As Pakistan’s recently elected government prepares to present a new budget on Tuesday, to stave off a looming debt crisis, Prime Minister Imran Khan faces formidable challenges. Fixing the country’s dilapidated economy requires decisions that are set to unleash popular resentment beyond the bandwagon that brought the former cricket star to victory in this years’ parliamentary elections.
Yet, even as Pakistan faces an unusually tough reality, the country needs to look back on the success stories that have become a central feature of its past, present and future outlook. Though often seen in daily news as a country on the verge of a growing storm, Pakistan has successfully tackled some of its toughest challenges while witnessing areas of unusual success.
In sharp contrast to just half a decade ago, Taliban militants who once threatened to spread their wings across Pakistan have been squarely beaten back. In the process, Pakistan Army has become one of the world’s most battle-hardened forces in spite of the loss of thousands of lives in the rugged remote battlefield along the Afghanistan border. Meanwhile, in the southern port city of Karachi, which was once a hotbed of armed gangs linked to terrorist groups, the biggest challenge today has more to do with street crimes than the threat of hard-line terrorist groups.
Pakistan’s progress in other areas have helped lift the country’s overall image. One widely noticed example from recent years is the way the country began to manage its first six-lane motorway, from Islamabad to Lahore. Though this segment initially represented a minority among Pakistan’s road networks, it brought forward a new policing system that clearly became an instant breath of fresh air.
In a break from the past, when Pakistan’s traffic policemen were widely known to be notorious for leading the line-up of tainted government functionaries, the new traffic functionaries on motorways are better paid, adequately trained and closely supervised. The network has expanded beyond just the motorways to cover a number of other road networks with the consequence that the quality of policing has improved in more ways than one. Crucial associated services, ranging from help for vehicular breakdowns to ambulance services for accident victims on the roads, have only lifted the quality of infrastructure on these networks.
Another widely noted example is the system where Pakistan’s national database authority has expanded itself across the country to register individuals under a national identity card network. Without such an NIC (National Identity Card), Pakistanis cannot perform any basic function, right from opening a bank account to obtaining a driving licence; from selling or purchasing a vehicle or a property to signing a marriage certificate. Effectively, without an NIC, any Pakistani will find himself or herself practically frozen and unable to perform any function. Though it is true that many criminals are still found either without an NIC or with a fake one, it is equally true that the system has expanded its base exponentially. Going forward, as the Pakistani state reclaims space once grabbed by militants, the system of an effective NIC clearly has its benefits for law enforcement in future.
And last, but not least, Pakistan’s status as the Islamic world’s only country armed with nuclear weapons, has only lifted the nation’s profile in relation to distant global powers as well as in relation to the country’s immediate neighbours. Though many Pakistanis lament the shortcomings they face in daily lives, few would question the success stories that have added to the country’s prominence.
For Imran Khan’s government, which is seeking to break fresh ground in turning the country around, it is important to recognise the country’s past and present success stories. Imran faces formidable challenges on two fronts: Turning the economy around and tackling the remnants of security challenges from yesteryears. On the latter front, early signs of closer collaboration between the government and the Pakistan Army, which is leading the fight against militants, must only inspire confidence over an improvement in future prospects.
After being elected as prime minister, Imran was given a detailed eight-hour briefing at the army headquarters, which gave him an opportunity to gain an in-depth knowledge of the prevailing challenges as well as opportunities. A subsequent briefing at the headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence — Pakistan’s premier spy agency — gave Imran a first-hand exposure to intelligence assessments over militancy across Pakistan. Taken together, the two events appear to have armed the new prime minister with a detailed knowledge of the pitfalls and challenges that await his government on the security front.
The other challenge of managing a disabled economy, however, must now relate to the way the new government presents fresh measures during Tuesday’s event. While tough measures that force Pakistanis to tighten their belts may indeed be on the cards, the future can still be promising for a country that can easily look back at some of its success stories too.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.