Lessons to be learned from past governments

  • Not doing the right thing at the right time

We witnessed the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) win the 2013 elections with a clear majority, leaving the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) behind. As a result, the PML-N formed the government. Before the PML-N came into power in 2013, the prevalent belief was that Nawaz Sharif, having ruled the country twice, would revive the country’s economy. Even analysts at the time were of the opinion that the PML-N had an experienced team and would be able to determine a positive direction for the country’s development. Many hopes that were associated with the PML-N were dashed during their time in government.

Before that, the PPP was criticised for not making important decisions that could have made Pakistan an economically and politically developing country. If we were to compare the recent administrative tenure of both the PPP and the PML-N, we would find that in many areas the PPP proved to be a better government than the PML-N. For example, the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award were significant developments that were made during the PPPs government.

The PML-N, on the other hand, failed to enact any such drastic measures. In fact, the PML-N government could not even do any basic legislation during their tenure. Mian Sahib only attended a small number of parliamentary sessions. This attitude of indifference along with several other blunders by the PML-N government resulted in their downfall. They should have profited from their previous unsuccessful experiences and should have taken steps towards removing the legislation that was implemented by dictators from the constitution. The PML-N did not pay any attention to this matter and eventually, Mian Sahib himself fell victim to Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. The PPP proposed that the PML-N should take action to remove or at least make amendments to these articles many times. But the PML-N refused and cherished these articles in memory of Zia-ul-Haq.

PML-N attempted to gain political power by developing infrastructure along with other public welfare projects. They assumed that by taking these measures they would be able to stop the non-democratic forces in the country from taking power. This was probably one of Mian Sahib’s biggest miscalculations. In a country like Pakistan, it is proper legislation — not popularity among the masses — that can stop non-democratic forces from coming into play. This fundamental fact was not understood by Mian Sahib. Instead, he focused on several measures meant to increase his popularity in the public.

It is still not too late for the incumbent government to realise that they should avoid procrastinating on the essential measures

The PML-N implemented an exchange rate freeze policy to temporarily reduce inflation and prevent poverty in the country. This policy measure completely destroyed Pakistan’s export industry. The increase that we see in the dollar exchange rate today is a result of the artificial constraints placed on exchange rate by the PML-N during their government. Such fiscal policies might earn the government mass popularity but are not sustainable in the long run.

Furthermore, the government also failed to make any amendments to the regulations of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). It was during their tenure that the PTI closed NAB offices in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And yet, the PML-N did not pay attention to these matters and focused all their efforts on constructing roads and bridges.

Another significant task that required the PML-N’s attention was judicial system improvement through constitutional reform and emergency measures. Mian Sahib himself had been subject to the judicial system multiple times. After being imprisoned in the past, Mian Nawaz Sharif should have prioritised improving the country’s judicial system. But he let time slip through his hands and, ironically, found himself a victim of the judicial system once again. Holding courts responsible for the downfall of the PML-N government would not be right. Courts are governed by the constitution and legislation of the country. The PML-N had a chance to make positive progress with legislation, but they wasted the opportunity.

Even though the PPP’s government was a coalition and therefore comparatively much weaker, prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani talked about Pakistan’s “state within the state.” This statement is a part of history. No such bold statement was ever made by Mian Sahib or any of his ministers. Credit for starting the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline also goes to PPP. But PML-N did not develop this project further and thus we are not able to source cheap gas from Iran. Completing this project would have saved us from buying expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) at higher rates now. Allegedly, it was the close relationship with the Saudi and Qatari governments and fear of America that stopped Mian Sahib from going forward with the Iran gas pipeline project. Today, expensive LNG contributes to higher production costs and eventually results in end products that we are unable to sell in international markets due to their higher prices. Additionally, this would have opened trade opportunities with Iran. For example, Pakistan could have saved its foreign exchange by selling its agricultural products to Iran. The lack of significant measures taken towards building dams and ineffectual treatment of the water problem are also untenable blunders made by the PML-N.

Another PML-N wrongdoing was their incapacitation of the local bodies. Crippling the local government actually worked against the democracy and contributed greatly to the state of democracy in Pakistan today. The PML-N should have realised that they could not secure their position as democratic leaders without strengthening the democratic institutions in the country. This could have been achieved in three ways. First, they could have used legislation to work on removing the hurdles standing in the way of democracy. Second, rules for business should have been established within the institutions via new constitutional legislation. Third, an effective transfer of political, economic, and administrative power to local governments would have ensured that each district could achieve balanced growth and development.

It is still not too late for the incumbent government to realise that they should avoid procrastinating on the essential measures and learn a lesson from the PML-N’s past.