Can 2018 be any different?| Talat Masood

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As the year comes to a close and the new year is about to dawn live nations both at the personal and national level retrospect for what they have achieved and what they lost during the year. More importantly, they resolve to work for a better if not a glorious future. And wiser leaders like the present Chinese leadership take a longer perspective stretching over decades.

For the last several years, Pakistan has had its ups and downs and this year was no exception as it remained largely in a state of crisis. What then is preventing us from coming out of this endless crisis and what would take Pakistan to be a normal and prosperous state? Do our people not deserve a better future? Why is it that the two civilian governments in succession and before that the military rulers were unable to unlock the vast human and resource potential of this nation? These are some of the basic questions that we need to address.

First and foremost the responsibility for steering the nation on the path of stability and prosperity rests in a democratic milieu with the political leadership. In our context for reasons well known this onerous obligation falls on the military leadership as well.

Security in the foreseeable future will remain a central challenge but this responsibility has to be shared by the civilian government with the armed forces. More importantly, the National Action Plan needs to be taken seriously and its implementation monitored periodically. The security situation has improved considerably, but a more consistent and widespread effort is needed. Incidents of terrorism continue to bedevil Fata, K-P and Balochistan resulting in loss of armed forces personnel and civilians.

Pakistan’s future security prospects will also depend on how our political and civil society leaders live up to the vision of its founding fathers. Regrettably, the vision of political leaders and their party policies remains myopic and excessively personalised. In addition, pressure of militant groups and religio-political parties promoting the concept of a theocratic state is increasing and there is hardly any check. Meanwhile, the leadership of main political parties is focusing aggressively on personal humiliation of opponents. This trend has a severe down side as it encourages deep cleavages in society.

Imran Khan’s crusade against corruption needs to be appreciated. But when it is used excessively to destroy the image of the opponent and less to achieve institutional strength to tackle the genuine menace of corruption it becomes counterproductive. The general discourse of politicians is primarily focused on undermining the other party and its leadership rather than bettering their own image through good governance and better leadership.

Nawaz Sharif to wipe the stigma of corruption is dragging the PML-N to defend him politically. Instead, he should be fighting his legal battles in courts so that the party does not suffer.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Abbasi despite his fairly impressive performance has to lean on Nawaz Sharif as real power resides in him.

An interesting characteristic of Prime Minister Abbasi is that he can interact with the military with far greater ease and subtlety than his predecessor. It is expected this positivity would be beneficial in bringing greater harmony among state institutions. More significantly, the prime minister has revived functioning of major state institutions and committees that were lying dormant during his predecessor’s period. If this practice is maintained it will contribute towards better governance through greater coordination and cooperation. It should also, hopefully, reduce the gap between the civil and military leadership.

The casual interest of political parties in legislation and perfunctory treatment of certain vital national issues does not speak well of them. Most glaring manifestation of it was lack of serious debate on the current budget even when there is possibility of an impending financial crisis. Lack of interest further exposes poor state management. Fortunately, despite these lapses economic fundamentals remain strong.

The standing committees of the National Assembly and the Senate need to be more active in future. These have a critical role of exercising oversight and monitoring the working of relevant ministries. Apart from the Public Accounts Committee and a few others most of them remained dormant or underutilised.

The current emphasis of political parties on holding large public meetings to impress the electorate is not enough. Cavalier attitude of Imran Khan and certain parliamentarians towards Parliament undermines the very basis of democracy. Nawaz Sharif has remained equally dismissive of Parliament if his attendance is any indicator. Politicians fail to comprehend that if they are interested in empowering themselves then they will have to strengthen Parliament. Improved governance and interest in legislative business is the only way of gaining the confidence of the people. It would also speed up the process of correcting the civil-military power imbalance.

The military in Pakistan is engaged in activities that go far beyond the normal functions of armed forces. This has been the result of several contributing factors that have been widely discussed. Apart from defending external borders from hostile neighbours, they are performing more or less on a permanent basis security duties in Karachi, Balochistan and Fata. They are protecting polio workers, engaged in conducting census, creating and managing housing societies, running educational institutions, hospitals, industries, agricultural farms, banks and a central role in CPEC. And the list is long. Indeed, their contribution in nation-building is commendable but the flip side is that civil institutions are taking a back seat. It is time that they shared the burden of the military as well.

If our leadership is sincere about changing course then it will have to formulate domestic and foreign policies that are compatible with genuine national interests. It must shed the past of elite-based patronage politics to performance-oriented criterion. And strengthen economy that serves the interest of its people and is self-sustaining. It is only then will Pakistan be able to live up to the dream of its founding father and the expectations of the vast majority of its people.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2017.

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