As the year comes to a close it is important that we look back and take stock of our strengths and weaknesses and reflect on what holds for the future. With the scope of this being fairly wide I will focus essentially on three major aspects — state of political stability, economic growth and strategic direction. All three are closely interlinked as weakness of the economy has political ramifications and could cause strategic shrinkage, and similarly chaotic politics could undermine the economy and soil the country’s image.
During the past year, national politics remained highly chaotic, largely focusing on personalities and rarely addressing substantive issues. The same was true of the opposition, which led to a marked deterioration in political discourse and a general loss of interest and confidence of the public in the leadership. Business in parliament mostly ended up in chaos and walkouts by the opposition were a common feature. It is evident that political leadership is according a higher priority to public meetings rather than to proceedings of the parliament and its standing committees. The Prime Minister’s barrage of repetitive accusations against the opposition has lost the punch and irrespective of their fidelity fail to make any serious impact. It seems the major focus on the introduction of the Electronic Voting Machines is to ensure the participation in elections of the expatriate community where PTI has an advantage. What does the opposition stand for is equally unclear, apart from accusing Imran Khan of drawing strength from the establishment and its desire to bring the PTI government down? Not realising that the opposition’s focus on exercising street power rather than using the parliament as a major forum only adds to the uncertainty.
Over the years there has been very little change in the power structure of the political parties as their leadership remains essentially dynastic. It seems the people have reconciled to it and the second generation of the Sharifs and Bhuttos is in the transition phase of taking over. The only exception is the PTI top leadership but there are many senior PTI legislators who like in other parties are elected on the basis of patronage rather than performance. It is the democratic culture within the political parties that is a major factor in throwing up the right type of leadership that is broad-based and from the grass-root level. This is not happening, and politics is getting fossilised and the country is being denied its share of good leaders.
During the formative years of Pakistan, the army’s hold on political power was understandable. Political institutions were weak, and the challenges were great. The bureaucracy and military filled the vacuum and played a critical role in stabilising Pakistan. But the continued dominance of state institutions distorts democracy, and political leadership is less interested in people and more focused on state institutions. This has to change in the larger and long-term interest of the country as it is undermining its true potential. The country’s national power and its respect nationally and internationally would considerably enhance if these contradictions were to cease.
During seventy-five years of Pakistan’s existence, successive leadership has failed to develop a self-sustaining economy. Heavy dependence on foreign aid has compromised Pakistan’s independence and made us accept the dictates of donor countries and international monetary agencies. It dilutes the country’s military and strategic power. There is hardly any realisation or effort to overcome this weakness. In fact, successive governments have accepted this as a norm and have been responsible for significantly increasing the country’s debt burden. Another factor that is putting pressure on the economy is the spillover effect of the turbulent conditions in Afghanistan and the situation is unlikely to change in the near future. In all likelihood, it is going to get worse. Prime Minister’s initiative to host the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting was a good move and if the Afghan humanitarian fund reaches the people fast, it would help in alleviating their misery.
India’s unbridled hostility toward Pakistan has a serious economic downside as well. Pakistan is compelled to spend more on defence, and the potential of trade and tourism with India is compromised. The main sufferers of the hostility between the countries have been the people of Kashmir. It is imperative that India and Pakistan talk to each other. There is no getting away from it and Indian intransigence is no solution, it only prolongs the conflict. Indian leadership cannot deflect the Kashmir problem and overlook the suffering of its people by merely blaming Pakistan. Its brutalities are far too obvious to throw a curtain around. The Kashmir tragedy is more the reason for Pakistan and India to start talking. Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed Pakistan’s willingness to engage, it is for India to reciprocate.
Relations with China continue to grow, and the level of mutual trust and interests has clearly expanded over the years. There is a convergence of interests and China’s role in CPEC has added a new dimension to the relationship.
It is expected that work on the next phase of CPEC would commence soon, which would certainly strengthen the foundations of Pakistan’s economy.
Pakistan is equally desirous of having good relations with the US. Prime Minister Imran has repeatedly emphasised the importance of this relationship. In this too the opposition is on board. And Pakistan’s close relations with China should not be a barrier from moving forward in this relationship. The failed US policy in Afghanistan cannot be attributed to Pakistan. It was the result of America’s lack of understanding of Afghan history and the people’s daunting spirit to resist foreign domination even if it means sacrificing their own lives.
Undoubtedly, each of the challenges that Pakistan faces in the political, economic and strategic fields is formidable and daunting enough on its own, but by taking corrective measures and building a consensus, the ability to overcome these challenges lies within our grasp.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2021.