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Saturday November 27, 2021

Pakistan is better off

August 29, 2021

Sitting governments all over the world have the disadvantage of incumbency. Opposition, media and critics feel it convenient to have a dig at the government and discredit its policy initiatives.

This phenomenon unfortunately is more pronounced in Pakistan where the opposition, instead of playing its role in strengthening national causes, is more focused on fomenting political crises designed to destabilize the government.

Running state affairs, particularly managing an economy like Pakistan, is undoubtedly an arduous undertaking because of the impact of internal and external factors. The PTI government has completed three years; and the prime minister thought it appropriate to recount the achievements of his government during the last three years at a special function in Islamabad in which he covered the economy, foreign relations and some past political realities.

While judging the performance of a government over a period of time, one has to look at the starting point and the distance that has been covered. An honest and incisive look at the state of the economy when the PTI government took over in 2018 reveals that it was in complete shambles. The government had no money to pay debts and foreign exchange reserves were very low. Had Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China not helped Pakistan at that difficult moment to replenish the exchange reserves, Pakistan would have defaulted on its loans and the rupee would have gone into an unsustainable dip. The situation also forced Pakistan to go to the IMF.

Therefore, it is hard to take issue with the PM’s claim that when the PTI government was installed the current account deficit of the country stood at $20 billion, the foreign exchange reserves were $16.4 billion, revenue collection was Rs3800 billion. Compared to that, the current account deficit at present is $1.8 billion, foreign exchange reserves are in the vicinity of $27 billion and the collection of tax revenue has gone up to Rs4700 billion. Remittances have jumped up to $29.4 billion. In addition to that, the industry has grown by 18 percent and the sale of cement in the construction sector has gone up by 42 percent while an additional amount of Rs1100 billion has gone to farmers in agriculture.

Per capita income has also increased. Similarly, there has been a tremendous improvement in the recoveries from the corrupt elements by NAB. As stated by the prime minister, as compared to Rs290 billion recovered by the body in 18 years, the recoveries in three years of the PTI government stood at Rs519 billion. All the foregoing figures are verifiable facts.

The economy had registered a negative growth rate of 0.4 percent during 2019-20 due to the inherited situation and the onslaught of Covid-19. The PTI had envisaged a GDP growth rate of 2.1 percent for the year 2020-21 while the IMF had predicted the growth rate in the vicinity of 1.5 percent. But the real growth rate turned out to be 3.4 percent, prompting the opposition to allege that the government had fudged figures to project a better view of the economy. However, the IMF and the World Bank corroborated the government claims by changing their earlier assessments and going by the figure announced by the government.

This achievement was surely because of the strategy adopted by the government of creating a balance between saving lives and keeping the economy kicking. It provided Rs1200 billion cash assistance to poor families besides enforcing smart lockdowns instead of completely shutting the economy. The biggest initiative in this regard was giving the status of industry to the construction and housing sector and the announcement of a package of incentives for investors. The construction industry is linked with at least 40 other industries, and it was rightly thought that investments in this sector will have considerable spill-over effect on those industries. This helped to a great extent to mitigate the adverse impact of the Covid-19.

The government can rightly take pride in taking credible measures for poverty alleviation, particularly the Ehsaas programme under which 134 different steps have been undertaken to help the poor. The low-cost housing initiative is yet another positive step by the government. The issuance of health cards to the poor families and increase in the budgetary allocation for the Ehsaas Cash assistance from Rs211 billion to Rs260 billion also strengthen the credentials of the government as a pro-friendly entity.

The government also has an enviable record in fighting the climate change challenge. Its programme for planting 10 billion trees and raising new forests has won international acclaim.

Pakistan during these three years has also made significant achievements at the international level due to the diplomatic offensive launched by the PTI government. The stance taken by it on the Afghan situation and the role played by it to facilitate a peace deal between the US and the Taliban and in promoting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to the conflict has been widely appreciated. Even now, it is playing a proactive role in mustering regional and international support for ensuring that an inclusive government is formed in Afghanistan and the country says adieu to the four-decade old conflict which also has had a spill-over effect in neighbouring countries.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has also been the most vociferous advocate of the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir. It is because of the diplomatic efforts of the government to sensitize the international community about the illegality of the action taken by the Modi regime to scrap the special status of Occupied Kashmir in contravention of the UN resolutions, international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention that it refused to accept the Indian narrative of the issue being an internal matter of India.

In view of the foregoing, it can be safely inferred that Pakistan may not have overcome all the challenges it was confronted with, but it is surely better off due to the measures taken by the PTI government to revive the flagging economy, managing the onslaught of Covid-19, strengthen the process of accountability and the management of foreign relations.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: ashpak10@gmail.com