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Pakistan's government resigns, smoothing way towards elections

This is the first time a democratic government has finished its term in the country, which has a history of coups.

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"The economy has never been on the radar of the government. This was the most neglected area," said Ashfaque Hassan Khan, dean of the National University of Sciences and Technology's Business School. He criticized the revolving door of ministers and officials in key economy-related government bodies.

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Many in the government argue that the economy hasn't fared that poorly considering the catastrophic flooding of 2010, security problems that scare off foreign investors and the global economic downturn.

But critics contend the government has failed to address major issues such as restructuring state-owned companies like the national airline, PIA.

And then there are the blackouts.

Pakistanis suffer from rolling blackouts — euphemistically referred to as load shedding — that can last as long as 18 hours a day in the summer. In the winter, natural gas supplies are intermittent at best.

Under the PPP, the government has tried to address the energy crisis by employing so-called rental power projects under which the government imports power stations and links them to the national grid. But the projects have been unable to generate much electricity, and critics say they were just an opportunity for graft.

The PPP insists it is tackling the energy problems. Zardari went to Iran on Monday for a high-profile ground-breaking ceremony on a pipeline intended to bring natural gas from Iran — despite American objections.

One area where the PPP government has invested a lot of time and effort is the rural sector and helping the poor. Welfare programs like the Benazir Income Support Program have handed out small amounts of cash to the country's most impoverished people and given small loans to businesses.

The government has also tried to help rural communities by boosting the price of certain agricultural commodities, although that has contributed to price hikes in urban areas.

The PPP may pay a price for ongoing terror attacks despite five years of military operations against the Pakistani Taliban and likeminded groups in the lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.

Just this year, more than 250 people have been killed in three bombings targeting members of the minority Shiite Muslim sect. Security in Karachi, the country's largest city and economic heart, continues to unravel as political, ethnic and religious wars escalate.

The PPP rose to power after the Dec. 27, 2007 assassination of Bhutto during a rally in Rawalpindi where she railed against terrorism. Her widower, Zardari, vowed to continue that legacy when he took over, but analysts say the government has failed to follow through on that promise.

"I don't think there has been any success in curbing militancy," said Zahid Hussain, whose books record the rise of militancy in Pakistan. "The government has failed to come out with a clear counterterrorism policy."

Pakistani troops have been engaged in near-constant fighting against militants in the country's northwest near the Afghan border since 2009. But in areas like the Swat Valley, where the military drove out the Taliban, the civilian administration has been unable to take over from the military.

At the same time, Pakistan's relationship with its longtime but wary ally, the United States, has gone through some extremely rocky periods.

Zardari and the PPP have always struggled with a domestic perception that they are American stooges — an unpopular position in a country where anti-American sentiment is widespread. The view from Washington, though, has been that Pakistan is not doing enough to combat militancy within its borders.

In response to the U.S. airstrikes that accidentally killed the 24 soldiers in November 2011, the Pakistanis cut off the NATO supply lines for seven months until the U.S. apologized. Relations have slowly improved since then, but politicians remain wary of being seen as too close to Washington as elections loom.

RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Pakistan? Take this quiz.


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