In the buildup to the 2018 elections, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) under Imran Khan promised a sweeping set of policy reforms and introductions in its manifesto, ranging from the economy to the environment, from security to society, foretelling great changes in the very fabric of the Pakistani state, heralding in a Naya Pakistan.
A little over three years on, with Khan and his government ousted by a no-confidence motion in April 2022, it remains unclear just how successful PTI was in its implementation of policy, and whether anything that was promised has been sustainably achieved. To understand just what PTI aimed to do, let us take a look at its manifesto, released before the 2018 elections that brought them to power.
I. Transform Governance
In its 2018 manifesto, PTI outlined itsagenda in six major areas. The first topic on PTI’s agenda was to “Transform Governance.” Greater accountability and reform across public institutions was the mainstay of this particular goal, highlighted in Khan’s famous – if repetitive – tirades against rampant corruption in the governments of his predecessors. By many measures, PTI has failed to reduce – let alone eradicate – corruption.
From Transparency International’s ranking of 117 out of 180 in the world’s most corrupt countries (with #180 being the most corrupt) in 2018, Pakistan fell to 140 in 2021. Moreover, the National Accountability Bureau, tasked with dealing with cases of corruption and fraud, has been accused of being used as a tool by Khan to carry out “witch-hunts” against his opponents, rather than as a meaningful institution.
At this same point, PTI also promised to “ensure freedom of the press.” However, reports once again indicate that the PTI government did not deliver on this promise, with some claiming that journalism was actively under attack, with the much-publicised case of Iqrar-ul-Hassan, for example. Media and press freedom in Pakistan have been severely curtailed for years now, continuing under the current government too.
II. Strengthen the Federation
The second point of the 2018 manifesto of PTI is to “Strengthen the Federation,” mainly by “championing reconciliation in Balochistan,” and “spearheading the creation of a South Punjab province”, among other objectives.
Since its victory in 2018, PTI leaders have routinely spoken ill of the 18th Amendment, the historic piece of legislation passed by the PPP government in 2010 that devolved power from the centre to the provinces, establishing frameworks whereby provinces now enjoy a high degree of autonomy in the carrying out of internal affairs.
This autonomy has been seen in extensive use during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, where Sindh imposed lockdowns whilst the centre had not yet issued instructions to do so. For any government in power, the 18th Amendment represents a hindrance in their governance in the province(s) where they don’t hold a strong majority at the provincial level.
Imran Khan has called for “reviews” of the Amendment, though he clarified that his grievances with the amendment were that “local bodies [of the central government] don’t enjoy any power,” and that the Central Minister of the province was in essence a “dictator.”
As for reconciliation in Balochistan, PTI was also unable to deliver much. Though Khan appointed Shahzain Bugti of the Balochistan-centred Jamhoori Watan Party as “Special Assistant to the Prime Minister” on reconciliation and harmony in Balochistan to organise dialogue with tribal chiefs and leaders, Bugti was one of the most notable ‘defectors’ to the PDM during the lead-up to the no-confidence motion against Khan.
Bugti said that his reasons for resigning from PTI and joining the PDM were that “the federal government gave us hope that things will improve but the people have been disappointed,” citing a lack of development and low budget allocation to Balochistan. No major deals or pacts were signed with representatives of the Baloch separatist or insurgent groups, and no particular improvement in Balochistan’s economy and polity can be seen.
No government, including PTI, has been able to deal effectively and peacefully with the grievances of the Baloch people, with continued crackdowns on those aiming to bring awareness to said issues.
However, PTI can be said to have achieved some degree of success in regard to its objective of establishing the South Punjab province. PTI enjoyed the support of the PPP and some elements of the PML-N in this venture and managed to establish a South Punjab secretariat, laying the foundations for future development in the region, with “complete financial autonomy” claimed to be near in the future.
III. Inclusive Economic Growth
The third point on the 2018 manifesto of PTI was “Inclusive Economic Growth,” dealing with the creation of jobs, housing, a conducive business environment, and strengthening international trade. PTI can be said to have had some success in this particular sector; over five and a half million jobs were created in the past three years, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
This is a higher per annum average (over 1.8 million jobs) than the previous PML-N government’s job creation total of 5.7 million jobs over five years (an average of a little over 1.1 million jobs per year). Khan also pushed several schemes aimed to improve the accessibility of housing in Pakistan. The most prominent of these is the creation of the Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority (NAPHDA) in 2020, which aimed to create five million homes at a subsidised rate.
Furthermore, the Mera Pakistan Mera Ghar (MPMG) scheme aimed to provide low-cost loans to Pakistanis in order to allow them to purchase and build homes, mainly within the NAPHDA programme. Billions of rupees have been disbursed by commercial banks in this regard since late 2020 under the purview of the State Bank of Pakistan. However, the success of these different housing schemes is debatable.
