Corruption, power shortages, terrorism... Can anyone solve Pakistan’s problems?

The long shadow of the Taliban hangs over Pakistan as it goes to the polls today. Yet there are other, more pressing, issues for voters

Pakistan

Fauzia Talat was buying clothes for her children in a market in the centre of Rawalpindi. She was not sure of which of the two outfits she held up to buy, but she was certain about the problems facing Pakistan as she prepared to cast her vote today.

“There are many challenges,” said the 35-year-old teacher, who added that both she and her husband were currently out of work. “Electricity shortages, water shortages, the economy, domestic problems. Also terrorism – it is the common man who suffers most from terrorism.

As Pakistan goes to the polls today, voters and political analysts agree on the key issues. Not everyone may list them in the same order but, in a series of interviews with voters, the same topics were repeatedly brought up.

Electricity

Voters describe, with despair, how they have to endure power cuts of up to 18 hours a day. Pakistan’s failure to pay independent power producers and invest to raise its own capacity has blighted its economy, shaving up to 5 per cent of GDP growth. Up to a third of electricity is lost through line losses and theft. Earlier this year, the government ordered an inquiry.

The lack of cooling, especially in the searing summer, makes power a priority and voters are lining up to punish those who failed to provide it. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that just left office will face the brunt of this. Former premier Nawaz Sharif has made restoring electricity the central plank of his election platform this time, with the catchphrase “Shining Pakistan”. But his party has been hit by fierce PPP adverts attacking contradictory promises. “In winter there is no gas, in summer there is no electricity,” said Anwar Butt, 52, a trader in Rawalpindi’s Moti Bazar. “Without these things our lives are almost paralysed.”

Such is popular anger that the next government could secure itself two straight terms if it can restore electricity or reduce outages.

Pakistan Taliban  and terrorism

“Terrorism is the biggest problem facing our country, but not necessarily here in Rawalpindi,” said 61-year-old Jameel Anwar, who runs a vehicle rental business and who said he will be voting for Imran Khan.

Analysts say Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP has received little credit for pushing for unpopular military operations against militants inside Pakistan. At least 3,000 soldiers have died and hundreds more were maimed in successive operations. Yet militant violence remains a scourge. More than 120 have been killed in violence linked to the current election campaign, and the Taliban has threatened fresh attacks during today.  

Both Imran Khan and Mr Sharif have said if they are elected they will seek to talk to the Taliban and end US drone strikes on suspected militants.

“The biggest challenge for the next government will be to frame a comprehensive policy to tackle militancy and control the appalling spiral of violence,” said Farzana Shaikh, of the independent policy unit Chatham House, in London.

She added: “This is as much a political issue as a law and order problem – in other words, no attempt to negotiate politically with militant groups will amount to much without a concerted effort to strengthen law enforcement  and the justice system to protect the lives of ordinary citizens.”

Economy

Many voters will be driven to the polls by a fear of a bleak economic future. Mr Sharif’s appeal is centred on his business success, and as someone who might able to revive Pakistan’s stuttering economy. His rival Imran Khan has assembled an economic team that he says will carry out structural reforms that Pakistan badly needs: collecting tax, creating jobs, and investing in skills and education.

Both Mr Sharif and Mr Khan would also like to improve trade with India. During President Zardari’s administration, steps were taken to boost ties within the region but were met with stiff resistance. The next government may benefit from a broader consensus to smooth cross-border commerce.

The next government will also likely try and cull the bloated public sector. Mr Zardari’s government had over-staffed poor performing state monopolies with political loyalists. Mr Sharif’s is keen on privatisation and may cull jobs there before selling large chunks off to wealthy Gulf investors.

Corruption

President Zardari has repeatedly been accused of corruption, to the extent that despite his repeated insistence that he is innocent he has earned the nickname of Mr Ten Per Cent. His PPP government sacrificed a prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, to stop the  Supreme Court asking the Swiss authorities to reopen inquiries against him. When Mr Gilani was ousted, his replacement was a man also facing corruption allegations. Imran Khan has seized on the anger over corruption and vowed to get rid of it within 90 days of taking power. His manifesto include a series of measures designed to improve accountability and he says his government would reinvestigate past scandals.

Nawaz Sharif’s manifesto also supports the establishment of an independent body to deal solely with corruption. Yet it is difficult to see how an entrenched culture of patronage can be magically swept away so easily.

“From the highest leaders to the lowest leaders, they are all corrupt,” claimed Ayaz Khattak, a shopkeeper in Bara Koh, a village between Islamabad and Murree. “If the government approves 100,000 rupees for the village, then the villagers will see none of it. There is not justice in Pakistan.”

US and Afghanistan

The next Pakistani government will have to manage the transition in Afghanistan as US troops withdraw next year, while at the same time, trying to distance itself from Washington. After relations between the two fractious allies have dropped to an all-time low, both Mr Sharif and Mr Khan have said they’d like to pull Pakistan out of “America’s war” if they come to power.

Neither Mr Sharif nor Mr Khan would like to sever relations. Both men realise that Pakistan will need to work with the US in the future but they are reluctant to pursue a close relationship against the backdrop of heightened anti-American sentiment. Pakistan would like to play an instrumental role in negotiating a postwar settlement in Afghanistan, securing its interests there while diminishing Indian influence.

The recently departed government of President Zardari was seen as too reliant on Washington’s support and its largesse. A big theme of the recent campaign has been the emphasis on Pakistan needing a foreign policy of its own and kicking its habitual craving for foreign aid. Both Mr Khan and Mr Sharif are also likely to press for an end to the controversial CIA drone strikes in the tribal areas.

Three-way race: The party leaders

Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz

He has twice served as Prime Minister, though he failed to complete a full term. When he was last premier he fell to a coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shabhaz, Chief Minister of Punjab, are supportive of industry and commerce and have the support of traders. If elected, Mr Sharif would be likely to improve relations with India, where he is considered reasonably favourably. While his administrations were marred by corruption allegations, he also oversaw several “mega” construction projects.

Imran Khan

Movement for Justice

The cricket legend has seen his fortunes wax and wane. In recent weeks, his “tsunami” has gathered force again on the back of thousands of young supporters who have demanded a new politics for the nation. Imran Khan says he will try to end US drone strikes and negotiate with the Taliban. He benefits from his reputation both as the country’s most celebrated cricketer and someone considered corruption-free. Running as an outsider he has attracted the anti-incumbency vote. But it is unclear whether Mr Khan can translate huge support into votes for his candidates.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Pakistan People’s Party

The son and heir of President Asif Ali Zardari and the murdered former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he is chairman of the governing PPP, but too young to stand for parliament until September. Asif Ali Zardari, whose term as President ends in September, is unpopular, The party is condemned for failing to generate jobs, provide adequate electricity or gas supplies or do enough to tackle militancy. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has kept a low profile, but his face now adorns campaign posters.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Travel
travelPurrrfect jet comes to Europe
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch attends the London premiere of his new film The Imitation Game
people He's not as smart as his characters
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities