On Islam and Pakistan
Pakistan, indeed, is in a bad shape. Since 1948, not a single civilian government ran the country effectively, which is unfortunate. We have to think where Pakistan is headed and which direction it should take.
Pakistan is an Islamic Republic and religion is the basis of its creation, but I firmly believe that all the religious minorities living here should have equal rights. During my tenure, we gave them the joint electorate and many other benefits, including reserved seats.
I believe that Islam’s main pillars are justice and equality. A society does not deserve to be called an Islamic Republic in which people are deprived of justice and equality. In this context, the police – the law enforcers and the judiciary – the adjudicators, need to be corrected.
The world has tried many systems, but democracy appears to be the ultimate method of government. Many people talk of having a dictatorship or a benevolent dictator, but dictatorship isn’t a system. It can only be used as a temporary solution.
However, democracy doesn’t just mean elections. We believe in the essence and spirit of democracy, (which) is the empowerment of the people. This can only be made possible when there is devolution of power to the tehsil and union council level. Today, local elections are held, but people are not being empowered. Empowerment actually means political authority, administrative authority and most of all, financial authority, which should directly rest with the district and union councils. It should not be restricted in the hands of the chief minister – this is no democracy.
Restructuring the system, new provinces
The other aspect of democracy is that systems should function, political structure should be correct. Pakistan needs political restructuring. We must rethink why the parliamentary form is not doing well. How can the government be run in an institutional manner? How can institutions be strengthened and run effectively?
In this regard, the most important ingredients are constitutional checks and balances.
The government’s restructuring – comprising administrative and governance structures – is also a must.
We should have more provinces. The four provinces have been made so powerful that the centre has been weakened. This is not the way to run a stable Pakistan. The centre must be strong and provinces must have the powers to govern themselves. Therefore, more provinces are essential. India comes up with a new province without a problem every four or five years, so we must think about this.
First of all, as a leader one has to be clear about his job or duty. You should categorically define the duty and then look at your country and perceive its role – whether it has a small, localised role to play or a big one. I was the first leader to focus attention on it. I set goals; ensure the security, progress and development of the state and welfare and well-being of its people. In other words, strengthening Pakistan and giving prosperity to its people.
I thought that we are 20 crore Pakistanis – a large country with nuclear and missile power – I knew that our country has great potential. We have abundant water and fertile land. We have no scarcity of food. We have the cheapest energy resources – water, coal, nuclear, sun, wind. We are bestowed with such a geographic location that no (regional) country can interact directly with another, without Pakistan. If India needs energy from Iran or Turkmenistan, it will have to deal with Pakistan. If India wants trade with Central Asia, it will go through Pakistan.
Pakistan can also provide a route to China for its energy supplies. Central Asia is landlocked and if it wants trade with the world, Pakistan can provide a route.
Strength or weakness
Our teeming population of 20 crore can be our weakness or strength. If this population is educated and skilled, then it is a strength. If it’s uneducated and unskilled, then it is our weakness. We have to fix this problem. Once this is fixed, we have four roles to play; we must be domestically strong; we should ensure regional peace, which includes resolving regional disputes including Kashmir; we should play our due role in the Muslim Ummah and lastly; we have an international role to play and contribute in the global peace efforts. An internally weak Pakistan cannot play these roles.
Prosperity and progress
The most powerful binding force for any country is its economic wellbeing. Look at the United States. If there was no economic binding, then its states would have fallen apart. Its states are together because everybody is happy, everybody is earning.
Therefore, welfare of the people remained my prime goal (when in power). For this, priority was given to education, health, poverty alleviation and employment generation. If I were to include a fifth, it was controlling the prices of essential items.
Along with the welfare of the people, the development of the State remained a top priority. I further broke it down into more components, such as correcting the economy – nothing is possible sans a sound economy. (Today), we must fix and develop our agriculture – Pakistan’s economic backbone – (improve) water management, energy, telecommunication and IT sectors, industry and even culture and heritage.
Developing the communications infrastructure – road, rail, ports, airports are, of course, also essential. You have to address and make progress on each of these fronts and that’s what we did.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
The CPEC offers a lot of benefits to Pakistan, China and the entire region, including Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Almost 80 percent of China’s oil and gas passes through the Gulf and then down to India, and onwards to eastern China. If Pakistan opens a route, it’s one-fifth of the entire distance.
The Gwadar Port
If Pakistan is to become the biggest beneficiary of the Gwadar Port, then it must focus on two aspects, which no one is discussing and that is the establishment of a container terminal and a repair facility. Gwadar Port is one of 19 deep-water ports. It is a natural port that can take large container ships – not all ports can do that. For repair facilities, you will have to make a dry dock. Make it. We have cheap and abundant labour.
From 1947-89, Pakistan’s amassed external debt (and liabilities) stood at $18 billion. During 1988-99, it more than doubled to $39 billion – an increase of $21 billion. When we came to power, this debt was a whopping $39 billion. I’m proud to say that during the eight-year period, we brought it down to $36 billion.
It was for the first time in Pakistan’s history that the debt burden was actually reduced. In 2008, when I left, the debt was $36 billion. Today it is $70 billion. There is virtually no progress on any front – no welfare, poverty alleviation or employment generation. I don’t know of any major mega projects besides the Metro and the Orange Train.
