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Money woes cloud Pakistan’s infrastructure boom hopes.

Summary: Lahore: Pakistanis are hoping their new prime minister
will roll out high-profile projects that became …

Lahore: Pakistanis are hoping their new prime minister will roll
out high-profile projects that became his party’s trademark in its
political heartland of Punjab, but the nation’s dire finances
threaten the optimism. The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) won huge
popularity and a reputation for getting things done with a series of
big-ticket schemes over the past five years in Punjab, the
country’s richest, most populous province. A metro bus system in
the provincial capital Lahore — the first such scheme in the
country’s 65-year history — free laptops and solar energy panels
for students and a network of high-quality schools in poor rural areas
made Punjab the envy of Pakistan. In the campaign for the May 11 general
election, PML-N leader and now Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his
younger brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, promised similar
schemes for the whole country. After five years of listless government
under the Pakistan People’s Party (
PPP

), voters responded to the
promise of action and handed the party a majority. In Lahore, the Metro
Bus which opened in February has revolutionised travel around the city,
a traffic-clogged
mishmash
  
n.
A collection or mixture of unrelated things; a hodgepodge.


[Middle English misse-masche, probably reduplication of mash, soft mixture; see mash.
 of colonial-era buildings, cheap housing and
newer, more upmarket suburbs. The 27-station network of buses running on
dedicated lanes and elevated roadways, run by a Turkish company and
carrying 120,000 passengers a day, was built at a cost of 30 billion
rupees ($300 million). Terminals offer a computerised fare system and
commuters can use smart cards to avoid the hassle of queueing — a
welcome use of technology in a bureaucratic land where paperwork,
preferably in triplicate, is still king. Hira Farhat, a pharmacy student
at the University of Punjab, was delighted with the service.
“It’s comfortable and quicker than other
means of transport

.
It has cooling system and takes me to my university in 15 minutes. The
government must start it in other cities also,” she said. The PML-N
has promised to take the metro bus to Karachi, the largest city and
economic heart of Pakistan, and the capital Islamabad. Nawaz’s
first speech in his third term as PM last week was strong on talk of
investment in infrastructure, particularly a road and rail network to
link northern neighbour China to the southwestern port of Gwadar,
recently taken over by Beijing. “All development projects will be
completed before the completion of our five-years term so that people
can get the fruits,” said Sharif. But populist projects do not come
cheap and Pakistan is in a dire financial predicament, with a fiscal
deficit in 2012 of 8.5 percent of
GDP
 (guanosine diphosphate): see guanine.
 and growth in 2013 forecast at 3.5
percent — half what economists say is needed to absorb the growing
young population into the workforce. More pressingly,
foreign exchange
reserves

 are dwindling, to just $6.6 billion in late May, or less than
two months’ export cover, down from $11.3 billion a year earlier.

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