LAHORE: Political parties must come up with election manifestos, set social and financial targets, share bare minimum standards that they would achieve and policies and plans how they are going to do it.

This consensus emerged at a policy dialogue “Election 2024: Identifying Key Policy Issues,” held by Consortium for Development Policy Research in collaboration with the Centre for Public Policy and Governance.

Well known social scientist Dr Saeed Shafqat tried to set policy agenda for the elections when said that parties must share plans how they plan to deal with demographic explosion in the country that can strain cause economic and social collapse. They should share their plans to deal with youth bulge, which can impact social fabric of Pakistan beyond redemption.

Similarly, parties must tell their voters how they would want to deal with local governments’ issue. What kind of system they want, how would they make it effective enough to improve peoples’ lives? This issue has become crucial after the 18th amendment, which has diverted massive resources to the provinces.

Parties also need to come clean on terrorism issue, which has bedeviled the country for the last two decades. Parties blowing hot and cold on the issue and semantic confusion on it is costing Pakistan hugely. Elections are a time for parties to clarify their position on this existential issue.

Of late, 18th amendment, and its future, has generated a lot of, and unnecessary, controversy. All major parties to need to clarify their position on the issue: how do they see it and how they plan to handle it?

Security and foreign policy issues are equally important. Sandwiched between India and Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to have kinetic policies covering both these subjects. Parties must educate voters on both of them and lay out their perception and plans. The status of minorities and other vulnerable groups also need parties’ attention, if prefer national cohesion, he concluded.

Former bureaucrat Suleman Ghani pointed some of the weakness of the system and asked parties to prepare for plugging those holes. Policies enacted at the federal or provincial fail to touch common man because institutions to implement them are not created, neither laws are enacted to reach to the goals set by policies.

The political parties must also define minimum public service delivery standards, which they plan to achieve in the next five years so that they can be judged by voters at the end of their term.

He also insisted that federation must not forget that it were provinces who created this country: they came together to create the federation. They need to be treated with care when dealing with issues of resources sharing and topics like 18thAmendment.

Dr Ali Hasnain put economic revival to the top of agenda for the next five years and asked parties to prepare plans for it. Pakistan has to pay back some $90 billion in the next three years. The current policy preference of squeezing imports and arranging some investment would not serve the country. Given its economic conditions, one can predict that Pakistan would default. Parties must plan to make it a planned and structured default: rather restructured loans plan. That is what parties must devise plan for, he said.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2023

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