Islamabad: From building five million homes to creating 10 million jobs to rooting out corruption and lifting people out of poverty, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan made big promises as his term started in August 2018.
Based on six main themes, Imran’s 100-day agenda focused on better governance, economic reforms, national security, the strengthening of the federation, moves to uplift the agricultural sector and improved social services — health care, education and water provision included.
Now, with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government about to report on its performance during the period, there have been mixed reactions to the success of Imran’s 100-day agenda.
The cricket legend-turned-politician managed to win the trust of a public that believes the chaos of the last 70 years cannot be fixed in just 100 days, even as the opposition branded his agenda ‘mission impossible’.
However, despite his administration introducing several long- and short-term policies to fix the chronic issues bedevilling the economy, its short stint in office has also been marred by controversies and U-turns.
Here are some of the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of Imran’s first 100 days:
One of the first decisions Imran announced after assuming office was an austerity drive to cut down on unnecessary expenses. He led by example by shifting to a smaller house instead of the Prime Minister’s House, in addition to auctioning off luxury cars and reducing the size of his entourage. These measures resulted in Rs150 million (Dh4.03 million) being saved, according to the government.
Continuing its long struggle against corruption, the PTI government in September established a special task force to recover looted wealth, signing agreements with 10 countries, including the UK, to bring back nearly Rs700 billion in such funds stashed abroad.
More than 5,000 fake accounts allegedly used for money laundering were also identified.
“No corrupt person will be let go,” Khan said in a speech, recalling that he had been elected on the promise to “put the corrupt people in jails.”
Haris Karim, a mobile shop owner, says the government may not have been able to improve economic conditions in 100 days but “we are hopeful for future because we know that [the] Khan government is not corrupt.”
Economic crisis averted but not solved
The PTI inherited the economic crisis from the previous government and thus vowed to make the economy its first priority. Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he secured cash assistance to the tune of $6 billion (Dh22 billion), averted a balance of payment crisis.
Visits to the UAE, China and Malaysia saw several Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) signed to further boost the confidence of investors. Talks are also underway with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the restructuring of the economy.
Although Khan promised to provide relief to the masses after taking over, he has failed to control inflation, and the resultant price hikes. However, the business community is “quite hopeful” and looks forward to export growth, smooth remittance inflows and tax reforms.
“We hope that [the] new government would focus on improving exports with a dedicated council comprising of government and business leaders to meet the export targets,” Ahmad Hassan Moughal, president of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce & Industry, told Gulf News.
Housing, jobs, health, education and water
Five million housing units, 10 million jobs, improved access to health care and education were all highlights of the 100-day agenda.
The government launched the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, which will see affordable houses for low-income families built in the next five years.
“The target of this [plan] is the common man, who could not even think about owning a house,” Khan observed.
One of the most welcoming initiatives was a shelter for the homeless in Lahore. The prime minister had called this initiative the “first step towards transforming Pakistan into a welfare state”.
The government is also in the process of introducing health cards in Punjab province that will initially benefit 50 million citizens.
In November, the government launched the ‘National Education Policy Framework 2018’ to enrol more schoolchildren in school, improve the quality of education, introduce a uniform education system and equip youth with the necessary skills.
The government’s promises on job creation and clean water provision, as well as police and local government reforms, are currently work-in-progress.
Overseas Pakistanis hopeful
Some of Imran’s most ardent supporters are Pakistanis living abroad. After coming to power, Imran introduced e-voting rights for expatriates and several other initiatives that include a speedy online complaint mechanism. Experts believe foreign-based Pakistanis can help improve the country’s foreign exchange reserves if the government intensifies cracks down on remittance channelled through the informal Havala system.
“Our banking system is losing between $10-20 billion yearly to [the] Havala system” as banks are unable to improve systems and make remittances seamless and speedy, according to Ajaz Haque, a financial professional. Overseas Pakistanis are also eager to move back and invest in Pakistan provided security is ensured.
“I would not wait a day to go back to my country and reunite with my family if the security situation is improved,” Farida Khan, an IT professional working in Singapore, told Gulf News.
Security and terrorism
The most important challenge that still threatens the credibility of the PTI government is the twin-headed threat of terrorism and radicalism. Two terror attacks — the November 23 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi that killed four and the Orakzai district bomb blast that killed 32 — have set off alarm bells in the government. Imran vowed to crush terrorists, saying “Let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we will crush terrorists, whatever it takes.”
Although Khan’s rivals hailed the effective crackdown on Islamic militants, especially hardliner TLP leaders, the government is yet to come up with an effective strategy to deal with extremism.
Foreign policy has proved to be the biggest achievement of Imran’s government so far, with Pakistan’s brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia receiving a major boost. On the other hand, strategic and economic ties with China have received a new lease on life.
Pakistanis lauded Imran’s clapback to US President Donald Trump’s off-and-on tweets that undermined Islamabad’s role in the war on terror and played up allegations against Pakistan.
Imran’s repeated offers for peace talks with India have won the appreciation of the international community despite the gesture not being responded to positively.
Foreign affairs experts consider Imran’s foreign visits productive even as they still await the results thereof. Quaid-e-Azam University Professor Zafar Jaspal told Gulf News that the “foreign visits of PM Khan signify positive developments at a political and diplomatic level as he was well-received in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Malaysia and especially China.”
