OVER A COFFEE : The missing E in PML-N’s manifesto — Dr Haider Shah
In the midst of so many Es, one important E is conspicuous by its absence in these mnemonics. How will the next government deal with the menace of extremism?
On the website of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party manifesto dates back to 2007. Work on a new manifesto began in earnest in the first quarter of last year in view of the forthcoming elections. A manifesto committee under the chairmanship of Sartaj Aziz was entrusted with the task of finalising the policy document, which was widely expected to be released to media in December 2012. So far not much has been heard about the manifesto after the expected January launch was deferred. With only a few months remaining to general elections, any further delay will hardly be seen positively by the watchful segments of our electorate.
The main opposition party in a democracy is seen as a government in waiting. A week ago, Bruce Reidel, the strategy advisor to President Obama on Afghanistan, wrote a newspaper article in which he analysed the importance of 2013 for Pakistan and mildly suggested that Mian Nawaz Sharif might create history by returning to power. A somewhat similar opinion was expressed in a recently published analysis in The Economist weekly. Some more recent surveys are also in agreement with the perception that the PML-N might be a major stakeholder in the next government. In this backdrop, it is important to examine the political programme of the PML-N, as it aspires to head a coalition government and take the country out of the existing multi-dimensional mess.
A political manifesto is a blend of aspirations and major policy pronouncements of a political party. A manifesto that only contains generic aspirations with no clear public policy choices is more a work of fiction rather than a political programme. In a culture of personal point scoring and constituency based on ‘thana-katcheri’ (police station-court) politics, the need for a visionary but realistic and pragmatic manifesto has been less pressing upon mainstream political parties. Long on words and short on SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals, one hardly finds any clarity on policy choices in these manifestos.
Last year in summer, the PML-N announced that its new manifesto would be based on ‘three Es’. Addressing a public meeting, Sharif elucidated the three Es as ‘Energy, Economy and Education’. The concept of ‘3Es’ is already a popular mnemonic in the public sector financial management for Value for Money based performance management model where the three Es stand for ‘Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness’. Earlier, Benazir Bhutto had issued five Es programme (employment, education, energy, environment, equality). In the midst of so many Es, one important E is conspicuous by its absence in these mnemonics. How will the next government deal with the menace of extremism, which is taking a heavy toll on the economy? No doubt, recent surveys have shown that economic problems and energy crisis are the most important issues for a common man, but no programme of economic recovery can succeed if extremists roam freely in the country. Improvements in three Es will need megaprojects, which in turn will need massive investments. Extremism is therefore a bottleneck in the system, and without elevating this constraint, all other plans of economic development will only prove to be wishful aspirations. To be fair to the policy think-tank of the party the last manifesto had a dedicated section on extremism and terrorism. The old manifesto contains a five-point strategic plan that suggests strengthening the capacity of law enforcing agencies, influencing and educating sympathisers of terrorism, promoting rule of law, mainstreaming tribal areas with socio-economic and political reforms and working for peaceful resolution of some underlying motivational causes like Kashmir and Palestine. Resolving terrorism problem by addressing drivers of extremism is a sound approach but given the magnitude of the problem, a more comprehensive strategy based on multiple scenario planning is direly needed today.
For an investment-friendly Pakistan where tourism is booming, it is necessary that peace and tranquillity reign supreme. Using a scenario-planning approach, we can predict two possible situations when thinking about the future. First, negotiations are held with the representatives of various terrorist groups and agreement is reached on an end to the use of militant methods and all parties vow to work under the constitutional system of Pakistan. This is of course the best-case scenario and must be pursued as a first priority. Second, these groups either do not respond positively to the offer of negotiations or refuse to stop using militant activities or make unacceptable demands that amount to the subversion of the constitution. What will be the policy of the state in this scenario? When a state opens negotiations with a warring group, while it earnestly pursues the first scenario, it also remains fully attentive to the possibility of the second scenario. Without gunboats in the back, diplomacy alone hardly solves any dispute with a determined enemy.
An all-parties conference announced by the Awami National Party is a step in the right direction, which I had also been advocating in some of my past writings. If the PML-N is genuinely serious about its three Es, it must show its commitment to the cause of eradicating extremism and militancy by extending unequivocal support to the proposed conference. The participants should discuss all possible scenarios in the wake of the offer of negotiations to militant organisations and develop a strategic consensus over response of the state in the case of each scenario. The conference should work towards charting out an action plan so that the new government after the forthcoming elections is then able to implement a policy that enjoys support of all stakeholders. It is hoped that the new manifesto of all parties, including the PML-N, will not surprise analysts by not flagging up eradication of extremism as a necessary determinant of economic development of Pakistan.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org