Both the people and the elite understand that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of today is as much committed to the mission statement ‘People are the fountain of power’ as was the party founder, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Shaheed (ZAB Shaheed) and his enlightened, brave daughter, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed (BB Shaheed).
This mission statement has also remained its guiding force during the last four-and-a-half years i.e. throughout the period it has remained in power after winning the majority vote in 2008 elections.
And while doing their utmost to see the actualisation and full-fledged materialization of their pro-people policies, the governments of both the elected prime ministers, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, took practical steps to ameliorate the lot of the masses and lay down the foundation of a stable, prosperous Pakistan.
One is left with no choice other than endorsing the recent statement given by PM Ashraf that the country has a bright future ahead, during the launching ceremony of a book on four-and-a-half-years performance of the government.
Of course we are heading towards a bright future on the ladder of progress and development that the PPP-led government has put in place. To quote Prime Minister Ashraf when the PPP took power in 2008, the country was importing Pakistanis’ staple food wheat but with government’s prudent policies concerning more than 70% of the national population inhabiting the rural areas and engaged in agriculture, the agricultural sector has undergone a healthy revolution that has changed the lives of even those ordinary farmers who own less than five acres of land. The credit goes to the government of Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani in particular that announced raise in wheat support price, resulting in more and more land coming under wheat crop cultivation. And now, the farming community is reaping sizeable benefits out of that policy, Pakistan having turned into wheat-exporting country.
The focus, in fact, has been on formulating and enforcing policies that directly impact commoners’ and working classes’ lives in a positive manner. It was in that context that besides taking steps for the welfare of the farmers, workers and peasants, the government increased the salaries of the government servants by 158 per cent.
Prime Minister Ashraf has also asserted that the economic conditions of the people have improved manifold with the measures taken by the present government. One pertinent point that merits attention here is the price hike issue. The prime minister says, “Though the people always complain of escalating prices of items of daily use, but they should be compared with our living standards of a decade ago.”
Another fact can further substantiate the PM’s viewpoint and that is comparing the prices of essential commodities and eatables in Pakistan with those in other countries. Take, for example, the cost price of good quality rice and petrol that a consumer has to pay for buying these essentials in China. The price is almost the same in rupee equivalent in Pakistan as well as in China.
The government is aware of this problem and is doing its best to provide an enabling environment for foreign direct investment and external collaboration. One example is the US visit of Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in which he was able to convince the American authorities to pay at least 3.5 billion dollars for 4500-megawatt Diamer-Bhasha Dam that would also store additional 8.5 million acre feet water for irrigation purposes besides enabling the extension of Tarbela Dam for another 35 years. This project will also help prevent flood damage.
Some sources, however, say that if anti-terror war-specific suspicions and mistrust in US-Pak ties subside, there is likelihood of Pakistan getting 14 billion dollars for the Dam as once promised by Washington.
This is significant that the government is leaving no stone unturned to fight all kinds of unjustified global suspicions and pave the way out of these blind alleys for Pakistanis’ uplift and betterment. The government contained inflation rate through tight monetary policy, increased tax collections, raised development spending, doubled the salaries and improved the balance of payments. Due to these policies, foreign remittances were enhanced and more than Rs800 billion were injected in the rural economy.
Likewise, the industrial workers were also given full attention. Under Benazir Employees Stock Option Scheme, 12 percent shares of 80 state owned enterprises were transferred to 500,000 employees making them shareholders.
Additionally, in order to provide a sustainable support system to the impoverished and needy people, the BISP (Benazir Income Support Programme) was initiated in April 2008. Through this programme millions of beneficiaries were provided social protection through state of the art technology systems. The BISP’s transparency has of late been further improved with the programme entering into an agreement with Transparency International.
And on the energy front, steps were taken to enhance hydel power generations for which projects including Mangla Dam Raising Project, Allai Khawar Hydro Power project, Diamer Bhasha Dam, Duber Khawar, Gomal dam, Satpara Dam Neelum Jhelum project and Thar coal reservoirs were launched. Throughout these four plus years, the PPP-led government has tried its utmost to restore the rights of the workers. Steps taken in this connection include: Benazir Employees stock option scheme; removal of ban on trade unions; reinstatement of sacked employees; regularization of contractual employees; increase in workers’ minimum salary from 4600 to 8000 per month and 158% increase in salaries.
Restoration of rights has, actually, been one of the salient most features of PPP government. Another right that has been given proper attention is the right of the poor. Projects undertaken in this regard are: Through BISP, Rs70 billion are being distributed among 3.5 million poor women; Small loans for women and vocational training for their children; Health Insurance and Free Treatment for poor families; Through Bait-ul-Maal, 135,000 widows, orphans and needy were helped and Establishment of “Pakistan Sweet Homes” for orphan children. And in the area of rights of the farmer, the PPP government initiated these steps: Sufficient increase in support prices of wheat, rice and cotton; Continuous record production of wheat in last three years put an end to the scarcity of flour; Additional induction of Rs800 billion in rural economy; Provision of tractors on low rates through Benazir Tractor Scheme and important affairs of food and agriculture transferred to provinces.
Other major achievements of the PPP-led government include: 18th Amendment in the Constitution with transfer of 17 federal ministries to the provinces; Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan; Addition of 3400MW in four years; Completion of solar energy grid; wind power project in Jhimpir; Reduction in tax on imports; handing over of presidential powers to the parliament; reconciliation policy under the banner ‘democracy is the best revenge’; consensus 7th NFC Award and effective transfer of substantial resources to provinces; appointment of a non-controversial consensus Chief Election Commissioner; restoration of women rights; renaming of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Gilgit Baltistan problem’s resolution, abolition of Frontier Crimes Regulation and extension of Political Parties Act to Fata.