As Pakistan’s current democratically elected government enters its fifth year in office and as it begins to prepare itself and the country for the next general elections, it is legitimate to take a good look at the situation which prevails today. These are troubled times in Pakistan. The economy is slipping; Pakistan is now the sick man of South Asia. If the current trends continue, after having been overtaken by Bangladesh — whose GDP growth rate is now twice as high as that of Pakistan — the country may well become the poorest in the subcontinent. The budget presented on May 30 covering the 2012-13 financial year did not address the issue of the loss in growth momentum. Nor did it promise the long overdue structural reforms needed to restore health to the economy. In the absence of serious structural reforms, the faltering economy is not likely to regain balance.
The country has become progressively isolated. It has lost the affection — and most certainly the respect — of what the present government once called the “Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP)”. For a while, the FoDP worked as a quasi-formal association, discussing how to aid a friend in distress. While not much new finance flowed into the country from this source, its support resulted in a conditionality-mild but resource-rich program devised by the International Monetary Fund. The main purpose of the IMF programme was to help Pakistan recover from the poor state in which the economy was left by the military government. But Islamabad was not able to meet the gentle conditionality of the program and let it lapse even when billions of dollars remained undisbursed. There is now talk of going back to the Fund so that the country remains current with foreign obligations.
There is an insurgency on the country’s border with Afghanistan. The government’s writ never ran in the tribal areas but now a large military presence is needed to keep the militants operating in the area confined to their geographic space. On many occasions, the militants from the tribal belt have struck devastating blows in the country’s major cities. They have not spared the large military establishments, including the headquarters of the army in Rawalpindi and a naval base in Karachi. The size of the force stationed in this part of the country to prevent the insurgency from slipping into other areas almost matches the size deployed in the eastern border with India.
Pakistan will face additional security problems as the Americans begin to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan. They are committed to completing the process by the end of 2014 and it is hard to predict how this will affect Pakistan. The country may not be able to protect itself if the result in Afghanistan is another civil war of the type that tore it apart following the departure of the troops from the Soviet Union.
There is violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the centre of commerce and finance. The city has exploded with violence twice during the tenure of the current government. The city’s fragile political system is not able to settle the differences among the three major ethnic groups that are roughly balanced in terms of their size. There are groups working in Balochistan, the country’s largest province in terms of geographic size, hoping to move their province towards greater autonomy, if not towards independence.
There was an expectation that when the democratically elected government replaced military rule in March 2008, it would uphold the rule of law. That was the spirit behind the Charter of Democracy signed on May 14, 2006 in London by the leaders of the two main political parties. One of these, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, joined the leaders of the lawyers’ movement to bring back to the bench some of the independent-minded judges who had been removed by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s fourth military president. Back in their positions, the revived judiciary did what it was expected to do — it acted independently. It held the functionaries of the government, even those in high positions, accountable. But its judgments and orders were largely ignored. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, convicted of having committed contempt of the Supreme Court, remains in office. The powerful interior minister lost his seat as a result of the Supreme Court’s intervention. According to the law of the land, a person holding dual nationality cannot be a member of parliament. But the minister left his position only for a few hours. He was back in charge of his ministry as an advisor to the prime minister. The list of the problems that the country faces goes on. The state of Pakistan, in other words, is highly troubled.
Why was the promise of 2008, when democracy returned to the country in a stable form, so totally lost? For an answer to this question we should turn to the growing literature on state failure. This subject has received serious attention from a number of scholars as well as development institutions such as the World Bank. In the coming weeks, I will turn to these works to explain what has happened and is happening to Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2012.
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