The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s first stint in power came to an unceremonious end in the early hours of April 10, putting the brakes on a tumultuous journey of three years and eight months that had started with high hopes but ended in bitterness. Over the course of that period, the party — which had emerged as (and continues to be) the strongest challenge to Pakistan’s Sharif and Bhutto dynasties — seemed to struggle with the intricacies of wielding power over a nation of 240 million.
Part of its difficulties was due perhaps to the fact that this was the party’s first time in government, and its lack of experience showed. The PTI never quite displayed a capacity to command the executive to its will, nor was its disdain for parliamentary procedure and the art of realpolitik helpful when it desperately needed bipartisan support to help implement its vision for a Naya Pakistan. However, inexperience is only half the explanation for the PTI’s first term troubles: the other half was due to its own inability to marshal and retain enough well-rounded experts to manage government, especially the economy.
Indeed, well before the parties that now make up the government formally tabled a motion of no-confidence against former prime minister Imran Khan, his government had been floundering due to its inability to get a handle on inflation while a global commodity price super-cycle threatened to deal a deathblow to any hopes of its return to power in the next general election.
Considering where it stood, the turnaround in the PTI’s fortunes following Khan’s ignominious exit can only be described as some sort of miracle. The former prime minister quite shrewdly saw an opportunity to divert his electorate’s attention from his party’s failings during its years in power. He seized on the narrative that he had been ousted as part of an international conspiracy and completely reframed his politics as an ‘independence struggle’ against what he describes as an ‘imported government’. If the crowds at his jalsas — both on-ground and virtual — are any indication, this new narrative may just prove to be his ticket to a triumphant return to power.
A return to the hot seat alone, however, is unlikely to solve any of the real-world problems Pakistan faces in terms of social development, economic imbalances and public service mismanagement. To this end, Dawn.com put together a report card of the PTI’s first stint in power to assess where the party was able to deliver and where it failed to keep its promises. This report card, affectionately titled the ‘Naya Pakistan Tracker’ followed up on 51 promises made by the PTI before and immediately after coming to power and reported the progress made on them on an annual basis.
To access the list of promises and read more about PTI’s performance on them, explore the Naya Pakistan Tracker.
What couldn’t get done
Before getting into the thick of it, let’s take a look at where the PTI decidedly failed to live up to its promises. These account for seven broad promises out of a total of 51 and were meant to address a very diverse range of issues. For example, Imran Khan had promised in his inaugural speech that he would answer parliamentarians’ queries twice a month in a session that was to be known as the “PM’s Question Hour”. However, the initiative never really took off despite some attempts to amend the National Assembly’s rules to make it happen. It was a shame, and most of our readers said they had also been looking forward to seeing it happen.
Similar promises that could not be delivered on despite some efforts to make things happen include a promise to establish juvenile detention centres and prisons for women, where some progress seems to have happened only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a promise to make Pakistan Television and the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation independent, which seems to have remained very much under the government’s control even if there were improvements in their operations.
Two broken promises have to do with Karachi’s water woes, where the PTI had promised to set up a desalination plant in the city (which never really took off) and a crackdown against Karachi’s water mafia, which continues to operate with impunity.
Two promises were left completely unattended, with little being done to even get the ball rolling. These were a proposal to give parliament the power to ratify international treaties and an ‘adopt a madrassah’ scheme which would have seen businesses adopt madressahs and offer apprenticeships to students in return for tax benefits.
The promises delivered
On the other hand, we found three promises that we considered to have been completely fulfilled. Among these was the PTI’s promise to build a special task force to recover looted national wealth, which we marked as technically completed, even though the task force’s performance and ability to deliver on its mandate left a lot to be desired.
Luckily for the PTI, its two other completed promises were a lot more substantial. These included its promise to substantially expand the Benazir Income Support Programme, which it did exceptionally with the many initiatives launched under the Ehsaas Programme umbrella led by Dr Sania Nishtar.
