BY MIAN ABRAR
Pakistani people are not naïve
“Though I am badly hurt over the failure of the parliament’s women caucus to stand up against the powerful minister and take him to task, I feel there is a need for the opposition’s women lawmakers to form their own women caucus and take a strong stand for women’s pride.”
Jahanara Wattoo is the talented daughter of former Chief Minister Punjab and PPP’s former Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo
She has served as regional advisor for South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIVAC)
She has also served as Pakistan’s ambassador for Orphan Children her recent appointment was to head the PPP Media Cell for Punjab.
Since she has been communicating PPP policy across and through party lines, DNAtalked to her to gauge the party’s line on some of the government’s policies.
Question: How would you evaluate PML-N’s three years in power in the third term? Internally, do you think the party has been able to address issues that really matter – political as well as social?
Jahanara Wattoo: The PML-N government has miserably failed to address country’s chronic problems. The ruling party leadership came to power raising false promises. However, despite its third year in power, the PML-N government has not been able to resolve electricity load shedding. Though the ruling family had made tall claims of ending load shedding in six months but they have miserably failed in addressing load shedding during the last three years.
Right now, the situation is worse as the people are protesting against load shedding on a daily basis across the country. Moreover, they have also sunk Pakistan into a debt trap and we have been left at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, who are dictating terms on Pakistan.
The country’s economy has again been pushed into literal paralysis and the business activity has come to a standstill. Due to excessive taxes — from withholding tax to other flawed taxing system, the country’s banking system has almost collapsed. Now the country’s banks have lost most of their revenue and the business community either has shifted its transactions to Hundi or some other illegal channels.
Due to the flawed agriculture policy, the farming community has suffered the most and the farmers are holding protests across the country. Due to the same reason, the country’s GDP lost one percent growth as the farming community refused to grow cotton and the finance minister recently himself admitted that the country failed to meet all its targets due to the bad show in the agriculture sector.
The paralysis is not limited to the agriculture or business sectors. Pakistan’s exports have also suffered heavily due to the lack of vision and understanding on part of the government. The manufacturing sector has also suffered badly and Pakistan’s economy is paralysed. What do you think the finance minister is doing? He is only interested in imposing more and more indirect taxes just to further squeeze the already hard-pressed taxpayers rather than expanding the tax net.
Another solution Mr Dar has is to seek more and more loans. Now what happens in heavy dependence on foreign loans that any country with reliance on foreign loans sinks deeper in the debt trap while its foreign policy also becomes dependent on foreign diktat. So today, Pakistan is virtually running on demands of the international financial institutions (IFIs).
Moreover, doctors, teachers, clerks, labourers, entrepreneurs — all those who shape the country’s middle classes have been compelled to come to the roads and hold protests against the government’s vision-less policies.
Just take the case of privatisation of the public sector schools in Punjab. The Punjab government is rewarding its cronies with public sector schools by privatising them. Now what is happening is that government schools running in profit with costly lands are being given on lease to the blue-eyed of the government.
This is the worst sort of political bribery the country has ever seen. Hence, the teachers are protesting against this shady privatisation policy. We will stand by our teachers, farmers, doctors and poor who are being victimised by the corrupt PML-N government.
Q: Since we have just entered a new fiscal year, how do you evaluate the government’s economic performance? On the campaign trail PML-N promised to raise revenue by improving taxes and exports. Yet, since coming to power it has concentrated mostly on mega projects. Do you think this is a viable strategy?
JW: As I already mentioned, the country’s economic situation is very bad. We had bad cotton and rice crops and this is the reason there is a significant decline in export of cotton and rice products this year. This negative development has badly affected the already ailing agriculture sector. Around 60 percent our people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture sector.
“…what happens in heavy dependence on foreign loans that any country with reliance on foreign loans sinks deeper in the debt trap while its foreign policy also becomes dependent on foreign diktates. So today, Pakistan is virtually running on diktates of the international financial institutions (IFIs).”
Social sector has also witnessed a negative growth as health and education sectors have been neglected. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left his country for medical treatment in London, his government has never taken an interest in provision of basic medical facilities of the people of Pakistan.
