Poising on a Knife Edge

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M Alam Brohi

The speculations swirling around the appointment of the new Chief of the Army before General Qamar Bajwa hangs his gloves on November 29; the onslaught of the PTI on the twin cities three days before this all-important appointment; the looming threat of a bloody terrorist attack on the long march; the back to back meetings of the Finance Minister Ishaq Dar with the President and the party leaders of PDM and the unsettling news of the possibility of the country’s default on its international financial liabilities have put the nation on a knife edge.
The politics have blurred the gravity of the continuous political polarization, the economic morbidity, the increasing audacity of anti-state groups, the deepening cracks in – and the ensuing disability of – the state institutions to uphold the sanctity of their charge and the public service, the unbridled population growth and the growing shrinkage of food security. The overwhelming majority of the population is teetering on the verge of hunger and depravity with the ruling elite engaged in a self-defeating competition of stripping themselves naked in a bizarre blame game. It seems they have confined their wisdom and consciences to the obituary of the inhuman society that we have created over the past 75 years.
The world has been fast changing. New friendships and alignments are in the offing. South Asia is too important to escape pressures, inducements and competition of major powers for regional and international supremacy. The competitive policies of these powers would be fraught with challenges and opportunities for peripheral states. Pakistan occupies a place of utmost geo-political and strategic importance with its strong armed forces, nuclear power, long coastal belt, seaports, economic potential, and vibrant population of 220 million. Over 64 per cent of Pakistanis are younger than 30 and the youth bulge between 15 and 29 years aggregates at 29 per cent. This huge number of people of working age is an asset to any country while the youth bulge poses a formidable challenge to the country in view of our economic stagnation. It is the opportune time to put our house in order now. Time and the tide of regional and international changes would not wait for us.
We embarked on a different political and economic path soon after our independence which we could have afforded to tread on for some years but not all the precious decades of our independence. Our long-term economic dependence on our Western patrons adversely impacted our life, thoughts, policies and planning for the future. We became a swaggering nation of ostentatious and careless spenders steeply embedded in luxurious life oblivious to our economic and financial constraints. Our foreign and security policies remained pegged to western interests seeking the role of a rented state with a political system regularly gerrymandered by the establishment in collaboration with the ever-willing selfish and shameless elite with a thin veneer of representative governance.
No political leadership was allowed to grow and all other state institutions were reduced to peripheral roles to the peril of the common man. What we have now is a glaring imbalance among the state institutions with the constitutional boundaries getting blurred with every passing year. These conditions have landed us in a paradoxical situation with reduced chances to redraw the lines and restitute the constitutional purview of each institution unless the powerful ones volunteer to end their unlawful encroachment on the jurisdiction of others. They have to do this to take out the country from the current deepening administrative and governance impasse. The current political crisis has presented our political leadership with an opportune and momentous occasion to join heads together and work out a charter of economic, democratic and other reforms.
One honestly feels that snap polls are the only viable resolution to this political logjam. The PDM has a misplaced fear of political decimation at the hands of PTI if elections are held earlier than the term of the current Assemblies. The PDM may have difficulty in snap polls but it would not give a walkover to the PTI. The last by-elections showed that PDM has not lost much of its vote bank. The votes the PDM candidates polled in opposition to Imran Khan were quite impressive. In the general elections, Mr Khan would not be the candidate for all seats. The more they dilly dally in holding elections, the more electoral appeal they will lose owing to their failure to bring down the inflation, control the surging dollar, reduce the deepening gap in the current account deficit, attract direct foreign investment and provide relief to the common man. This would damage their credibility as efficient administrators.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is hamstrung by his call of duty and his elder brother’s ambition of holding tightly the political strings through the party. He remains diffident, indecisive and subdued rushing on every other occasion to London at the cost of the country to seek the blessing of the senior Sharif for any important political and administrative decision. This is a unique practice setting a very bad precedence in the chequered political history of the country. The senior Sharif, convicted by the courts of the country, rightly or wrongly, in two corruption cases, and a fugitive of the law, has no right to govern the country by proxy keeping his brother Prime Minister under pressure. Is all this going down well with the people of Pakistan and their friends of the country abroad? I don’t think so unless we resort to our old habit of burying our heads in the sand and believing nobody does see us.
What political mileage they would gain by muddling through political and economic uncertainty with this nation poised on the knife edge? No political dividends. Remaining in power despite the people’s expressed desire for snap elections exacerbates the burden of incumbency, particularly when there is this formidable economic challenge confronting the country. Countries hold general elections in quick succession to break political logjams. We witnessed this scenario in Israel.