Ehsaas deserves a special commendation for the key role it played in getting critical monetary aid to the most vulnerable social segments during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when businesses were shut and many daily wagers had no opportunity to put bread on their table. The breadth of initiatives launched under the Ehsaas programme — like homeless shelters, subsidised ration programmes, soup kitchens, and nutrition programmes — is commendable because it showed that the government was serious about going the extra mile to protect Pakistan’s most vulnerable communities.
Finally, the government also made good on its commitment to developing financial instruments to attract investment from overseas Pakistanis, with the Roshan Digital Accounts (RDAs) standing out as its biggest achievement in this area.
RDAs have facilitated the inflow of remittances and have acted as major support for Pakistan’s overall foreign exchange reserves. Through RDAs, overseas workers have been able to invest in Naya Pakistan Certificates, real estate and the Pakistan Stock Exchange, significantly increasing their contribution to the domestic economy.
Promises partly kept
Then we have 10 other promises on which implementation was at an advanced stage at the time the PTI government was sent packing. Most will recognise at least half of these promises, as they featured prominently in news headlines and political discussions.
The first was the launching of the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme for reforestation, of which 44pc of the target had been achieved by March this year. The programme has garnered praise from the UN Environment Programme, the World Economic Forum and global leaders and is a commendable initiative to address one of the most pressing existential crises of modern times.
The second was ensuring voting rights for overseas Pakistanis, which the PTI was successful in doing by passing the relevant laws through parliament in November 2021.
However, the fate of the law is unclear as the ECP has said it may not be able to ensure that overseas voters get to vote in the next general election due to resource and time constraints. The relevant law giving overseas Pakistanis was also bulldozed through parliament in controversial circumstances, which makes its future uncertain.
The third was the implementation of a policy framework to build five million houses, which readers will recognise as the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme and the various sub-initiatives taken under it. It is worth pointing out here that the government itself had not committed to building five million houses, but to act as an “enabler and facilitator”, which we consider it has. A number of housing projects catering to middle and low-income households were launched during the PTI government under the initiative, attempting to make the ownership of a home possible for workers and labourers.
Readers will also recall the PTI promise of creating 10mn jobs over five years, which Dawn.com considers it has been partially able to do. If the results of the most recent Labour Force Survey released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics are to be believed, the government was successful in adding 5.5m jobs in its first three years of power before it was dismissed.
It is worth mentioning here that job creation does not literally mean the PTI government itself created 5.5m jobs out of thin air: these jobs were created indirectly as a result of government policies regarding various sectors of the economy, especially agriculture, industries and construction.
The last of the recognisable promises had to do with the Sehat Insaf Card, which the PTI had promised to expand. It has been marked partially complete as the PTI had promised to roll it out to all of Pakistan, which it was unable to do.
However, it did substantially expand its coverage to Punjab, providing Rs1 million cover to each family. Balochistan approved the card towards the end of the PTI regime, but Sindh insisted on not signing on to it.
Onto the lesser recognised promises: these included the facilitation of public outreach to police, which noticeably improved through various IT related initiatives like apps, websites and hotlines launched by the police forces of KP, Punjab and ICT, where the PTI government had direct control. However, a lot more work needs to be done to make access to police services easier for citizens.
The PTI had also promised to create a National Commission of Minorities, which it did, but it wasn’t really able to resource and empower it like it had envisioned or roll it out in the provinces as well.
The PTI was also able to enact legislation to create special courts for gender-based violence but was unable to see them become fully functional before its time ran out. It also started a programme to provide stipends to school-going girls under the Ehsaas Taleemi Wazaif banner but was unable to see it rolled out on the scale that it had envisioned.
Lastly, the PTI had pledged to take up the Kashmir issue and resolve it “within the parameters of UNSC resolutions”. While the Kashmir issue remains unresolved, the PTI did successfully mobilise the OIC and the UNSC to take up the issue on multiple occasions. It kept referring Indian atrocities and excesses to the UNSC and using the platform of the OIC to develop broad support for its position in the dispute. The former prime minister stated on multiple occasions that Pakistan desired to improve its relations with India, but there needed to be progress on Kashmir before things would move forward.
