ISLAMABAD – National elections come at a time of widespread despair in Pakistan, as the country suffers from faltering economic growth, worsening energy shortages and continued attacks by militants.
FALTERING ECONOMIC GROWTH: The economy has grown at less than 4 percent a year under the most recent government, which was led by the Pakistan People's Party and governed for five years. That is much lower than the rates during the previous administration, which at times hovered near 7 percent. Under the most recent government, inflation spiked, reaching an annualized rate of around 25 percent in some months. However, the inflation rate has fallen and averaged around 11 percent last year.
ENERGY SHORTAGES: Electricity shortages nearly doubled under the PPP compared with the previous administration. Some places in Pakistan suffer blackouts for up to 18 hours a day during summer months. The country also has experienced increased shortages of natural gas, which were felt acutely during the winter because many people rely on natural gas to heat their homes as well as cook. Spending on energy subsidies and failing public enterprises has helped sap the government's funds, which are much lower than they should be because of ineffective tax collection. The combination of these factors means the government will likely have to seek yet another unpopular bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
TALIBAN ATTACKS: The military has launched numerous operations against the Pakistani Taliban in the country's northwest tribal region along the Afghan border during the past five years. Analysts say the operations and U.S. drone attacks against militants in the tribal region have helped produce a significant decline in overall levels of violence in 2011 and 2012. But the Taliban have remained a potent threat, including during the election campaign. The group carried out near-daily attacks against election candidates and offices that killed more than 120 people. The militants mostly targeted liberal secular parties that supported operations against the Taliban. Sectarian violence by radical Sunni Muslim militants against minority Shiites also has significantly worsened in recent months.