However, he noted that “in the realm of economics, the major breakthrough was witnessed in Saudi Arabia, followed by China, which indicates that we have to first improve our product quality to reach foreign markets.”
Imran’s foreign trips in his first 100 days
In his first 100 days, Imran visited both the UAE and Saudi Arabia twice. He held meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Malaysian President Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
On his second trip to Saudi Arabia, Imran secured a $6 billion lifeline in the form of cash assistance and oil on deferred payments.
Key initiatives launched in 100 days
- September 2: The 10-billion tree plantation drive
- September 6: A task force to retrieve ill-gotten wealth stashed by Pakistanis in foreign countries
- September 11: Merger of Supreme Court and Prime Minister of Pakistan Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund to collect donations for dams
- September 18: Commission on Police Reforms and Implementation in Punjab to steer police clear of political interference
- September 29: Task force for tourism
- October 1: Fake News Buster Twitter account to clamp down on viral hoaxes
- October 10: The Naya Pakistan Housing Programme
- October 13: The Clean and Green Pakistan to increase forest cover and advocate cleanliness
- October 28: The Pakistan Citizen Portal that allows citizens to voice their grievances
- November 10: Shelter homes project in Lahore for the homeless
- November 19: Online complaint centre and e-governance web portal for overseas Pakistanis
- November 27: National Education Policy Framework 2018 to enrol schoolchildren and equip youth with skills
- November 28: The 4-km-long visa-free corridor between Pakistan and India for the benefit of the Sikh community, and initiation of peace talks with India
- November 28: Change of status of Gilgit-Baltistan to an interim province approved by PM
- Action against land mafia (illegal encroachments) and power theft (ongoing)
Controversies and U-turns
Khan’s opponents termed him as ‘Mr U-turn’ — citing his many about-turns on policies and decisions. Khan, however, responded, saying: “If you are walking and there is a wall in front of you, then you will have to change and find another way and a leader who does not know how to take U-turns is not successful.”
Some of his major U-turns:
- The government appointed Atif R. Mian, a Princeton University economist, to the PM-led Economic Advisory Council. But he was removed after pressure from religious political parties who objected his belonging to the Ahmadi faith.
- Imran pledged to grant citizenship to Afghan and Bengali refugees born in Pakistan. However, after an opposition backlash, he backtracked and told parliament that no such decision had yet been taken.
- The government faced its toughest test in November when leaders of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik political party blocked roads in protest against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Imran warned rioters not to challenge the writ of the state. However, the government soon signed a peace agreement with the TLP. Radical leaders were later arrested on inciting people and exploiting religious sentiments.
- The PTI government had said that the prime minister and federal ministers would not undertake any foreign tours in the first three months. However, Imran Khan has visited five countries in 100 days.
- In his first speech Imran Khan severely criticised previous leaders for seeking foreign assistance. However, the worsening economic conditions compelled the government to borrow billions from its closes allies China and Saudi Arabia. The PTI government is also in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
- Imran’s helicopter trips to and from his house in Bani Gala sparked serious criticism nationwide as people reminded him of his earlier views against such profligacy.
- Imran used to call the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) a terrorist party. However, after the elections, the MQM became an ally and he allotted them federal cabinet posts.
- Imran vowed he would not tolerate political interference in police work. However, the last 100 days have witnessed several such cases.
- Imran promised to keep his cabinet short and appointed 21 ministers. However, the size of federal cabinet has risen to above 30.
- The PTI government always claims to put merit first and yet Khan’s friends such as Zulfi Bukhari, who is alleged to have illegitimate assets, have been given key advisory positions. Another Imran ally Jahangir Tareen, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court, remains a powerful figure in the party.
Opposition reaction on PTI’s performance
Despite tall claims by the PTI about its performance in the last 100 days, the opposition parties of Pakistan are unconvinced that any real progress has been achieved and are highly critical of the economic polices which led to devaluation of the currency a fifth time this year.
The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on November 30 criticised the government’s the 100-day performance, arguing that “all economic and social indicators are showing a downward trend during the first three months.”
PML-N leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal and Marriyum Aurangzeb in their joint statement claimed that Imran’s first 100 days had revealed that the rulers had no “vision”.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the PTI promised agricultural reforms but ended up creating additional pressure for farmers due to rising prices. Bilawal blamed the Khan administration for inflation, currency depreciation and its U-turns on the IMF loan.
Economist reactions on PTI’s performance
The PTI’s 100-day agenda included a number of steps to improve the economy. However, inflation and the currency devaluation has overshadowed the government’s performance.
Senior economist and former finance minister Dr Hafeez Pasha says the government is yet to formulate a comprehensive economic plan to begin structural reforms.
“There is no visible sign in the first 100 days of the government that indicates direction to revitalise economic growth,” Dr Pasha noted.
He, however, appreciated the PTI administration’s efforts on two critical areas — the resolution of circular debt and the separation of policy and management in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). Financial expert Dr Salman Shah commented that the PTI government was able to identify main problems in the sector including circular debt, but had, however, failed to address core issues needed to stabilise the economy in its first 100 days.