Only 17,000 houses had been delivered to the public by the middle of April 2022, and those too were not directly constructed by a government agency but by the Akhuwat Foundation, a well-known NGO that was part of the programme. Upwards of 50,000 houses are reportedly under construction right now, but it remains to be seen how effectively and efficiently they – and newer ones – are disbursed to the public.
The PTI government also aimed to improve the state of Pakistan’s international trade by reducing imports and increasing exports. To this end, PTI instituted a heavy devaluation of the rupee relative to the dollar, aiming to make Pakistani exports cheaper for foreign buyers, and their goods more expensive for Pakistani buyers. In 2018, the trade deficit for Pakistan was $37.7 billion, which PTI managed to reduce to $31.1 billion in 2019 and $23.18 billion in 2020.
However, the reduction in the trade deficit is misleading. Most of the value of the reduction in the trade deficit came not from a steep decrease in the value of imports but from extremely low growth in exports. Exports grew from $24.8 billion in 2017-18 by only $800 million over three years to $25.6 billion in 2020-2021. The lack of export-based growth meant that Pakistan lacked the ability to sustain the reduction in the trade imbalance. Pakistan’s trade deficit had jumped to nearly $40 billion by May of the current fiscal year.
IV. Uplift Agriculture, Build Dams and Conserve Water
The fourth point on the 2018 manifesto of PTI was to “Uplift Agriculture, Build Dams and Conserve Water.” In 2021, the PTI government announced its intention to spend over a hundred billion rupees in subsidies and related investments in agriculture, raising crops, grains, and livestock yields exponentially over the duration of its tenure. Sceptics say that there was no real growth in agricultural output and incomes, partly due to the skyrocketing prices of fertiliser and other inputs.
Furthermore, others argue that PTI’s policies for increasing agricultural yields do not address the root causes for low agricultural production such as the lack of government support for low-value, but necessary crops instead of high-value “cash crops,” and the lack of R&D in high-yield seeds, etcetera. Still, statistics show that the growth in production of “important crops,” such as cotton, rice, sugarcane and maize, during 2021-22 was 7.24%.
Livestock similarly grew at 3.26%, but the growth in fishing – the revival of which was part of this manifesto point – stood at only 0.35%. Nevertheless, wheat production in Pakistan has fallen far below expected, and the current government is being forced to import 2 million metric tons from Russia to meet domestic demand, a decision that has significant geopolitical implications.
Another tense issue in the country currently revolves around the creation and status of the dam fund for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dam, a large planned hydropower and water reservoir project. Billions of rupees were donated by Pakistanis, both residents and those overseas, for the construction of the said project.
However, the project’s progress is painstakingly slow, and many are upset with a perceived lack of accountability in the dam fund itself, though the ex-Chief Justice of Pakistan who created the fund, Saqib Nisar, insists that the fund is in safe hands and is in fact turning a profit while it sits in a State Bank of Pakistan account.
As for water conservation, Pakistan remains high on the list of countries most at risk from drought and water scarcity in the world, an issue that will only be exacerbated in coming years with climate change. A good sign is that the PTI-government formulated National Security Policy (2022-2026), the first of its kind in Pakistan, places emphasis on the importance of water conservation and measures needed to combat scarcity, highlighting the importance of water to Pakistan’s economy and security.
However, while PTI claims that it has stopped the reduction in groundwater levels in places like Lahore, severe droughts in Cholistan and other parts of the country, especially Sindh and Balochistan, mean that the effectiveness of the PTI government’s water conservation actions is questionable.
V. Revolutionise Social Services
The fifth point of the PTI’s 2018 manifesto was to “Revolutionise Social Services,” aiming for the provision of healthcare, education, clean drinking water and other public services “for all.” To this end, the PTI government undertook several mammoth projects, including a planned Rs. 1.1 trillion package for the “transformation” of Karachi and the “Naya Pakistan Card”; combining other PTI welfare programs such as the Sehat Card (for healthcare), the Ehsaas ration program and the Kisan Card (for agricultural workers).
While the proceedings of the no-confidence motion raged in the early days of April, PTI’s Sehat Card reportedly reached full provision in Punjab, with over 30 million families having benefitted from the health insurance provided under the program. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Sehat Card now enjoys legal protection and cannot be revoked, and has received new impetus following rounds of discussions between stakeholders.
Earlier this year, differences over the model of the Sehat Card’s implementation were reportedly resolved in Sindh and its issuance was approved. PTI’s Kamyab Jawan programme also seems to have been a success, with an estimated Rs. 40 billion having been disbursed amongst the youth by March 2022, in the form of scholarships, business loans, and sports promotions.
