At a citizens’ forum in Lahore, the other day, a dozen or so well-educated citizens discussed at length, how good and bad the year 2013 was for Pakistan. A heated debate continued for about three hours. Most of the participants held the politicians responsible for the state of affairs. A few were overly critical of those at the helm in the centre and the provinces. They focused on rising prices, escalating debt, corruption, lawlessness, poor governance and terrorism. While the rich had become richer, there was no relief for the poor and the deprived. A little easing of the rigours of load-shedding has not been sustained. The rupee remains devalued. There has been no structural reform. There is little hope for an improvement considering that the rulers are essentially interested in protecting their own interests and in seeking to retain power, at any cost. Some were also of the view that our rulers were just stooges of world powers. One or two thought that the democracy practiced in Pakistan was a mockery and there can be no change if this system continued. Illiteracy and feudal culture will not allow a democratic order to flourish here. At least two felt that powerful external forces had already drawn up plans to destabilize Pakistan and taking advantage of regional/sectarian differences and divisions, have chalked out a design to break-up the country. Authentic documents were cited to establish such conspiracies.

One or two differed from the negative narrative stated above. They pointed out the daunting problems and challenges inherited by the new government and it was unfair to expect that all the complex issues relating to energy, economy, law and order, governance and terrorism besetting the country could be solved or resolved in a matter of months. The government needed more time (and a sense of understanding on the part of the opposition and the people at large) to bring about the desired improvements.

For a balanced assessment of what happened in Pakistan in 2013, one has to take notice of vital changes and promising developments.

There were the scheduled elections and a smooth transfer of power from one democratic government to another after completion of the 5-year term.

The army too, has stayed away from active politics and the army chief has mostly followed the civil government’s policies. While credit for this most significant shift, primarily goes to General Kayani, politicians’ conduct too in not tempting the military in promotion of their narrow interests, merits appreciation.

Also, the year saw the higher judiciary led by CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry play a proactive role to take the government to task whenever it went wrong, sometimes exceeding its jurisdiction. Mention may also be made of a stand taken by the court that would never approve of a demand for legitimizing a military take-over as done by the Supreme Court previously, many times.

Meanwhile, the media particularly the TV channels continued to play their role (more vociferous than desirable) to monitor the doings of the government and not sparing even the higher judiciary. In a sense the talk-shows, many a time, went beyond the dictates of propriety and indulged in unwarranted media trials.

2013 saw the retirement of the army chief and the chief justice and a fairly smooth induction of their successors. Then, the new government’s wise approach to let Balochistan and KPK governments be formed by parties other than PML-N and its partners. The new federal government’s determined effort to contain the mayhem in Karachi in cooperation with the Sindh government too was a commendable initiative.

Credit to the government is also due for the speedy steps taken to address the power supply shortages by not only activating the Neelum river and Nandipur hydro-electricity projects but also initiating the setting up of a large nuclear plant at Karachi with Chinese financial support. It will of course take at least 2 to 3 years before the power supply is considerably enhanced. Initially the circular debt was cleared to start up the IPPs.

Last but not the least, in December, the government won the GSP status from the EU parliament. This will mean zero duties on about 90% of our exports resulting in a gain of about 1 billion dollars.

Now the areas where the government could not fulfill promises and expectations:

As mentioned earlier, the lower and poor classes have not been provided any appreciable relief. Because of high inflation, their misery has increased. Although Benazir support programme has been continued and easy loans for the youth for small businesses announced, much will depend on how these will be administered. Also the number of beneficiaries will remain limited. The youth constitute 60% of our population. The numbers of the unemployed are bound to swell with the passing of time. They can easily fall prey to extremist groups and demagogues.

Where government has been found most deficient is the prevailing menace of terrorism. Here the administration’s record is most unsatisfactory. This lapse is all the more damaging as without security and peace there will be no real industrial development and no foreign investment. It took the government three months after the September APC consensus to hold talks with Taliban and it came to a stop when Hakeemullah Mehsud was droned to death. One has, of late, been, hearing statements that holding of talks was in   progress and Maulana Sami-ul-Haq of Akora Khatak is helping the process. The scenario remains murky as attacks by the Taliban and related groups continue against security forces and civilians.

Even the national security policy has yet to be finalized and announced. The Prime Minister would be well advised to fully concentrate on the challenge of the terrorists to the stability and integrity of the country as without its redressal economic revival will remain a distant dream and even the much welcome GSP plus will not give results if security is not ensured.

Another area where government has been found wanting is its relationship with PTI. Pakistan with its pressing problems and challenges cannot afford destabilizing rallies and dharnas at this stage. For the growth and consolidation of democracy (and the economy), it is necessary that party relations remain within acceptable limits and do not result in unnecessary disruption of normal life.

Nawaz and Imran have to meet and seek to resolve differences. Imran should respect PML-N’s mandate and help it address grievances and problems. Agitational politics at this stage is not very much desirable.

Let PML-N have more time and if it fails to act promptly and properly, by all means the issues may be forcefully raised in the National assembly and the Senate and even outside.

Finally, Nawaz should take prompt notice of charges against him, his family and the government. It is imperative that he keeps his own record and that of his party and the government clear of such accusations.

 The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.