The South Asia Channel
How did they do? Grading the PPP
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) coalition government is the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term, making PPP well-deserving of the credit many are giving it. PPP receives high marks for its improvements to the constitution, specifically in returning powers to the Prime Minister that were unduly given to the president during Pervez ...
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) coalition government is the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term, making PPP well-deserving of the credit many are giving it. PPP receives high marks for its improvements to the constitution, specifically in returning powers to the Prime Minister that were unduly given to the president during Pervez Musharraf’s military rule, and devolving powers to the provinces.
But the accolades do not match up with the sentiments of voters. Several pre-election polls indicate that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be the clear winner in Pakistan’s upcoming general election. The PPP has been hurt by strong anti-incumbency sentiment among the electorate. Apparently, voters do not care that the PPP just made history.
The PPP’s record on a host of issues fails to live up to the ambitious framework it laid out in its 2008 party manifesto, a pre-elections document outlining the party’s principles and positions on policy priorities. Here we look at successes and failures in two areas – the economy and defense – that have garnered a great deal of attention since the beginning of PPP’s term.
Ask anyone in Pakistan and they will tell you that the PPP did not deliver on its economic promises. However, some basic comparisons of the economy since 2008 show more mixed results.
The PPP did follow through on its promise to lower inflation. In November 2008, just two months after President Asif Ali Zardari’s inauguration, inflation rose to a thirty-year high of 25%. At the end of 2012, inflation dropped to 6.9%, the lowest in four years. This doesn’t mean that Pakistanis can expect price stability for the foreseeable future. The International Monetary Fund warned that inflation could return to double digits in the 2012-2013 fiscal year because of continued government borrowing from the State Bank. This especially bad habit of the PPP government has had multiple adverse economic consequences; as a result, PPP majorly failed in its promise to ensure sound macro-economic policies.
The PPP has followed through on aspects of its promise to bring progress to the doorstep of the workers, farmers and small businesses. Supported partially by the assistance of multilateral and bilateral donors, the government launched the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). This initiative distributed more than $1 billion in cash transfers to 3.5 million families in poverty. BISP, combined with higher commodity prices and cash from bumper crops, contributed to the economic boom over the past several years in Pakistan’s rural areas, where spending on both consumer products is higher than ever before. However, comparisons of household income during the first three years of the PPP’s term show a more uneven growth for the rural poor, with incomes of urban households rising by 1.1% annually while those in rural areas declined by 0.8%.
The 2008 manifesto promised to ensure that energy shortages are eliminated. Under the PPP’s watch, Pakistanis experienced some of the worst energy shortages in the country’s history. Protests over power cuts turned violent. Senior government officials refuse to pay their personal electricity bills, a practice some government agencies also seem to engage in. The PPP attempted to initiate large-scale initiatives, such as the recently launched Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline and Daimer-Basha dam project, but to no avail. These projects require major capital investments and will take a long time to show results; their inauguration was viewed as more political stunt than genuine attempt to eliminate energy shortages. Other efforts to eliminate energy subsidies and increase fuel prices faced challenges in parliament by both opposition and coalition members.
The PPP promised to rid Pakistan of violence, bigotry and terror and to ensure a strong defense. But under its watch, persecution of minorities has gone up. In the past year, Pakistan witnessed an unprecedented number of Shia killings all over the country: in Baluchistan, Karachi, Lahore, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The debate over amending the blasphemy law unraveled, leading to numerous instances of violence against Christians who allegedly engaged in blasphemous behavior. Even Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, has been accused of blasphemy.
The PPP’s other security problem is the domestic insurgency in northwestern Pakistan, with multiple attempts to negotiate with or pressure the Pakistani Taliban falling flat. In spirit, the PPP does not support persecution of minorities, nor does it have a history of being ideologically soft on militants (in comparison to other political parties). But its unwillingness and inability to challenge the nation’s big security demons shows its limitations in a political environment dominated by competing interests. The military’s links to sectarian groups in Punjab are well known; it has used them as proxies in its conflict with India. Civilian leaders have been hard pressed to truly challenge such groups, fearing possible backlash from the security establishment.
The PPP should be given partial credit for beginning to normalize security ties with the United States. Regardless of what side you sit on, the cloak and dagger relationship built by former presidents George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf was politically unsustainable in both Washington and Islamabad. It was only a matter of time before other stakeholders in the relationship angled to get involved. In Pakistan, this was most visible in July 2012 when a parliamentary committee demanded that it review the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations before ending a NATO routes closure that had been triggered by a deadly cross-border NATO attack that killed more than twenty Pakistani soldiers. There was nothing legally binding about the parliamentary review, but the simple act of civilian officials debating sensitive security policy is meaningful on a symbolic level. On Afghanistan policy, the more visible role of Pakistani Foreign
Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Afghan Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani, especially in conversations with the United States, was also indicative of stronger civilian engagement, if not ownership, on security matters.
But the PPP’s strengths on security, few as they were, did almost nothing to win gains against the Pakistani Taliban and its friends, who continue to target the government and its citizens. The ambitions, motivations, and power of these groups are clearly in flux and in many ways getting stronger. No amount of enhanced civilian engagement alone can alter their flight path. Furthermore, any government would have to make similar trade-offs when determining which national security policies to pursue and which ones it knows it cannot influence.
It is exactly this "trade-offs" focused approach, in both security and economic matters, that has limited PPP’s implementation of its objectives that it laid out so ambitiously in 2008, meaning its chances of electoral victory are getting smaller by the day.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.