This day marks 3 years since the PTI government was formed under the leadership of Imran Khan Sb. In the victory speech, Prime Minister Imran Khan gave his vision for an Islamic Welfare State. The keywords were: Responsibility, Empathy & Self-Belief.
Simply put, to make Pakistan self-reliant, the economy had to be strengthened, its stance be put across for bilateral ties to be made more favourable, and human capital be invested in for sustainable socioeconomic growth. This is precisely what the government's focus has been. Let’s first review the economic state at that time.
It inherited a balance of payment crisis, current account deficit of USD 18 billion (5.7% of GDP), State Bank borrowing of PKR 6 trillion & tax collection comprising less than 10% of GDP. From the onset, the approach, in one word, has been "bold". Facing much opposition, financial support of nearly USD 16 billion was arranged from ally countries including China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar & the UAE before finally approaching IMF for a 13th bailout package.
On the revenue side, resources have been mobilised through foreign remittance facilitation by introduction & expansion of innovative schemes such as Roshan Digital Account and Pakistan Remittances Initiatives. In addition, where on one hand the Self-Assessment Scheme has been reintroduced for a more business-friendly environment, the retail sector is being included in the net more deeply to increase the tax base. Drastic measures but necessary to revamp Pakistan’s economic outlook.
As a result, in fiscal year 21, foreign remittances rose to a historic high of USD 29.4B (27% Year-on-Year growth) & tax revenue collection grew by 18% (PKR 4.7 trillion). On the expenditure end, the PKR 8 trillion budget reflects a methodical & focused take on reviving the economy post-COVID19.
A pro-growth, inclusive budget that takes a bottom-up approach clearly reflects the Government of Pakistan’s priorities since taking charge. Its focus has been on social welfare, youth (undoubtedly Pakistan’s asset), climate change & water security. The results may take time but impact is inevitable.
Ehsaas, Pakistan’s globally acclaimed social welfare programme, is engineered on empathy & equality that lie at the core of PM’s vision. Since launch, it has set a mark for public sector effectiveness, transparency & impact via multi-dimensional poverty alleviation initiatives. Its measures include but are not limited to interest-free loans to over 1.2 million households, cash transfer worth PKR 47 billion among 4 million beneficiaries, scholarships to 50,000 students from 117 universities & Emergency Cash during the pandemic. Further, it has set up Panahgahs for the shelter-less, offers free meals through mobile food banks, promotes women financial & digital inclusion and more. In addition, Sehat Sahulat Program provides micro health insurance to the underprivileged, offering free healthcare coverage.
Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Programme testifies the government's belief in the youth’s potential. When 60% of the population adds tangible value, its bound to rise as effective & responsible agents. The programme creates economic opportunities for the youth via business loans, skills training & engagement. The new 4-tier loan programme offers collateral-free loans up to PKR 2 million for micro-entrepreneurs, & higher token size of PKR 25 million & PKR 50 million for SMEs. With a well-structured push, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector will get a boost, have a positive social ripple effect & further contribute to the GDP. Policy experiences have been put together for higher efficiency. This has led to the macro-level decision of uplifting 4 million households through entrepreneurial microloans, skills scholarship, kamyab kissan & low-cost housing scheme. That is approximately 40 million individuals being impacted.
Clean Green Pakistan is an emblem of Pakistan’s commitment to climate change. Built on the KP mass plantation program, the federal-level Ten Billion Tree Tsunami is inspiring efforts globally. To no surprise, it has achieved the UN Climate Action SDG a decade before the deadline. In extension, green efforts have had a cross-cutting impact. Besides climate action, it has facilitated local entrepreneurship, created employment opportunities & promoted eco-friendly tourism; positively impacting household incomes and boosting the regional economy.
On the water & food security front, as part of the movement, construction of 10 dams & hydropower projects has been initiated by the government. Besides generating cheaper electricity, it will also make the country’s 8 million acres of land cultivable, ensuring food security. On the education front, formation of a national single-curriculum has been nothing less than a feat. The PM has been a proponent of a uniform education system & this is the first step in that direction.
Pakistan’s strategic response to COVID-19 has been extraordinary. Its preparedness & response has been seen as a case study of crisis management for the world. The approach taken under the Prime Minister’s leadership & steered by Dr. Faisal Sultan is simple: Strategic over Reactionary. The strategy included setting up NCOC, data-driven smart lockdowns, patient tracking to control spread of the virus, universal vaccination, quarantine centres & special COVID-19 wards, ensuring supply of medical goods & local manufacturing of ventilators & vaccination.
Institutional efforts have improved the situation at various fronts – Pakistan ranks 108 on the Ease of Doing Business scale, a jump from 147 in 2018; its economic outlook was upgraded to “Stable” by Moody’s in August 2020 & has been ranked 3rd on the Covid Normalcy Index.
Undoubtedly, the government's biggest success has been its foreign policy. Realising the geo-strategic significance of the country & its under explored economic potential, leadership of PM Imran Khan & the diplomacy of Shah Mehmood Qureshi Sb gave Pakistan some early advantages in its tenure. Today, Pakistan has friendly ties with more countries, and existing ones have been strengthened & moulded on a more equal footing. In the past 3 years, bilateral ties have been furthered with China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran and also Russia. The outcome has been multi-faceted. Pakistan received financial assistance at a testing time, trade opportunities have opened up (record-high USD 25 billion in FY21), & has gained international support for humanity-based matters including atrocities in Kashmir & Palestine.
Pak-US ties have taken a turn with PM’s clear stance & rejection of being an ally of US-led war. It may have had an economic effect but success lies in 0 drone attacks since 2018. Further, Pakistan has actively mediated the US-Taliban Peace deal & US-Iran Conflict. PM Imran Khan has addressed at international platforms e.g. World Economic Forum, United Nations and OIC clearly sharing Pakistan’s take on key global matters & stating what his govt. stands for. He has been a champion of more just distribution of resources globally. However, due to the pandemic’s economic effect, an estimated 2 million plus people have been pushed below the poverty line & 20.7 million were rendered jobless in Pakistan. Adding to this challenge, the inflation rate is as high as 11% (April 2021).
The government under the leadership of PM Imran Khan has taken risks with bold measures in the past 3 years. The will to place Pakistan as a socio-economic strong country is out there. The effort to do so must not be compromised while ensuring transparency & accountability. Where the state continues to fulfil its duty, the people must focus & dedicatedly work hard to realise our collective economic potential for Pakistan. I am certain they will.