It has been one year since Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in Pakistan. The coup was welcomed by many Pakistanis who had grown weary of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his increasingly corrupt rule. The rest of the world was more wary, although many countries were willing to tolerate the new government in hopes that it might make a new start for Pakistan. It has been a disappointing year. Although Mr. Musharraf has proven to be the most benevolent dictator in Pakistan’s history, he has not tackled the problems that forced him — so he says — to take the reins of government. It is time to prod the general to do just that.
The problems are daunting. The economy is anemic. Gross domestic product grew a mere 2.7 percent last year, which barely outpaced the 2.6 percent rise in the population. GDP per capita is only $450; 85 percent of Pakistanis live on less than $2 a day. More than half the population over the age of 15 is illiterate. Infant mortality is 91 per 1,000 live births.
Budget priorities are misplaced. The government spends only 2.7 percent of GDP on education and less than 1 percent on health. Yet it can muster 4 percent for the army, who knows how much for its nuclear weapons program, and 5 percent on the civil service.
Economic reform is badly needed. Spending has to be cut and new revenue sources are needed. That should not be too difficult: In a country of almost 140 million people, only about 1.2 million pay income tax. This spring, the government launched a nationwide survey aimed at identifying new taxpayers and their money, a move that should yield $2 billion in tax revenues. To his credit, Mr. Musharraf has not backed down despite protests by merchants who will be forced to pay taxes for the first time.
Equally important is ending the corruption that rots the society and undermines the government’s legitimacy. Mr. Musharraf said that was one of the main reasons he was forced to take power. Little progress has been made, however. No corruption cases have been brought against former prime ministers, and there are reports of military figures lining their own pockets.
The government will have to act if Pakistan is to get another IMF-bailout package and another rescheduling of its foreign debt, estimated at $32 billion. The IMF suspended a $1.56 billion loan program last year when Mr. Sharif failed to meet targets, including tax reform. With official foreign exchange reserves of $1 billion — foreign experts think they could be only one-third of that — and a current account deficit of $3.8 billion, Pakistan badly needs international assistance to service the $5 billion in debt that is due next year.
Unfortunately for Mr. Musharraf, he has done little on other fronts to win the goodwill he needs. Despite Mr. Sharif’s promises to do so, Pakistan has not yet signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The government’s support for Islamic militants in the disputed Kashmir region has triggered violence between South Asia’s two nuclear powers. India and Pakistan are not even talking to each other. That, as well as other shifts in geopolitics, has pushed the United States, a traditional supporter of Islamabad, closer to India.
There are two steps Mr. Musharraf should take. First, he should sign the CTBT and join the nuclear nonproliferation regime. That would be a real international contribution that would shore up two battered institutions and ease tensions in South Asia. Pakistan’s supporters would have an accomplishment that they could point to as they campaign for help for the government.
Second, Mr. Musharraf must return Pakistan to civilian, democratic rule. Mr. Musharraf promised to restore civilian rule within three years — a deadline agreed to by the country’s supreme court — but he wants to change the political process. Pakistan still resembles a feudal society in many ways, with power concentrated in the hands of a few families. Mr. Musharraf wants to break their grip by holding elections for local governments from December to July; national parties would not be allowed to participate. Only after they are complete would there be national elections.
In a speech this week to mark one year in office, Mr. Musharraf promised to stick to his deadline. He pledged that he would turn power over to a civilian government and would not form his own political party. That is reassuring. But more reassuring still would be progress on that and the other issues. Mr. Musharraf is the fourth military figure to seize power in Pakistan’s 53-year history. His greatest legacy would be ensuring that he is the last.
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