PML(N) manifesto welcomed


Special Report by Brig. (Retd) Usman Khalid, Director Rifah Institute of Foreign Affairs (RIFA)

The manifesto of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) shows the party has competent professionals in its economic team.

I read the manifesto of PML(N) and I was surprised that it is more than a wish list that election manifestos usually are. It is a list of objectives and outline of strategy, which is what a manifesto ought to be. I am particularly impressed with the fact that PML(N) has grasped the idea that socio-economic development is driven and accelerated by setting lofty objectives and then creating the wherewithal for achieving those objectives. The performance of PML(N) in office supports the conclusion that it has grasped how a course for development is charted and pursued. During its brief stints in office in the past, the Party built the first motorway and that also without borrowing from the World Bank or the ADB. During its five years in office in the Punjab Province, the party completed the Metrobus project and the Ring Road in Lahore, and undertook Daanish Schools and several other projects, all of which have been designed to high specification and built to international standards. This is the approach taken by China which has enabled the country to catch up and in some areas even surpass the developed world in about 25 years. That the leadership team of PML(N) is eager and able to follow that formula augurs well for Pakistan.

My objective here is not to praise the Manifesto but to point towards areas where I feel the manifesto is inadequate:

Although the economic team appears to be well aware of the internal and international instruments available to increase investment, the target for annual GDP growth is low i.e. 6%. It could easily be 8+% per annum (p.a.).

The budget deficit at present is 6+% p.a. The manifesto objective is to lower it 4%. To arrest inflation, it needs to be lowered even further to 3%.

The target for inflation has been set at 7-8% which is much lower than what it is now but it needs to come down to international norm – 4-5% – and a strategy for lower discount rate should be outlined to achieve that.

There should be a target for exchange rate. Rs 75 to a US Dollar over three years is recommended.

The manifesto objective is to increase the tax to GDP ratio from the present 9% to 15%. However, no economic strategy or tax changes have been outlined. What is confusing is that lower taxation is also a manifesto objective, which would reduce the ratio, not increase it. Increase in import duties in tune with appreciation of the Rupee and lowering the threshold for Income Tax to 300,000 p.a. is recommended to achieve the higher ratio.

The target of industrial growth is set at 7-8%, which is low. The idea of clusters is a good one. But more clusters e.g. for pharmaceutical industry in Lahore and chemical industry in Potohar and Thar may be added. Industrial clusters in combination with new cities and towns are the idea by which China has maintained double digit growth rate.

National Health Service. It is welcome that the idea of NHS has been embraced. But the outline provided in the manifesto indicates that the PML(N) proposes to organise it on American lines based on Health Insurance. The American system is the most expensive in the world and yet it does not provide free service to ALL at the point of delivery, which is the principle on which NHS is organised in the UK and Europe. NHS in Pakistan must be based on free service except for medicines. Since funds for a completely free service may not be available with provinces, the GP services may be funded by a standard uniform charge of say Rs 50 per person per month. Those unable to pay the monthly charge for their family and for medicines may be helped by payment directly from Zakat.

Local Government. It is not clear from the manifesto what system of local government is preferred or prescribed by PML(N). There is no need to hurry. It should be considered by a Commission of experts perhaps alongside proposals for new or redefined provinces.

New Provinces. The support of PML(N) to three new provinces one carved out of KPK and two from the Punjab shows that the Party is not fully aware of the agenda of those who have raised the demand in the first place. The agenda is based on research by US think tanks and India RAW. They fund individuals and parties which campaign for Karachi to be separated from Sindh and the Seraiki speaking area separated from the Punjab. Their line of argument is as follows:

Pakistan is primarily rural. It is rural Pakistan that puts a party in power but it is agitation in the cities which destabilises and removes a government. However, the complexion of the population of cities and surrounding area is more or less the same. It is only the city of Karachi where the majority in the City is Mohajir but the people in the surrounding area are mostly Sindhi. Therefore, even a popular government can be destabilised, discredited and removed from power by Mohajir of Karachi. After decades of effort, RAW and the CIA were able to create a surrogate in the shape of the MQM to achieve a capability to remove even a popular Administration. It is in their role as RAW surrogate that they oppose the Kalabagh Dam, support Seraiki province and autonomy for provinces on the lines of Sheikh Mujibs Six Points.

