An objective review of PTI’s successes

Bilal I Gilani
PTI Chairperson Imran Khan. — AFP/File
PTI Chairperson Imran Khan. — AFP/File 

The PTI government led by Imran Khan completed its 3.5 years in power when the PM dissolved the assembly. The PTI coming to power in the centre was the first instance a party other than the PPP or PML had come to power since 1971. In some sense, the PTI was able to break the two-party rule in the country.

The purpose of this article is to look at the successes of the previous government in an objective manner. I hope to write another article in which I can lay down the failures (of which there is no shortage as well).

One objective of this twin series of articles is to set a tradition in the country of objective analysis of political governments. Our tradition unfortunately has been to sit in the warring camps and to only criticise the adversary and praise one’s own compatriots. This then is an attempt to do a bipartisan and objective review.

One of the biggest contributions in terms of the narrative that one can attribute to the PTI government is its stress on pro-poor policymaking. Some instances of this can be found symbolically in the setting up of the panahgahs (shelters) for the poorest, providing food and shelter to the homeless in the country. This was the first initiative of its kind here. On a more action-oriented front, the Ehsaas programmes (and one must credit the PPP which initiated the BISP) and its expansion and use during the COVID-19 pandemic through Ehsaas Cash transfer and in recent times through Ehsaas Rashan.

Another instance was the pro-poor stance taken by Imran Khan during COVID-19 when there was a very heavy push for stringent lockdowns. Pakistan was one of the few countries which never went for a complete lockdown. Even our neighbouring countries such as India went for it, leading to devastation for daily wage-earners. Sights of long queues of migrants walking miles in India after the lockdown were not to be seen in Pakistan, thanks to a pro-poor policymaking stance by the government.

There is no denying that many of these programmes were not able to solve the chronic poverty related issues in the country and there were many aspects that could have been done better but bringing the poor right at the centre of the debate about how the Pakistani state should and should not do is something commendable and worth praise. Many of these initiatives were however more tokenism, a reminder that trickledown economics fails and has failed in the past to rescue the poor, so safety net provisions are needed.

Second, Pakistan’s COVID vaccination programme was a success, with over 80% of the 12+ population vaccinated. This is a rare feat for any country – let alone a poor one. The process of procuring, administering, and measuring success in the form of the NCOC and other institutions showed that when Pakistanis put their mind to it, we are far ahead than many other nations in the world.

Third, the government led by Imran Khan stressed environmental issues through initiatives such as the Billion Tree Tsunami to help bring sustainability to the equation of development. Pakistan has seen development that has been at the cost of the environment such as large networks of inner-city roads after destroying vegetation or the development of tourist sites at cost of the ecological footprints. The PTI government has with some success demonstrated the need to take the environment and development together, this is a long-term struggle and there is much that is still needed, but we have taken a meaningful step in the right direction.

The Billion Tree Tsunami programme also demonstrates that there is not necessarily a zero-sum relationship between environment and progress and to me, this is a success, especially in a developing country where livelihoods are also crucial and the battle between environment and livelihood becomes very real.

Fourth, some of the economy’s long-standing issues have been attempted to be corrected. Pakistan has a chronic problem with external liabilities, which centre on Pakistan’s inability to produce goods and services that can be sold outside. During the PTI government’s period, after almost a decade of stagnation, the country moved the needle from an average of $2 billion monthly export to around $2.5 billion average monthly export.

This was made possible by a less rigid stand on exchange rate but also by offering incentives to exporters including providing them with useful market intelligence to sell better in export markets. Similarly, this has come about by making the regulatory environment more conducive for startups. This year alone, Pakistan has received over $500 million in investment in around 400 startups. There is a long way to go to fix the economy, but the trajectory seems to be correct.

Lastly, the PTI government highlighted the need for a government that invests in the people and in systems versus one that spends on brick-and-mortar projects. The PTI government stressed improving the governance arrangements (civil service reforms were brought in), a more responsible government (through initiatives like the Citizen’s Portal), more transparent government (through ministers’ annual appraisal).

Some of these programmes have been successful, others have not. But on a narrative level, the debate has become deeper than the earlier approach that the government continues to build roads and infrastructure and does not worry about or invest in the software and management systems to run these infrastructures.

There are some successes on the external front. For example, the exit of the US from Afghanistan in a relatively peaceful manner, the world coming back to Pakistan in the form of OIC countries’ foreign ministers conference taking place in Pakistan, broadening Pakistan’s foreign policy beyond India and the US.

I only wish the PTI had worked together with other stakeholders and treated them as partners, not adversaries. A lot of energy was wasted in useless hostility with the Opposition and undoing some of the good work done by previous governments (metro projects delayed just because the PTI government had no interest in those projects). The corruption narrative also was taken too far, pausing government machinery.

Many of the successes I list are successes of Pakistan. These are and must not be viewed as successes that are partisan to a party. Taking an adversarial approach towards the successes of previous governments is a sure way of stagnating Pakistan. The PTI did that but I would very much hope the new governments will go beyond politics of vendetta and forge a positive relationship with the past to move Pakistan forward.

The writer is the executive director of a data analytics company and is a heavy user of national statistics data.

Originally published in The News