An issue of vital national importance that has increasingly become an existential threat for the survival of this country is the water crisis. The gravity of this crisis is manifested in the fact that at the time of Pakistan’s independence, the per capita water availability was 5,260 cubic metres, which has receded to less than 1,000 cubic metres during the last seven decades, putting Pakistan in the league of the water-stressed countries. Pakistan has an annual water inflow of 145 MAF on an average. But our existing water reservoirs have the capacity to store only 10 percent of water, whereas the world storage average is 40 percent.
The reasons for the acute water crisis are well-documented. The unchecked population growth is likely to devour our precious water resources and the situation is becoming dire with each passing year. Our inability to build enough water reservoirs is another reason for the growing water shortage. A large amount of water is wasted before it reaches farms due to dilapidated and broken water transportation channels. The government introduced the country’s first water policy a few weeks ago. As political parties gear up to campaign, it is important that they prioritise the water crisis. Climate change poses a potent threat as well. Gone are the days when the dangers of climate change were the subject of drawing-room discussions. All our efforts for human development, poverty alleviation, food and energy security, and stability are threatened by climate change.
As estimated by a joint study by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Pakistan suffered losses worth $10 billion during the 2010 floods due to erratic weather patterns and rainfalls. During the next 50 years, our glaciers will experience maximum melting, resulting in massive floods, followed by a prolonged drought season. Cloud burst and heatwaves are becoming all the more pronounced than before, reaffirming Pakistan’s vulnerabilities to the dangers posed by the climate change.
Moreover, it is unfortunate that population growth has never been factored into our national conversation. Enough empirical data is available to show how an unchecked population growth poses dangers in the short, medium and long runs. The water crisis, climate change, militancy and terrorism, the ill-effects of the population explosion are real. No tangible solutions to these problems can be proposed and effectively implemented without addressing the population challenge. Resources are scarce and the increasing population will further widen the gap between demand and supply, aggravating the socioeconomic challenges for the country.
For a long-term planning to be effective, it has to be based on the correct information regarding the numbers of the people living in the country. If this is not achieved, the planning process is likely to be wayward and non-committal. Closely aligned with population growth is the phenomenon of youth bulge. As indicated by the recently launched National Human Development Report by the UNDP Pakistan, the country has the largest ever young population in its history, with 64 percent people up to the age of 30. The challenge for the state of Pakistan, and by extension for the political parties making a bid for power, is how to convert this massive youth bulge into an opportunity. This requires meaningful investment into quality education, health opportunities and productive employment generation that, in turn, necessitate well-thought-out and workable youth development plans on the path of political forces.
Energy security is at the heart of sustained national development and feeds directly into the national security of the country. Pakistan’s challenge not only lies in producing enough energy to meeting its growing demand but also to generate affordable energy to keep the economy on track. Finally, attention has started being paid to the development of indigenous power generation sources, such as coal. However, much more needs to be done on this count. Pakistan is blessed with an identified potential of 60,000MW from hydel resources, according to the Wapda statistics. It is a pity that the country has only tapped a total of 7.000MW of hydroelectricity over the last seven decades.
The focus on the development of hydel resources through structured policies will not only help meet the water challenge but also ensure the supply of cheap and environment-friendly electricity. Bringing down the cost of production of electricity is pivotal to getting rid of the scourge of circular debt that has become an albatross round our neck. Pakistan has suffered a great deal on the economic front due to lack of continuity and the unpredictability of policies. The examples from around the world suggests that sustained GDP growth at seven percent or more of an economy is necessary to break the vicious cycle of poverty and unemployment, and create space for the private sector to become an engine of growth.
China was able to lift around 800 people out of acute poverty simply because it managed to grow at nine percent or more for three decades. Close to home, the IMF has predicted that India’s GDP will grow by eight percent in coming four years given its present pace of growth. The bottom line here is that for Pakistan to get out of the economic straitjacket, its political forces need to close their ranks and sign a charter of economy by agreeing on its broad fundamentals. The issues explained above are closely knit and deserve to be treated very seriously by political parties. They need to articulate clear-cut, time-bound policies in their manifestos to tackle them in a proactive manner.