Works in progress
The PTI was unable to complete the bulk of its promises, with the fulfilment of 31 pledges left at intermediary or early stages at the time the party was removed from power. The pending promises are a mix of well-recognised commitments as well as lesser-known ones. For example, the pledge to turn PM House into a university will be easily recalled by readers. Work on this pledge started, but the promise never quite materialised. The latest on this was that just last month, a Senate committee had rejected a bill seeking to establish a university at PM House, recommending that existing universities be strengthened instead.
Related to this had been the promise that the PTI would open all government guest houses to the public. Work on this was also partially done, with the KP government leading the way in converting its properties to public facilities. However, other provinces were slow or seemed unwilling to follow suit.
The PTI also delivered to a considerable extent on its commitments to expedite the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and prepare feasibility studies for other dams, while also building many small dams for water conservation purposes. These were critical initiatives considering Pakistan is facing the threat of severe water shortages. These have been marked as ‘in progress’ because although the paperwork for many dams was completed and initial construction activity kicked off, many projects were yet to be completed when the PTI left.
The PTI’s efforts to replicate its professional reforms in other provinces and appoint ‘professional’ IGs, however, never quite took off, with Punjab representing the worst example of government interference in the institution. Though efforts were initially made to give the police force some degree of independence, both Islamabad and Punjab were plagued by frequent transfers of senior officials that really disrupted their functioning.
Likewise, its efforts to make the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority independent were started but then abandoned as the PTI focused on creating a controversial new media regulatory body that would have oversight over all types of media, including print, digital, broadcast and online.
Lastly, its well-known promise to create a ‘national consensus’ on a South Punjab province was also left incomplete, with the government being shown the door before it could have a legislative bill seeking the creation of South Punjab passed by parliament. To its credit, the PTI remained committed to the cause, with many developments reported on the executive and administrative end of making the promise a reality as well.
Among the lesser-known commitments, most made for the betterment of differently-abled persons and women did not get the sustained attention they needed. For example, considerable work was done for special assistance programmes for differently-abled persons, but the government couldn’t quite bring its efforts together under a single umbrella to create a uniform programme for persons with special needs.
Likewise, Disability Resource Centres were supposed to be set up in every district of the country, but work on this was very limited. The government had also promised a 2pc job quota for differently-abled persons, but could never get around to enforcing it in a uniform manner. Provision of housing to differently-abled persons was also never done at the level it was promised, even if work was started on it.
On promises to women, the PTI remained unable to roll out a nationwide Maternal Health Programme, even though it did launch several initiatives around it that would have supported its goals. Likewise, it wasn’t able to ensure the filling of quotas for women in local government and boards of public bodies or even substantially increase their participation in the public sector.
The PTI did make much better progress on two other promises to women, which were the establishment of women police stations in each district of the country and the establishment and upgradation of girls’ schools. However, significant work is still left to be done.
Other initiatives on which there was some progress include registration of madrassahs and revamping of their curriculum, establishing at least 10 technical universities, launching a nationwide literacy programme, enhancing the capacity of Karachi’s mass transit system, building state-of-the-art hospitals in major urban centres.
The bulk of the PTI’s work may have remained undone at the time it was pushed out of office, but its newfound support has given it the room to set aside its shortcomings and focus on rebuilding momentum for the next general elections.
While the PTI was able to deliver in some areas, it faced quite steep challenges in others. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic conditions in its aftermath do explain to some extent why the PTI government seemed to struggle so much during its time in power. Another reason cited will be the PTI’s razor-thin majority in the National Assembly, which didn’t really give it much room to quickly execute its legislative agenda.
Critics, on the other hand, will point to the Imran Khan-led government’s inexperience and seeming ineptitude to make the case that it was never really capable of delivering. The musical chairs of key ministers and senior officials and frequent U-turns on key policies give weight to the argument that the way the country was being managed was quite chaotic and therefore things were doomed to collapse.
Readers are invited to leave their own observations in the comments section below. Share your key takeaways from the PTI’s first time in power, what you would have liked to see done better, and where you feel the party did not come up to expectations.
Based on its performance in these three-odd years alone, would you vote for the PTI? Why or why not?