Hence, the ratio of the people living below the poverty line is growing. The government is only interested in signature projects so as the already misled people could be tricked again. But let me tell you that people can never be fooled and those who want to trick the people will suffer the most.
Q: Pakistan has faced unprecedented isolation lately, yet the government still does not feel the need to appoint a full time foreign minister. India, the US, Afghanistan, Iran, etc, are all leaving Pakistan behind, it seems. Do you agree with this analysis? And what do you think the government should do to improve Pakistan’s international position?
JW: The geographical location of Pakistan makes it very important in the region. Our relationship with our neighbouring countries has deteriorated under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the helm.
We have fallen out with India while we are fast losing Afghanistan. The latest friend we have lost is Iran.
While the PPP government repaired its relations with these three nations, Nawaz Sharif has made sure to reverse all the achievements made by our government. Now we are also falling out with USA.
Pakistan is at the lowest ebb as far as its foreign policy is concerned. It was not so bad even with military dictators at the helm. But the thing even more concerning is that the ruling party leadership is not bothered with it and there is no initiative to repair the damage. These are the worst times Pakistan has ever witnessed.
Q: While operation Zarb-e-Azb has definitely improved the security situation a lot, do you think the civilian government has done its part of the job as well? Now there’s not even much mention of the National Action Plan (NAP); why do you think that is?
JW: The army has been actively playing its role in fighting the menace of terrorism. But the government has only implemented three or four points of the National Action Plan (NAP) out of the 20 points agreed among the political and military leadership. The government agencies are only active in Sindh where mostly political victimisation is being carried out.
It is about time that NAP should be implemented in letter and spirit and military operation must be expanded to Punjab. We need to carry out Madressah reforms while plugging the loopholes in funding terrorist outfits is a must. Moreover, there must be a total review of the curriculum. FATA should be brought into the mainstream as promised in NAP and FCR should be abolished.
Q: A lot has been said about civil-military tension in Nawaz’s third term as well. There is an impression that the government has willingly ceded space for the army to take over foreign and security areas. Do you agree?
JW: The PML-N leadership has proved that it is not capable of running the country. The ruling family has failed in tackling the issues the country is faced with. Even if the civilian government has ceded space for military to take decisions on foreign policy and security issues, the responsibility will lie with the civilian government which has the public mandate for the same purpose.
Q: In your opinion is the Panama scandal over or can it still alter Pakistan’s political landscape dramatically?
JA: Pakistani people are not naive and they can’t be fooled anymore. Our people fully understand the tricks of the Sharif family and they won’t allow them to run away with their wealth. I believe that our youth is very capable and they would make sure that whosoever has looted Pakistan is held accountable.
I would urge PM and his family to come forward and face accountability. The issue of Panama Papers is not going to be over and the PPP along with other opposition parties would make sure that the ruling family doesn’t run away with looted wealth.
Q: Keeping in view the filthy language used by Defence Minister Khwaja Asif against PTI lawmaker Dr Shirin Mazari, do you believe that the matter has been resolved? Do you think that the opposition responded to the incident fairly?
JW: The use of abusive and filthy language by Khwaja Asif reflects the dirty mindset of the PML-N leadership. Dr Mazari is not the only politician targeted by the PML-N goons. Rather, PPP’s slain leader Benazir Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Bhutto were time and again subjected to filthy language by the Sharif family and their cronies in the past too.
This behaviour reflects that the PML-N’s Gullu Butts have a male chauvinistic mindset and they want to bully the womenfolk. Due to the projection of such a mindset, women are targeted by our male society on a daily basis. From our houses to workplaces or bazaars, everywhere sick people target women with filth, dirt and abuse.
But we will fight them. We will never give in. As far as the matter of Khwaja Asif is concerned, I believe that the women lawmakers from all political parties must stand united over this issue. Though I am badly hurt over the failure of the parliament’s women caucus to stand up against the powerful minister and take him to task, I feel there is a need for the opposition’s women lawmakers to form their own women caucus and take a strong stand for women’s pride.
Source: Pakistan Today