In the “Face the Nation” programme on Pakistan Radio and PTV, the General Pervez Musharraf talked about a number of vital issues related to foreign policy, internal politics, law and order and national economy.
He assured the nation that during his talks with Mr Vajpayee, Kashmir was bound to remain the core issue. He was going with an open mind, was optimistic about the outcome of the summit and thought that chances for a settlement were never so bright. While Mr Vajpayee has also been upbeat about the summit, Gen. Musharraf has taken the expectations a notch higher. To what extent the optimism is justified would only be known when the two leaders sit together to resolve the differences next month.
Gen. Musharraf’s observations regarding internal politics were completely in consonance with his earlier pronouncements. He insisted that for the time being restrictions on political activities will remain in force. In a rare moment of suppressed anger (and this came in response to a tough question) the general said that power may have been thrust upon him as a result of an accident but this was God’s will and he would not shirk the responsibility placed on his shoulders. Elections would be held but not before time. The Supreme Court had allowed his government to amend the Constitution and this would be done if the situation so demanded but keeping in view the national interest. This would belie hopes aroused earlier regarding the establishment of working relations between the military government and political parties.
Law and order:
There is no doubt that certain elements with a vested interest are trying to promote misunderstanding between the various provinces. Gen. Musharraf might be right when he says that foreign hand was involved in the strikes and acts of violence which recently took place in Karachi and interior Sindh. But it would be unrealistic to claim that all is otherwise well in smaller provinces. What needs to be realized by the administration is that during the military rule the sense of deprivation has increased manifold in these provinces. Unless effective measures are taken to allay it, those who want to destabilize the country would continue to fish in troubled waters. Communal terrorism too continues to thrive in the country. What happened in Multan on Thursday shows that the government needs to do much more than to issue an Ordinance against communalism which the General has promised to promulgate next week.
Nor were any convincing answers forthcoming about the state of law and order, sectarian killings and the situation in Karachi. General Musharraf enumerated the steps his government was taking to improve the overall situation: banning the display of arms, tougher laws, the ongoing campaign to collect illegal weapons.
On economic issues he made much of his government’s long-term plans to get out of the debt trap and increase the country’s foreign currency reserves and said in this context that key indicators like exports and tax collection had performed well during the last year and a half. While not discounting the effect of rising prices he said that with the measures taken by his government more jobs would be created and the economic situation would improve. It was suggested to him that while the effect of his government’s long-term plans lay in the future, present economic conditions were pretty grim. He agreed but said things would soon improve.
The government has worked a strategy to get breathing space for three to five years to come out of the debt trap and revive the economy. Disclosing this General said that our honour and dignity is at stake because of the economic malaise. This rightly underscores the need to fully revive investor confidence, jump-start the economy to accelerate growth and create in it the capacity to meet annual debt-servicing obligations on a sustained basis. While the details of the government’s strategy in this regard will be announced with the budget, the emphasis being laid on economic growth, debt reduction, employment generation and poverty alleviation will need firm and effective follow-up action at the implementation stage.
Our dilemma, as the chief executive pointed out, is that there is no money left in the budget for the development projects after meeting the essential expenditure and taking loans is a pre-requisite for economic progress. The task before the government is to get out of this dilemma. This will mean that the breathing space, which the government may be getting through poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) from the IMF and further debt rescheduling from the Paris and the London clubs, will need to be put to the most productive use for the larger benefit of the economy. As such the economic revival plan ought to succeed without any slippage, at least in key areas of economic activity. The continuation of the on-going reform process is also implicit in the situation.
The advantages, which are available to the government at the start of the debt-exit and revival of economic growth plan, deserve to be mentioned. Pakistan’s credibility with the international donors has gone high. The World Bank has released $ 350 million loan on zero rate of interest on the eve of the budget. Exports have gone up by 20 percent and revenue by Rs 100 billion in the last two years. Excluding agriculture, which was hit by drought, economic growth in other sectors of the economy is said to be 4.8 percent this year. Thus the scenario, according to official figures, is one that provides an ideal setting to start implementing the new strategy.
The debt-exit plan and economic revival strategy are based on concrete action plan such as setting up projects which will create employment opportunities and reduce poverty, revival of sick industrial units, bringing more land under cultivation and promotion of information technology. But its success will depend upon achieving the basic objectives. These are increasing economic growth to at least 4.5 percent annually, build up $3 billion foreign exchange reserves, accelerate exports and bring a better balance between the government’s income and expenditure. The country’s natural resources have also to be harnessed. As the reform process has been in operation for almost two years, the results of economic revival should start showing on the ground.
A Statesman in Uniform:
Despite all the faults and mistakes, this government is still not as bad as the political ones that preceded it. The readers may not be entirely convinced with my observation about General that he is a blessing in disguise for Pakistan. In my opinion, he has all the qualities of a statesman but his only shortcoming is that he is in uniform. He is Pakistan’s hope to rebuild this country from ashes. God willing, he will bring Pakistan back to a dignified and successful state.