A Pakistani voter casts her ballot in a by-election in Lahore. File photo: AFP/Arif Ali
A Pakistani voter casts her ballot in a by-election in Lahore. File photo: AFP/Arif Ali

Pakistan, a former British colony in South Asia with a Muslim-majority (97%) population of 220 million, the sixth largest in the world,  is a regional power to be reckoned with. It has the geo-strategic advantage of being in close proximity to the Strait of Hormuz and the energy-rich Middle East.

Since gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan has endured significant periods of military rule. However, for the last 15 years, it has been governed by the democratically elected governments of three different political parties: the PML-Q, PPP and PML-N. I am not biased or affiliated with any political party, but having a commitment to democracy and free speech, I must point out what the word on the street is: these three governments have disappointed the people of Pakistan.

Pakistan is a country blessed with many strengths, such as rich agriculture, an excellent climate, and a vast range of minerals and natural resources

Pakistan is a country blessed with many strengths, such as rich agriculture, an excellent climate, and a vast range of minerals and natural resources. For example, Thar coal can meet Pakistan’s energy requirements for the next 200 years. The country has large copper and gold reserves, significant quantities of rare elements and salt, and has the fourth-largest supply of gemstone and semi-precious stones in the world.

In agriculture, Pakistan ranks among the top 10 countries in the world, producing rice, cotton, milk, chickpeas, citrus, mango, livestock, etc. A large youth population(approximately 110 million) is another economic advantage, but the country suffers from a shortage of fuel, electricity, clean drinking water, and poor healthcare and education. Alarmingly, the gap between the rich and poor is increasing every day.

Grievances with the last three democratic governments include a lack of political will to change Pakistan’s status quo, a lack of planning, a failure to set national priorities, an ad-hoc-ist approach, nepotism, a failure to initiate reforms, shortsightedness, etc.

They have focused only on high-profile issues that attract public attention in order to prolong their rule in the next election. They have been more interested in initiatives that can be completed during their tenure and provide them with a political slogan for next election. For example, Pakistan possesses huge hydro-power potential. It is the cheapest power-generation method and can solve the nation’s water problems. But building dams takes around 10 years on average. They believe that if they imitate such a megaproject, it will be not completed during their tenure and the credit will go to the next government. They opted instead for thermal, solar and coal power plants, which could be completed within their tenure and provide a powerful political campaign slogan. However, these plants are small in scale and therefore have various limitations.

All three governments have placed a low priority on basic education, healthcare, and long-term megaprojects. They have failed to introduce civil service reforms, which has resulted in incompetent and corrupt officials being appointed to the detriment of the country.

Pakistan has a highly diversified society, comprising various ethnic groups, religious factions and political camps, which I see as a strength, as it ensures that if someone wants to harm Pakistan, others will resist it.  The media enjoys a high degree of freedom of expression, and plays a vital role. The media is a strong pillar of this society, especially social media. As a result, today’s voters in Pakistan have a high level of awareness of the power they wield at the polling station. They understand that voting for the right candidate can make a big difference.

The honorable caretaker prime minister of Pakistan, Nasirul Mulk, has announced that the next election will be held on time in July, and there is broad support for the process. The establishment has learned that supporting democracy, regardless of which party forms the next government, is in the national interest.

Based on my first-hand interactions with the common man, I am confident that the election will be free, fair and on time. Voters will think carefully and ask questions before voting. I believe the next election will change the status quo and that whoever forms the next government will introduce basic reforms, fight corruption and promote a merit-based approach. They will deliver satisfaction to the majority, not just the ruling elite – it will be public rule for the common citizen.

The issues affecting Pakistan are highly complex and difficult to address, but I believe the quality of governance will improve as the next administration becomes more focused on public welfare.

Professor Zamir Ahmed Awan is a sinologist at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, Islamabad, Pakistan. Posted to the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing as science counselor (technical affairs) from 2010-16, he was responsible for promoting cooperation between Pakistan and China in science, technology, and higher education.