Simply speaking, our foreign exchange is generated from exports, remittances that expatriates send to Pakistan and Foreign Direct Investment. We diversified and increased exports, but today, our exports are falling. As for the FDI, it was a meagre $300 million in 1999. We increased it to $8.4 billion by ensuring internal stability and portraying Pakistan’s positive image around the world. (In 2015-16, Pakistan received FDI worth $1.2 billion, including $600 million from China under CPEC).
Indeed, energy, especially electricity shortage, is a crucial subject because our industry needs it. We need electricity for commercial activity and general consumers. When I took over in 1999, I learnt that in 1994, 14 independent power producers – all thermal and furnace-oil based, the most expensive source of power generation – were installed. (At that time) WAPDA was on the verge of collapse, but luckily it was taken over by us and Gen. Zulfiqar, an upright and honest man, was appointed its chairman.
We forced the IPPs to slash rates. However, there wasn’t much electricity demand at that time. Following rapid commercial activity and industrial growth across the country, the energy demand surged exponentially. The situation prompted the power ministry to take steps to increase electricity production. We initiated several projects including Ghazi Barotha. We also raised the level of Mangla Dam and initiated the Nandipur project, which is now in the doldrums.
In short, we launched several projects, including Bhasha Dam. When I left in 2008, the country’s electricity generation capacity was19,500 megawatts. We had added approximately 2,900 megawatts to the system. Right now, we are producing only around 11,000 megawatts against our capacity. The problem of electricity can be resolved if the issue of circular debt is fixed. We also need to cut transmission and distribution losses, launch new hydroelectricity projects and do away with thermal altogether, to produce cheap electricity.
Ghost schools and ghost teachers are a reality of this beleaguered country. When I was the Corps Commander Mangla, I had had a survey conducted and found that 20 to 25 percent of schools and teachers were non existent or ghosts. The solution lies in addressing the problem at the district and union council levels. The persons in charge of these councils should be (held) responsible for catching non-performing teachers.
The education strategy also needs to be changed. We need to fix the literacy level and that’s possible only when education is universalised. This means every village should have a school. Secondly, acquiring a plain education, such as a BA or MA, is useless as there are hardly any jobs. Therefore, we need skills development. When we have skilled people, they will become exportable manpower – an asset for Pakistan. So we should focus on primary education and setting vocational training centers. Higher education also needs to be promoted.
I believe public-private partnership is essential to bridge the class-based divide in education. Plus, welfare educational institutions can play a bigger role in providing quality education to students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Almost 60 to 70 percent of our population lives in rural areas. Building hospitals only in cities, such as the seven new hospitals recently announced by the Prime Minister, won’t serve the purpose. Can every patient from a remote village, come all the way to Lahore for treatment?
There are three levels of medical care: primary, secondary, tertiary.
Primary level is basic health. It should be available in all the rural areas, which they lack. One only finds buildings, but without facilities or doctors.
Secondary healthcare comprises hospitals at tehsil and district levels, where all kinds of operations can be performed and healthcare facilities are available. Then comes tertiary care. If you don’t fix the primary and secondary care, the rural population will suffer. People from far-flung places can’t come to city hospitals due to financial constraints.
Fixing this requires funding and devolving powers to local governments’ level.
I’m proud of the fact that I did a lot for women’s empowerment. In enlightened, progressive societies, women have a cardinal role. Societies that don’t ensure women’s participation in governance are doing no good to themselves. I ensured that they got healthy representation at every level. In the local governments, I ensured their 30 percent representation – four out of 13 reserved seats. Similarly, at the centre, they got 18 percent reserved seats. Women could also contest elections on open seats. I’m proud of the fact that women are doing much better than men in every profession. If Pakistan has to progress and prosper, women’s active participation in politics is paramount.
Role of media
I feel proud that I freed the media and I have no regrets about it. People sometimes quip that you are the victim of your own creation. But it was a good decision because, firstly, it generated jobs and secondly, a vibrant media helps expose a government’s misdemeanors, bad performance, corruption, nepotism etc.
However, there should be no negativity, irresponsible or sensational journalism. You have to have regulatory authorities – like PEMRA – which should be autonomous and be headed by an honorable, upright individual. There are laws but implementation is a problem. I think maturity will come with time.
The State Bank of Pakistan should exercise its authority to ensure there is no flight of capital through illegal means. The clandestine channels through which ill-gotten money is sent abroad should be closed. We must bring all the money back and punish the culprits.
I can say with absolute conviction that in our first three years (rule), even the next five, there was no corruption at the top level. Pakistan was progressing by leaps and bounds in our time. We must have faith in Pakistan; it has everything. If there’s a problem, it’s with the leadership and governance.
I believe that the APML will take part in 2018 elections, but right now there’s a problem; I’m not leading from the front – a trait I learnt in the military. This is because of the pending cases against me. Once they are settled, I will return and lead people from the front. God willing, we will mobilise the public so that we could perform well in the 2018 elections.
In addition, I have a watchful eye over Sindh, particularly Karachi, where a political vacuum exists. I’m referring to the (crisis in) MQM. I’m seeing whether I can play a role to fill that void. We are exploring whether we can put many Muslim Leaguers, running loose in the Punjab, under the flag of a third political force – the real future of Pakistan. Our future can only be bright when a new political force emerges to replace the current setup and run an honest, corruption-free, nepotism-free government, as envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam.