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Famous imperialist poet and writer Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907. Born in India, he is famous not just for his writing, but also for advocacy of imperialism.

During the Philippine–American War (1899-1902), Kipling wrote a poem The White Man’s Burden, encouraging American annexation and colonisation of the Philippine Islands.

The poem presents imperialism in a way that it’s every white man’s duty to civilise other people, build and rule the empire made on those people’s land, and bear the burden of personal costs endured in completion of a civilising mission.

Since then, the term ‘White Man’s Burden’ has been used as a euphemism.

In Pakistan, the interim government, which is usually supposed to ensure free and fair elections in collaboration with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) while performing day-to-day governmental duties and functions, seems more interested to take on extra burden this time.

Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar takes oath as interim prime minister

The ministers in the caretaker setup, led by Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, are ambitious and want to tackle Pakistan’s ongoing economic turmoil, and even go for policy intervention and economic reforms, a mandate they say was given by the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government. Additionally, Pakistan is currently enrolled in a IMF programme, albeit a shorter one, which makes it their responsibility to continue with reforms promised by the previous government.

What does a caretaker government do?

The Constitution of Pakistan defines some duties and limitations of the caretaker government.

As per the Chapter XIV of the Elections Act 2017 (before amendments), an interim setup performs its functions to attend to day-to-day matters which are necessary to run the affairs of the government, and assists the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold elections in accordance with law.

The act also explains that the caretaker government cannot take major policy decisions except on urgent matters. It cannot take any decision or make a policy that may have effect or pre-empt the exercise of authority by the future elected government.

The transition of power to some caretakers until a new government is elected is a concept that actually undermines democracy and also discredits both the outgoing government and the election commission.

It shows that the election commission of the country is not adequately independent and powerful that it could hold free and fair elections in presence of a ruling political party or alliance – something we don’t see during elections in our neighboring India, probably ‘Bharat’ soon.

Modi uses ‘Bharat’ for G20 nameplate, not India, amid name-change row

‘Empowered’ interim setup

Before sending of the summary of a premature dissolution of the National Assembly, two decisions, taken in the previous government, raised concerns of a likely delay in the general elections in the country. One was the approval of the results of the new census and the other was to empower the forthcoming caretaker setup take key economic decisions.

A joint parliamentary session on July 26 this year amended Section 230 of the Election Act, 2017.

This gave birth to a powerful interim setup that is now set to take even those decisions which lingered in previous many governments – going for privatisation of the loss-making state-owned enterprises and a major crackdown against smuggling and hoarding are some of them.

It will depend on the next elected government to continue or abandon the initiatives taken by interim setup.

It’s alarming that at least two major political parties have already raised concerns over the caretakers’ economic decisions, especially privatisation of state-owned enterprises such as Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

“The constitution and law did not authorise the caretaker government to take long-term decisions, especially privatisation and sale of national institutions,” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said in a statement issued by its spokesperson Raoof Hasan on Wednesday.

Privatisation process initiated to make govt entities profitable: Fawad

Pakistan People’s Party leader and senator Raza Rabbani pointed out similar concerns in a press statement issued the same day.

“The completion of the process of privatisation of PIA, Islamabad Airport, and other public institutions by the caretaker government, despite the amendment to Section 230, Election Act, 1973, is beyond the law and the Constitution, 1973,” the former Senate chairman said.

Short-term government, long-term goals

President Dr Arif Alvi proposed November 6 as election date, citing that Article 48(5) of the Constitution gives him the authority and mandate to “designate a date not later than ninety days from the date of the dissolution, for the holding of a general election to the Assembly.”

On the other hand, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced that elections to be held in the last week of January 2024.

However, with its rule for a few months, the interim government seemingly has plans that would take years.

As per media reports, caretaker PM Kakar a few days ago sought a five-year economic plan from the Planning ministry. The ministry was also asked to prepare a national economic agenda as a long-term economic direction.

The interim prime minister is currently on a five-day visit to the United States, where he is representing Pakistan in the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Gohar assumes charge with $80bn export goal on mind

Industrialist Gohar Ejaz assumed the charge as Caretaker Federal Minister for Commerce and Industries with an ambitious goal of boosting the country’s export to $80 billion.

It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan’s exports reduced by 12.7% to $27.73 billion in the financial year 2023 from $31.78 billion the previous year despite witnessing massive currency depreciation.

The interim minister has even voiced concerns regarding subsidies granted to state-owned enterprises and vowed his commitment to gradually phasing out the subsidies.

The Commerce minister has announced that he will not accept any remuneration from the government for his services

Another case is the Caretaker Federal Minister for IT and Telecommunication, Dr Umar Saif who despite living in a “fairly dilapidated government accommodation” has revealed a roadmap to attain an annual export target of $10 billion.

Let’s not forget that Pakistan’s IT exports have remained stagnant in FY23 and stood at $2.6 billion, missing the target of $5 billion by almost half.

Umar Saif expresses wish to bring PayPal, stripe payment gateways to Pakistan

He has expressed wish to bring PayPal and stripe payment gateways to Pakistan, but he has yet to propose a plan that how the IT ministry could play a role to ensure free and fair elections in the country.

The final word

The economic conditions in Pakistan have come to a point that the people are crying for relief. They seem less concerned about who is ruling or what type of government is in place, and more about how they’ll pay their exorbitant power bills and meet other rising expenses.

In the given scenario, efforts such as the crackdown on smuggling and hoarding and approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to allow a relief in the electricity bills are to be commended.

But the country desperately needs a five-year elected government to give an end to the political uncertainty that has prevailed for months, and also to deal with key economic matters - bringing foreign investment and inflows from friendly/unfriendly countries to name a few.

Elections in Pakistan have been controversial - be it 2018, 2013, or the previous ones. The losing party or parties sometimes blame the interim government, the ECP, and others.

With less than 20 weeks to the polls (as per the ECP announcement), ensuring free, fair, and timely elections is something the caretaker government should invest all energy on. The rest is just some extra burden.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Rehan Ayub

The writer is a Senior Sub Editor at Business Recorder (Digital)

Comments

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KU Sep 22, 2023 11:51am
The majority of the ministers in the caretaker government have a questionable moral and ethical past, these kinds don’t ever feel extra burden, ever. Let's be practical because the following is a fate unavoidable, ''If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand.'' Milton Friedman
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John Sep 23, 2023 02:54pm
Clowns...clowning around in Paris and NY!
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