by Chen Peng
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- The year 2013 witnessed the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan's 66-year history while the newly elected government is facing a series of challenges in reviving the country.
The democratically elected Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government completed its five-year tenure on March 16. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secured majority in the National Assembly in May 11 general election and Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister for the third time.
Among the serious challenges the PML-N government faces are severe power shortage, crumbling economy, rampant terrorist violence and strained ties with the United States over drone strikes.
RESCUING STAGNANT ECONOMY
The failure of overcoming the power woes is a main reason of the PPP's crushing defeat in the general election. Power shortage could reach 6000 MW, about one third of daily power demand in summer. As a result, Pakistan could barely attract foreign investment.
It was in his first policy address after assuming office that Sharif promised his government would overcome the chronic menace of load-shedding as top priority of its economic reviving strategy.
A number of measures have been taken by the PML-N government to realize its goal of "load-shedding free" Pakistan. The government had paid off 503 billion rupees (4.73 billion U.S. dollars) circular debt in energy sector despite financial constraint and electricity generation increased by 1700 MW, which effectively relieved the load-shedding. An aggressive campaign was launched against power and gas theft, which cost the country 150- 250 billion rupees (1.41-2.35 billion dollars) annually and exacerbated the power crisis. The construction of several large power projects speeded up and 3367 MW power is likely to be added to the national grid by 2014, according to the power minister.
Furthermore, the government successfully signed an extended fund facility (EFF) program worth 6.68 billion dollars with International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September, which aimed to help the cash-starved country prevent a balance of payments crisis.
The country's economic (GDP) growth in the first quarter of the current fiscal year (July-September) increased to 5 percent from 2.9 percent in the same period of last year, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Dec. 19, adding that the government wants to pick up the growth rate to 6 percent over the next four years.
CARROT-AND-STICK POLICY TOWARD MILITANTS
Sharif said in September that the country had suffered a lot with the killing of over 40,000 people and huge financial losses due to terrorism over past decade.
In order to end the bloodshed, the PML-N government invited political and religious leaders to find a solution to the aftermath of the U.S.-led war on terror to which Pakistan has made the great sacrifice. On Sept. 9, the All Parties Conference unanimously asked the government to hold peace dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban militants which responded well to the goodwill gesture.
Meanwhile, the government launched a "targeted operation" in the southern port city of Karachi against terrorists, target killers, kidnappers and extortionists, who had badly disturbed business activities in the country's economic hub. According to official statistics, 83 criminals had been killed and 12,543 suspects arrested in raid since September.
The government's carrot-and-stick policy improved the security situation as the number of attacks and the death toll from such incidents dropped markedly.
In November, only 40 people were killed in bomb attacks, equivalent to one fourth of the average monthly number in the first half of the year.
However, the government's efforts to tame the militants could suffer severe setback after the Pakistani Taliban chief was killed in a U.S. drone attack on a militants hideout in northwestern Pakistan's restive tribal region on Nov. 1.
STRAINED RELATIONSHIP WITH U.S.
The U.S. killing of Hakimullah Mehsud took place when the government's delegation was about to launch peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, prompting Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan to accuse Washington of murdering the peace and Islamabad's peace efforts.
Although the government vowed to pursue peace talks with the militant group, the Pakistani Taliban immediately reversed the dialogue plan and pledged to revenge the killing after naming hardline commander Mullah Fazlullah as their new leader. The appointment of Fazlullah could signal the start of a new period of uncertainty and violence in the already unstable country.
Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ruling party in Pakistan's northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have blocked a main supply route through Pakistan for NATO-led troops in Afghanistan since Nov. 23 to protest against U.S. drone strikes, which reminded of the rift between the two anti-terrorism allies from late 2011 to mid-2012.
Islamabad has been opposed to the deeply unpopular drone strikes as violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. However, the U.S. utterly refuses to halt the air raid on suspected militants.
Over 2,200 people, including around 70 civilians, have been killed in more than 300 U.S. drone attacks since 2008, according to official figures. In 2013, the U.S. has launched at least 25 drone strikes and killed more than 120 people.
Moreover, with all NATO-led troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Pakistan-U.S. row over U.S. tough position may have a negative impact on the war on terror and Afghan peace and reconciliation process in which Pakistan plays a key role.
Pakistan's relationship with the U.S., its main benefactor, is extremely important for the country. However, their ties will probably endure stern test in the year ahead.