STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

It is the wedding season in Lahore bringing multiple invites. The cold and fog lends coziness to the atmosphere. A word of caution before you accept, driving in fog/smog combined with long distances is a lethal, time consuming combo.

Lahore now is an urban sprawl; fertile agricultural lands that supplied vegetables, fruit and milk to Lahore have been gobbled up. It can take hours to commute. It reminds me of Los Angeles, where you get in the car and keep driving, as if to nowhere! It’s an unplanned and uncontrolled growth like most things in Pakistan.

Top of the list is the population explosion. At the present rate of growth we will have half a billion mouths to feed in next 25 to 30 years. Do we have the resources, infrastructure, education and health capability to cater to such numbers? We can barely keep up now! I believe PTI should make it a top priority in 2020 to create awareness against dangers of such uncontrolled population growth.

2019 has witnessed some achievements by the PTI Government. A bankrupt economy has been turned around, the economic team is performing well. Pakistan is no longer a terrorist safe haven; its image and position internationally has improved drastically. Opening up Kartarpur in record time is a major milestone. My University buddy Sheikh Rashid has got his rickety train system going again. PIA is in operating profit. Reckless advertisement budgets are curtailed.

Circular debt is being reduced. Hamad Azhar is a rising star. Young Murad Saeed’s postal services are performing well. Amin Aslam’s environmental efforts are yielding results. Ihsaas program and health cards are a serious breakthrough. Shelters for homeless are springing up. Pakistan is ranked at top of the list as desirable tourist destination by renowned Traveler Magazine. Clean up and accountability is ongoing despite some hiccups.

However spokespersons have failed to project these successes. They are too busy unnecessarily staying in combat mode. It is not paying dividends and no clear direction has emerged. Ministers and advisers don’t seem to have gotten out of the opposition mindset. Naivety and inexperience of the governing team has shown through. Running the Government is not just about discrediting the opponents; it must include promoting the achievements and programs that brought PTI to power.

2019 is ending with a lot of supporters feeling disillusioned. The expectations were high but delivery to the masses is poor, especially in Punjab, the largest province. Mr. Buzdar is a zero sum CM. In fact, he is being ridiculed mercilessly. It is clear that leading the province is way beyond his capabilities, but for some unknown reason, PM Imran Khan is persisting with him. It is clearly to his detriment. IK needs to get a grasp of this situation quickly before Punjab becomes PTI’s Waterloo.

2020 should be the year when Prime Minister Imran Khan changes gears and removes the shackles holding him back. I will identify some key areas.

The economic team must be given a clear berth to continue their efforts so the results start translating into relief to the common man. Focus on agriculture must improve manifold.

Mobilizing overseas Pakistanis was a clear miss in 2019. Soon after the PTI Government came to power in 2018, I worked closely with many prominent overseas Pakistanis and in September 2018 presented a five point program titled “Time to Pay Back our Motherland”. I gave it to my friend Naeem Ul Haq and a few other colleagues with whom I had association since the founding days of PTI. It covered the following areas:

1.  Human Resources Mobilization through compilation of a data bank of professionals and investors willing to support Naya Pakistan.

  1. Financial Resources Mobilization to encourage transfer through official channels by enlisting support of banks offering lower cost of remittance and incentivized exchange rates. It also focused on Encouraging OPs to maintain USD accounts by offering higher returns on deposits, retirement funds and bonds with support from Ministry of Finance and State Bank.
  2. Project Identification and Bridge Building by developing tourism including religious travel. Substantial progress has been achieved by opening Kartarpur. However, much needs to be done to benefit from established relationships of Overseas Pakistanis to bring investment in sectors identified as priorities by the Government.
  3. Improve regulatory environment for Ease of doing business and promote opportunities for Overseas Pakistanis.
  4. Recognize importance of OP remittances and their continuation into next generation through practical steps and not just speeches. It is imperative to set up forums for dispute resolution and a one window service. Achievers must be recognized.

I didn’t hang around to follow up; having no appetite to become a part of an insecure, self serving circle. A year later I read about steps to encourage remittances. Unusual circumstances require bold and quick action. IK definitely needs to focus on his largest group of supporters, Overseas Pakistanis, who are getting very disillusioned. 2020 should be year for some bold moves.

Accountability prosecution is weak and courts are handicapped. I have studied system prevalent in Indonesia. Their equivalent of NAB is called Kapika to eradicate corruption. Its mandate is far reaching and conviction rate is much higher. Their prosecution system is based on Dutch law, which is far less cumbersome and efficient. The key difference is Kapika courts upon conviction can confiscate ill gotten assets and wealth. They have succeeded in recovering overseas assets as jailed convicts attempt to mitigate their long sentences. This needs to be adopted in 2020 in Pakistan to give teeth to the accountability process.

2020 should be the year of delivering. Prime Minister Imran Khan should come into his own, and shed the shackles holding him back. 

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