2015 ended on a positive note. The bygone year can rightfully be described as a watershed so far as Pakistan’s ongoing war on terrorism and extremism is concerned. The armed forces with unflinching support of the political leadership and the people of Pakistan inflicted a crushing defeat on the terrorists. The nation showed remarkable resilience and strength of character to protect its values, its traditions and its way of life. Pakistan at the beginning of 2016 represents a marked departure from what it looked like during corresponding period of last year. There is a greater political stability today away from the politics of agitation. Economy is picking up. China-Pakistan Economic

Corridor promises to transform the national landscape. There is certainly a new-born optimism sweeping through the land.

This major turnaround has been achieved at the back of clarity of vision, singleness of purpose and solid leadership displayed by Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and his government. The Prime Minister led from the front in navigating the country from the unchartered waters. A more resilient, harmonious and united Pakistan of 2016 belies the stereotypes the country has generally been cast into. These successes that dot the national landscape and define our direction were not possible without the sacrifices of our armed forces, for which we will never be able to thank them enough.

As 2016 gets underway, we, in the Punjab government, are determined to convert our challenges into opportunities and play our role in the national development as one of the federating units. As I sit down with my colleagues to prioritise our development goals and line up efforts and resources for this purpose, I am driven by the resolve to contribute to the well-being of the people of Punjab. Being the real stakeholders in the system, people remain at the centre of public policy agenda of my government. Service to the people is the hallmark of the Punjab government. I have resolved to dedicate my efforts and energies to welfare of my people. I have made it absolutely clear to my team that they need to double their efforts to achieve the goals of public welfare.

Projects having the potential of uplifting the living standards of people have carefully been prepared. Timelines for their implementation have been identified. More than their launch, we have a keener eye on their completion. Some of the social sector projects are briefly mentioned here.

‘Chief Minister’s Self-Employment Scheme’ is a revolutionary programme that aims to cut down unemployment and poverty in the country through provision of interest-free loans. So far, Rs. 16 billion have been distributed among 0.8 million people. We aim to distribute Rs. 40 billion among the 2 million families in a span of three years.

Mindful of its obligations, the Punjab government launched Khidmat Card programme with Rs. 2 billion, which will provide financial assistance to two hundred thousand people with special needs.

Punjab Educational Endowment Fund (PEEF) is another emerging success story, which is turning dreams into reality. The Fund provides merit-based scholarships to the deserving students to pursue higher studies in the top institutions of the country as well as abroad. PEEF was established with the seed money of Rs. 2 billion, which was later on raised to Rs. 18 billion. The provision of one lac scholarships to the deserving but bright boys and girls purely on merit represents a generational change. For the next year, two hundred thousand students will be able to avail themselves of the scholarships. I am convinced that Pakistan cannot unlock its true potential unless our deserving but talented youths are enabled to contribute meaningfully to national development.

Pakistan is basically an agrarian economy where farm to market roads play a major role in facilitating transportation of the goods and people. The government of Punjab is implementing Khadim-e-Punjab Rural Road Programme (KPRR), which aims to revolutionise the rural economy through repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads of up to 20,000 km. To be completed in three years in a phased manner at the cost of Rs. 150 billion, it is the biggest ever road rehabilitation project in history of province, which will uplift the standard of living of people.

I understand that development of social sector in general and health and education sectors in particular is fundamental to our efforts to improve the well-being of our people.

Education is a necessary tool of nation-building. Nations that invest heavily in formation of human capital by way of modernisation and upgradation of health and education sectors are the ones that reap benefit in terms of the fast-paced socio-economic growth. The era we live in is marked by knowledge economies where the role of knowledge as engine of economic growth has increasingly been documented.

It is for this reason that the countries are making massive investments in entrepreneurship, innovation and research and development (R&D).

It is probably for the first time in our history that the Punjab government formulated roadmaps on health and education that represent an institutional effort to fix the ills of these sectors through periodic reviews and performance audit. These stock-takes bring together all stakeholders including our development partners and donors. The UK Department of International Development (DFID), which has been collaborating with the Punjab government on these roadmaps for last many years, has described its experience of working with Punjab as “model DFID programme”. Funds worth billions of rupees are going into health and education sectors.

The reforms initiated in these sectors have started bearing fruits. Special Monitoring Unit (SMU) has been created in the Chief Minister’s office to spearhead reforms in these sectors. In order to address needs of the citizens, we are working on launching new roadmaps on Water Sanitation, Solid Waste Management and other priority areas. The idea is to further deepen reforms in the social sector to improve and upgrade service delivery and make them irreversible.

Youth bulge is a pronounced feature of Pakistan’s demographic composition. The youth can be a boon or a bane for the country depending upon how we treat them. Their huge potential can be unlocked to spur growth. This is possible if we take affirmative policy actions to equip them with the requisite skill-set in accordance with the demands of industry and market. In case of our failure to harness their energies, they run the risk of being hijacked by the extremist elements for their nefarious agendas. The Punjab government is currently in the process of implementing various vocational and technical training programmes under which two million youth will be trained in next three years. The work is afoot robustly on this skill development initiative.

All of the above and many other significant initiatives are meant to make Punjab and by extension Pakistan emerge as a strong polity. I have no doubt about the fact that investment in people is basically investment in our future. Economic progress and prosperity of a nation is the most robust bulwark against the forces of terrorism and extremism.

What we are doing in Punjab is social, economic, political and educational empowerment of the people. We are employing information and communication technologies in the government through Punjab Information Technology Board to facilitate citizen-government interface. I am committed to making the government machinery public service-oriented and pro-people by cutting down on red-tape.

I know that the path is strewn with enormous difficulties. Challenges are no doubt great as we move on the path of empowerment of the people but the greater is my resolve to overcome these. Here I am reminded of famous lines of New England’s poet, Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep,And miles to go before I sleep.