KARACHI, April 13: If anything can take Pakistan out of economic stagnation it is by reviving goods traffic of Pakistan Railways and by refocusing on making an energy policy, said former adviser to the chief minister Dr Kaiser Bengali on Saturday.
He was speaking at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs along with two other guests.
With focus on party manifestos and economy, the guests spoke as candidly as they could on the topic.
Starting off, senior researcher Haris Gazdar said: “All of us are cynical enough to know that party manifestos have a lot of lies.”
That set the mood for the discussion which revolved around the energy and economy crises that influenced party rhetoric to solve them while leaving out how they would go about it.
After going through manifestos of major political parties, Mr Gazdar said: “Nobody wants to come out and say that Pakistanis are paying very cheap for electricity and gas. It needs to be raised in order to initiate a reform.”
At the same time, he said almost all political parties agreed on 90 per cent of the issues, going by their manifestos, but the discriminatory tax concessions remained the same, leaving a gap for revolutionary reforms.
Speaking about Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Mr Gazdar said it accused the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of being a “friendly opposition” and yet there was nothing “revolutionary” in its own manifesto. Contrary to its slogan revolving partly around food, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) tenure saw a rise in agricultural prices, competing with prices world over, whereas its rival PML-N made ‘cheap food’ and industrialisation its main focus, he added.
Speaking about policies, Dr Bengali said no political party wanted to take up any challenging issue. “Any political party that claims it can solve energy crisis in 60 days is not saying like it is,” he added.
Renowned journalist Zubeida Mustafa said that the issues mentioned by Dr Bengali and Mr Gazdar were not taken up by the parties, leaving much to debate about. She said the one thing she looked for in all party manifestos was the social sector, “which, if I describe it in one word, would be: disappointing.”
She said most political parties focused on funding projects rather than focusing on their longevity. “There’s no capacity building, rather an instant solution to problems, which doesn’t help in the long term.”
Despite problems and shortcomings in the manifestos and a short-term outlook of politicians, Mr Gazdar said that he was “optimistic” about manifestos in the future. Dr Bengali added: “I see an improved manifesto for 2018 elections.”
Mr Gazdar explained that some of what the political parties claimed to be a problem for them had been simply mowed out of the way. For instance, Awami National Party (ANP) in its 2008 party manifesto mentioned political autonomy as one of the issues they would focus on, apart from renaming their province. “They eventually did that,” he said, by adding that most obstacles are political ones.
Answering a question from the audience, Dr Bengali said that the income support programme of the government was actually helping seven million people at present and it was not a “political gimmick” as people would want to believe.
About the energy crisis, Dr Bengali said the country had enough resources that could help Pakistan out of the rut, by following mainly two steps — firstly, by restarting the Pakistan Railways goods traffic to generate annual earning, which was stopped after the National Logistics Cell (NLC) formation, and secondly, by exchanging the Thar coal through cross border initiatives.