We have witnessed the third consecutive peaceful transfer of power via elections. This is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. The PTI proved itself to be the largest party and may be able to form governments in at least two provinces other than the center. What is not unprecedented, however, are the challenges the nation faces going forward.
Chief among these challenges is probably solving the problems the country’s economic vows. According to a report of State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s external debt and liabilities have soared to over $91 billion by May of this year, having risen by 31% over the past four years. Out of the total external debt and liabilities, the government’s public debt obligations including foreign exchange liabilities were $76.1 billion at the end of March in 2018. Recently, the foreign exchange reserves rose by 15% to $10.35 billion.
That is a positive sign but these reserves are still not high enough to shun worrying. The new government will have to make some key decisions early on in their tenure in order to tackle these challenges. Already there have been speculations about whether or not the new government will seek a bailout from the IMF. For its part, the US government has said that IMF loans should not be used to pay back Pakistan’s Chinese lenders.
In the words of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, American “tax dollars” should not be used to bail out Chinese lenders. The IMF might demand all details of loans given by China to Pakistan, their interest rates, terms of maturity and all other relevant details before agreeing to give a bailout package. This the first challenge that the new government must face.
Second on the list is water issue that is posing a threat for the country. There have been increasingly worrying reports over the years that Pakistan is already a water-stressed country and may soon become a water-scarce country if no measures are taken to change things. A national water policy was adopted in the final months of the previous government’s tenure but having such a policy is the merely the first step towards addressing the problem.
There has been a sharp increase in awareness around this issue, symbolized by the “Dam fund” made by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to collect donations to fund the Diamer Bhasha dam’s construction. What kind of water conservation strategies need to be adopted? Are there government-sponsored awareness campaigns to encourage citizens to conserve water at the individual level?
Can the government build consensus on controversial projects such as the Kalabagh dam? Will the government give due priority to the implementation of the national water policy or will there be some changes in it? A number of such key questions need to be answered by the new government if we are to tackle the critical issue of water security in the foreseeable future.
A problem related to water security is environmental security. The PTI launched a successful ‘billion-tree Tsunami’ in KPK. Can something similar be replicated on the national level? Some reports indicate that less than 2% of Pakistan’s total land area is covered by forests and trees.
The ever-present challenge of security is likely to be a thorn in the government’s side. Already, we have had a few deadly attacks during the election campaign. This is a signal that the problem of terrorism has not gone away entirely. However, the deaths of over a hundred of citizens in the past few weeks at the hands of terrorists shows that this problem will persist in the next five years as well.
Foreign policy is intricately linked with the problem of terrorism. Cross-border infiltration by terrorists issues are addressed first. Imran Khan has said in his speech after winning the elections that we need to make sure relations with our neighbor to the West remains stable and peaceful. He also mentioned he will extend the hand of friendship and cooperation towards India, adding that solving the Kashmir issue was the top priority.
Implementation of CPEC without interruption due to change in the ruling party may also prove to be a challenge.
Tackling all these challenges will require some tough decision making by the government.