The largest province of Pakistan before 1971 was East Pakistan. The Hindu minority had influence over education, the press and the judiciary which it used to plant and popularise the idea that the Bengalis were oppressed and exploited. We know the result; the lies were not nailed and falsehood prevailed in East Pakistan. Now the Punjab is the largest province but it is so committed to the unity of the nation and integrity of the country that it has willingly made sacrifice of its share of water in the 1991 Water Accord and the new NFC Award. Unless separatism becomes acceptable to the largest province a country cannot be broken up. CIA surrogates were placed in position of power and influence in erstwhile Soviet Union to get Russia, which was the largest province, to opt for the break up of the Soviet Union. But the CIA and RAW surrogates did not succeed in the Punjab. They have reached the conclusion that the Punjab must be broken up before Pakistan breaks up.

Today, opposition to the break up of Sindh and Punjab is test a party must pass to establish its credentials as patriotic. I do not believe the PML(N) is not patriotic; but it can be misguided into believing and supporting the break of the Punjab. It must take notice of the agenda of the enemy before it writes such ill considered points in its manifesto. The provincial boundaries are a product of history and entail more heartburn in changing them than even a countrys boundaries. This was said by a person no less than Late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when opposing One Unit in West Pakistan. What is perhaps the best solution is to create another tier of government wilayat – between the province and the district under a Wali or Lieutenant Governor responsible for land revenue and records and law and order.

Foreign Policy. Defence, security and foreign policy is the weakest part of the manifesto. It appears that the policy team in such fields is either non-existent or inadequate. The blunders during Kargil War in the last PML(N) Administration revealed weaknesses in the very same area. Besides, the centrality of the Kashmiri struggle for self determination has not been recognised in the formulation of foreign policy. Objectives and strategy in defence and foreign policy are conspicuous by their absence. Surprisingly, the EU, ECO, SAARC, ASEAN and SCO have been listed as if all were equal in importance to Pakistan. The fact is that SAARC groups unlike peoples with divergent interests which is used by India as an instrument of regional hegemony whereas ECO is group of ten Muslim nations with complementary interests which should have drawn more attention in the manifesto. I would recommend that Union of ECO states on the lines of the EU should be among the top foreign policy objectives alongside the liberation of Jammu and Kashmir. The importance of the liberation of J&K has become even more important as India has started building more than 100 dams in J&K in violation of the Indus Basin treaty. The Union of ECO States should be the prime plank of defence and security policy.

Baluchistan. The write up on Baluchistan in the manifesto is disappointing. It relies on the media line that the present situation is the product of neglect and mal-treatment of the Baloch tribes. Presenting late Nawab Akbar Bugti and angry Baluch as a heroes and the Army as the villain is pregnant with great risks for the future. The manifesto ignores the actual facts that; 1) the Baluch are a minority in the province and the Pashtun the majority and there is no insurgency in Pashtun areas; 2) even in the areas inhabited by Baluch tribes, Nasirabad Division and the coastal belt are largely peaceful and the people see the angry Baluch leaders as foreign agents and a menace against who they seek protection of the federal government which has not been forthcoming; 3) even in Marri-Bugti areas and Mengal tribesmen alternative leadership has since emerged which is loyal to Pakistan but is afraid that Mian Nawaz Sharif may abandon them as he is obviously close to the discarded leaders who hope to ride back to prominence and power on his shoulders. If the PML(N) follows the policy on Baluchistan that Mian Nawaz Sharif has often voiced, his future Administration is likely to be on the wrong side of not only the military but also the Baluch who are loyal to Pakistan.

PML(N) manifesto is a well considered document which gives confidence that the party has a good economic management team. Its inadequacies are easily remedied by including more persons with experience and insight into defence and security matters and foreign policy.

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