With the advent of the new year, everyone wonders or expects that things will get better and not worse. So far we have had a mixed bag in 2017. The national census was a disappointment but in other areas, like the fight against polio, there have been gains. Politically there has been much confusion but in terms of the economy, the country has done reasonably well.
But what does 2018 hold for us? To begin with, this is an election year. This means lots of activity – dharnas, rallies and maybe unrest. While it is being decided over the weekend in Saudi Arabia as to who our next prime minister will be, the whole electoral exercise is not meaningless.
Political pundits have said that the religious parties will emerge stronger while mainstream parties will suffer at the polls. It is also too early to bet on who will be forming the next government.
The question of course to ask would be what mandate will the new government have? So far it seems that the government may end up being a fractured coalition where political compromises and u-turns may be the order of the day. Should this happen, things can go from bad to worse.
The economy will continue to survive but at the same time the government will avoid taking unpopular but financially prudent decisions. This would mean a rise in the budget deficit and higher government borrowing. The rupee will remain under pressure and concede ground to the US dollar. This will mean higher prices for imported goods. Petrol prices are also expected to rise gradually on the back of rising international prices.
The real estate sector will continue to boom. Pakistanis will continue to invest in this sector both domestically as well abroad. The flight of capital, unfortunately, will remain a problem in 2018.
In terms of foreign investment, CPEC will continue to remain a mystery to most Pakistanis. No major projects are expected to start work from the CPEC in the year and the extent of what the government has signed and committed to the Chinese under the CPEC continues to remain under wraps.
Relations with both India and the US will worsen in 2018. Despite efforts at back-channel diplomacy, no real headway has been made with New Delhi. It is unclear how long the deadlock will continue. With the US, President Donald Trump will tighten screws on Pakistan with regards to what it sees as patronage of certain outfits. It will remain a troubled relationship but at the same time the two countries will continue to talk to each other.
Press and personal freedoms will also be a challenge in 2018. Press freedom has been undermined by political and economic censorship as well as self-censorship by the media which has been bullied by a number of quarters. Cyber freedom also remains a question for many. The government will be unable to address issues that relate to hate-speech more so because much of this is in the courts.Personal freedoms, too, despite being in a democratic dispensation, remain a grey area for many.
Despite all this, the year will be a good one for most Pakistanis, barring any major environmental or other disasters. In many ways the country remains on a strong footing and it is expected that the agriculture sector will perform above expectations.
Terrorism is another area where gains have been made. As the Pakistan Army mops up operations in the tribal areas, there is hope that terrorist activity will be reduced in most places. At the same time, there are fears that intolerance in society will continue to grow as it has become a tool used by certain rightist elements.
With a new government in power, it is expected that new initiatives and directions will be announced. This could also include reforms in the education and health sector.
In terms of technology, Pakistan continues to progress by leaps and bounds. The most recent landmark achieved has been that the number of smartphones in the country have exceeded the number of television sets. This has far reaching implications for both the media and for media consumption.
In many ways, 2018 will be much more of the same in comparison to the previous year. But with a change in government, much can change. A lot depends on who ends up leading the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2018.
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Original news : https://tribune.com.pk/story/1597637/1-2018-holds-us/