The present state of affairs has an adverse bearing on foreign and security policies
The fast deteriorating political and economic situation of the country is a matter of deep concern and should be given the highest priority by the leadership, but the lust for power and petty politics seem to take precedence. What is most disturbing is that there is no serious discussion in the parliament to resolve differences and finding solutions to intricate national problems that are taking a devastating toll on the broad masses. Senior PTI members have approached foreign diplomats and ambassadors giving details of specific incidents and political victimisation to garner their support, hoping that this would restrain the government. Imran Khan is going a step further wanting to refer the matter to the UN Secretary General. This is a clear admission by the leader of the largest political party that Pakistan is a failed state unable to govern or resolve differences on its own.
The way the major political parties have grouped together in opposition to the PTI with the tacit support of the army leadership should be a matter of serious introspection. This mutual lack of distrust and inimical relations between the government and the opposition is a reflection of deep personalisation of politics.
Of course, this is not to ignore the crux of the present crisis that lies in the PMLN-led coalition trying to avoid elections as long as it can. For it knows that it has scant support among the people and not much to offer. The irony is that this is the same party whose present leader once came out with the popular slogan ‘Give respect to vote’. Now that it is on the other side of the aisle, its memory has faded and conscience conveniently suppressed. The army despite its professions of staying away from politics has been PML-N’s main prop as it is amenable to its guidelines while PTI programmes and policies are at variance with its thinking. Moreover, PTI having developed a broad support base considers it no longer necessary to use a prop to retain power. This reflects that nothing changes in Pakistan, only the actors are different with the same agenda, and worst of all, fast deteriorating values. Moreover, these are a symptom of deeper and complex dysfunction within the civil-military divide. Several steps have to be taken in the short and long term to build mutual respect and confidence between civil and military leaderships.
The present state of affairs has an adverse bearing on foreign and security policies. Pakistan’s leadership must also realise that when the internal situation of the country deteriorates, friends and foes reassess the present nature of their relationship. The attitude of our traditional friends was lukewarm in committing financial assistance unless the IMF deal is finalised. From several perspectives, stabilising Pakistan’s economy should be accorded the highest priority. This will facilitate efforts to ensure good governance and improve security.
For how long the people of Pakistan will remain at the mercy of a leadership that prioritises self to group and national interests. The hopes of the people are under increasing threat as the present hybrid leadership is rejecting pluralism, a basic tenant of democracy and good governance. It is not only the politician but also the media personnel that are critical and take an independent position are subjected to severe criticism and even physical violence. This is certainly not the Pakistan that the Quaid ever visualised.
It is hardly surprising that the IMF is imposing host of conditions to release the desperately awaited tranches. And our friends and benefactors — China and the rich Middle East kingdoms — are playing the waiting game and would come forward only after the IMF nod. And the IMF is demanding that Pakistan seek an assurance of assistance from these countries before it finalises the deal.
In this scenario the government has practically left it to the military leadership to handle the serious internal and external security challenges that the country is facing. The security situation on the Afghan border has deteriorated as TTP and other hostile groups have intensified their activities, with incidents of attacks in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan on the rise. The relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan that improved after the capture of power by Taliban have frequently run into trouble. Pakistan leadership expects that the Taliban government cooperate fully to prevent TTP and its affiliates from using Afghan space to conduct attacks on its territory. Unless the security situation improves, the full potential of trade between the two countries cannot be realised. Moreover, it is only logical to assume that once political and security relationship is placed on a sound footing, Pakistan and Afghanistan can actualise their potential to serve as a corridor to Central Asia and westward.
On the eastern border, Pakistan’s weaknesses provide PM Narendra Modi greater space for fully absorbing Kashmir and mistreat minorities. International respect of a country goes down when it is unable to have a self-sustaining economy and its politics is unmanageable and democratic credentials questionable. A recent article in The New York Times, though essentially focused on Modi’s build-up of his personality cult and authoritarianism, found space to remind the readers of the plight of present Pakistan. It cited the time when in 1977, General Zia seized power and engineered a wave of conservative Muslim nationalism that still tears Pakistan apart. It further warned Modi just look next door “at the sad shambles of today’s Pakistan”. When we hear or read such derogatory remarks, it deeply hurts us but regrettably, we are providing these critics ample material to demonise us.
Taking cognizance of the serious nature of challenges that Pakistan faces, the PML-N leadership should announce a firm date for elections soonest possible. The present coalition is not structured or in a position to govern the country effectively and steer it from the multiple crises. If it tries to drag on, it will take the country further downhill making the task more difficult for the next government to manage.