The new government’s finance minister, Miftah Ismail, has also praised the Kamyab Jawan programme, promising to continue it. The PML-N government has reserved at least Rs. 600 million directly through Kamyab Jawan initiatives from the Rs. 42 billion allocated for Public Sector Development Projects under the Higher Education Commission in the federal budget for the coming year.
This particular aspect of the 2018 manifesto of PTI seems to have been the most successful, and the one most likely to last. The Sehat Card and the Kamyab Jawan programme have both been endorsed by the new government, with promises that they will be allowed to continue. PTI’s strong afforestation efforts have been much lauded, with a cumulative total of over 1 billion trees having been planted directly under its programmes, also creating thousands of jobs.
VI. Ensure Pakistan’s National Security
The sixth major manifesto point was to “Ensure Pakistan’s National Security,” regarding both the “external” and the “internal” dimensions of national security and the formulation of policies to address these. The most important development in this particular regard was the formulation of the National Security Policy (2022-2026), the first of its kind in Pakistan. The policy identifies three dimensions of security; “human security, military security, and economic security.”
A salient feature of the discussions surrounding national security recently has been the planned shift from geopolitics to “geo-economics,” realising the importance of economic development to strengthen Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity. As per this changing emphasis, Pakistan aims to orient itself more towards offsetting regional economic imbalances rather than focusing on purely political and strategic competition.
Pakistan lies along major trade routes and sits on a vast amount of potential revenue if it were to make effective use of international trade. However, the need for geopolitics and military strategy is far from over. During PTI’s tenure, the military budget was routinely increased year on year, standing at an estimated Rs. 1,370 billion for its last year in power before the ouster, a figure which has risen dramatically to over Rs. 1,500 billion under the new government.
If we are to go by the PTI’s 2018 manifesto and see how Imran Khan’s government performed in its abridged stint in power, it is not a particularly pretty picture. Corruption has increased according to most sources, the security situation in Pakistan has deteriorated, and most projects aiming at social uplift – except the Kamyab Jawan Programme and the Sehat Card – have suffered from mismanagement and poor planning, and very few lasting reforms or changes have been made.
Khan’s ouster arose because of widespread dissatisfaction with the PTI government’s performance, particularly due to skyrocketing inflation affecting poorer segments of society. In higher circles, a lot of the frustration stemmed from Khan’s refusal to definitively ‘take sides’ in the Russian-Ukraine conflict, exposing Pakistan to potential diplomatic and economic sanctions from the West, with which his government didn’t enjoy good relations in the first place.
But how much of PTI’s failings can be said to be purely their own fault? Domestically, perhaps some of the blame can be attributed to bitter rivalries between the different parties and interest groups that make up the Pakistani political spectrum, and an unwillingness to co-operate on matters even of national interest. Internationally, one cannot ignore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which arose less than halfway into its tenure, and continues even beyond its removal.
Though Pakistan reacted well and even gained much international praise for the effectiveness of its response, the coronavirus pandemic placed an undue and unexpected burden on the Pakistani economy, draining millions of dollars even as revenue streams dried up due to the cessation of economic activity.
Furthermore, the PTI government managed to stave off the worst of the pandemic, employing pragmatic and well-developed plans to protect the population even as neighbouring India found itself decimated by successive waves of the virus. The unified response of the country to combatting COVID helmed by PTI and its National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) must be appreciated.
The impact of COVID-19 alone on global commodity and energy prices would have been substantial, but the introduction of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing war – that continues till today, running into its fourth month now – has caused untold shocks to the global economy. Oil prices have surged, and wheat – of which Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s largest exporters – is in short supply.
Pakistan, which remains wheat insecure despite being an agriculture-dependent country, is hard-hit by the rising prices of wheat and other commodities that it must import. Therefore, we can see that the impact of exogenous shocks cannot be underestimated. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war are two of the largest such shocks in recent history, with repercussions felt the world over.
No country is currently safe from inflation, and many feel a global recession is around the corner, the effects of which are already being felt in Pakistan. Can one still blame PTI, then, for having failed in pulling through with most of the promises made in its 2018 manifesto? The answer is complicated.
While exogenous shocks to the economy and political spectrum definitely stymied its attempts to govern and implement policy, the PTI government – like every government before them – failed to take the steps needed to better insulate the country from these shocks. Pakistan still relies on imports of wheat and countless other commodities, and self-sufficiency seems too far away to even imagine.
PTI’s foreign policy and inability to adeptly balance differing geopolitical interests further harmed its chances. One might be kind enough to attribute PTI’s failings to inexperience. However, it would be wise to think twice before considering PTI for a second shot at the goal; Pakistan today doesn’t seem strong enough to recover from even the slightest mistake by a regime in power. Any government would be wise to remember that.
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