Options for 2021 By Ahsan Iqbal

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One big lesson from the political and economic history of Pakistan is that ad-hoc and inorganic political arrangements are destined to fail sooner or later.

The latest example is the hybrid regime of the PTI government which has created instability, chaos and crisis in the country. The current political and economic crisis in Pakistan is aptly captured by this quote from Gramsci: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born”.

Despite unprecedented and unconditional support from all key stakeholders of the state, the PTI’s hybrid regime has miserably failed on three most important accounts: governance; economy; and foreign policy.

In the interest of time and space, I will share four quick facts about these three factors. One, according to Transparency International and the PTI’s own legislatures, corruption – the key mantra of Mr Imran Khan – has increased manifold in Pakistan since he came into power. Two, according to the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) Report, Pakistan’s ranking became worse under the PTI’s government.

Three, the ADB has projected that Pakistan’s economic growth will be one of the lowest, with highest inflation in the region in the coming years – dropping from near six percent in 2017-18. The country has been loaded with non-productive Rs11 trillion debt in just two years. Moreover, Pakistan has one of the highest rates of food inflation compared to other countries in the region – and for the first time the country will be importing wheat, sugar and cotton. Due to incompetence and corruption, hundreds of billions have been lost in scandals like the LNG, sugar and wheat crises, BRT Peshawar etc. Four, Pakistan’s relation with its allies and brotherly countries have become uneasy to say the least due to the PTI’s foreign policy blunders; Pakistan has faced an unimaginable diplomatic fiasco in the shape of the annexation of Occupied J&K by India.

Now imagine if a PML-N government were engaged in such incompetence and blunders – all hell would have been let loose on the government from forces visible and not so visible in a chaos caused by a confusion of national interests with vested interests. Unlike the PTI government, another government would not have been given a free pass on such a dismal performance on governance, economy and foreign policy.

Only if Pakistan was allowed to function as a normal state with supremacy of the constitution in letter and spirit, it would have become a prosperous, pluralistic and democratic country as envisioned by our founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah within a few decades without facing the tragedy of 1971. It is said that even if everything is lost, the future still remains. It is never too late. The Lahore Declaration signed by the PDM parties on December 14, 2020 provides the nation the pathway to becoming Jinnah’s Pakistan.

History has shown repeatedly that no single institution enjoys absolute power nor can it run the state alone. This is partly due to the vibrant, dynamic and resistant nature of political and civil society in Pakistan which does not accept absolutism. Opposition parties, the PML-N in particular, have already paid a hefty price for rejecting the current absolutist rule. The root cause of weak democracy in Pakistan lies in the role of a few vested interests unwilling to let go of power and privilege. But the main line of attack by the critics of the political culture is that the dismal condition of democracy and underdevelopment in Pakistan is due to two main factors: lack of ‘internal democracy’ in big political parties; and corruption and bad-governance by civilian governments.

Let’s assume for a moment that these two accusations are fair characterization. But then isn’t dynastic politics prevalent across India and Bangladesh? Aren’t elected governments accused of corrupt practices and misgovernance in India and Bangladesh? Yes, and yes. That proves at least one thing. The underlying cause of weak democracy and underdevelopment in Pakistan is not primarily the ‘unwanted’ characteristics of our political parties per se because then India and Bangladesh would have been in the same boat as Pakistan. In fact, political parties in India and Bangladesh are considered worse than Pakistan and yet India never had a military coup, and in the past few decades both India and Bangladesh have achieved enormous economic growth and success under elected civilian governments.

Given Pakistan’s geo-strategic and security needs, the establishment has an important role to play which must be acknowledged. Therefore, on every major security and national issue of the country, the PML-N government (2013-18) did not shrink from its responsibility arising out of that acknowledged fact. This was particularly evident during Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad with the provision of maximum support for capability building. Whatever issue it takes, and gravely so, with the 2018 elections, the PML-N has not lagged behind in its concerns with national security issues. Indeed, all institutions must operate in harmony and within the constitutional ambit. A desire on the part of any to assume the role of supreme actor serves no one, and certainly not the country.

On the contrary, PM Imran Khan remained trapped in his own narcissism and did not like to engage with opposition parties even when India violated our air space and Modi annexed Kashmir. The PM has championed a narrative that anyone and everyone opposing him is corrupt and a traitor. Victimisation of the opposition and the media has become a norm. In any normal, democratic country such behaviour would be difficult to justify but Mr Imran Khan can defend his attitude by claiming that he is on the right side of power.

At the same time, all democratic forces – whether regional or national – have been forced to join hands on the PDM platform to protect democracy and constitution in the country. We as a nation need to learn one lesson from the success of our friend China: economic development is the only way forward, and it requires political stability, social solidarity and certainty. Given Pakistan’s unique conditions, this can only be achieved via constitutional rule and free and fair elections. Nothing short of this can restore stability in the political economy and faith in our institutions.

As we enter 2021, we have two options: to persist with a path of high polarisation and increasing political temperatures – which will further accentuate our economic crisis – or to adopt the course of finding political solutions and stability through a fair and free election.

Though some may say elections are not possible under the pandemic, there appears to be only one problem in this simple and logical choice. If assemblies don’t last five years as compared to the previous two tenures, it will be seen as an admission of failure of those who were quite invested in what has been called by some commentators as ‘the current experiment’. But this approach may lead to even bigger problems. The interest of Pakistan has to be put supreme.

The US has been hit way worst by Covid-19 than Pakistan. Yet, in the midst of the raging pandemic, the US had a general election where more than 150 million people voted. Not to mention, thousands and thousands of people marched into the streets against racial injustices under the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Destiny is all about the choices we make personally and collectively. Only a stable, united and peaceful Pakistan can deliver the promise of prosperity and security, a victory for politicians, judiciary, civil-military bureaucracy, media, private sector, civil society and the people alike.

The writer is an MNA andformer minister for interior, planning, development and

reforms.

Email: betterpakistan@gmail. com