In a democratic country, national elections are supposed to provide its leaders and political parties an opportunity for introspection and renewal. Judging by the current distasteful personalised politics and mutual recrimination, it is unlikely that politicians would have time for serious reflection or discourse on national issues. The electronic media too apart from few exceptions remain deeply engaged in mudslinging and point-scoring rather than raising awareness on serious matters affecting national and local conditions.
The list of issues is wide but in our priorities certain areas clearly demand greater focus. The current state of economy is in dire straits and demands far greater attention by the political parties. The country cannot continue to remain dependent on foreign assistance while our taxation system is unable to generate funds that make us self-reliant. People should be asking which political party is better suited for collecting taxes and what has been the personal record of their leaders in paying personal taxes.
The future of public enterprises is an important subject that needs to be debated thoroughly as it has serious implications for the economy. Both the PPP and PTI are opposed to the government’s plan of privatising PIA and the Steel Mills despite the fact that these and other public holdings have been bleeding this country financially for years. Is this opposition based merely on fetching more votes from disgruntled workers and their families or they have any concrete solution to turn these organisations into profit-earning entities? Going by past records, the PPP government in previous tenures failed miserably in addressing government-owned sick industries. Is there a new plan they have in mind? Has the PTI given a serious thought of how it plans to revive these industries if it came into power? Or is it merely to woo voters and ignore the long-term interest of these organisations and of the country?
What should be of immediate concern is the recent IMF report that states that Pakistan’s net international reserves are already in the negative and servicing loans without foreign assistance would not be possible. This postulation is being corroborated by our reputed economists as well. Whereas the government has its own limitations in facing this crisis for there is not much flexibility it can show in formulating the next national budget, as resource allocations are to be equally divided among three major heads. One-third each would be allocated to defence, repayment of loans and for government expenditure. The country can only come out of this vicious cycle by increasing exports, reducing extraneous expenditures by all government agencies and thereby reducing dependence on foreign loans. There is also a dire need of generating more revenue earnings by better tax collection. Until Pakistan achieves a self-reliant economy it will always be manipulated by foreign powers and independence would remain an illusion.
On the political side, the imbalance between various national institutions should be a high priority subject for all the political parties. It would be unwise on the part of political leaders to pander to certain institutions for a favourable outcome in elections. Because this would further embolden them to interfere in power play as past experience has shown. It is evident the military cannot directly take over the reins of the country as in the past due to the current international and domestic situation. As regards preventing the military from meddling in civilian affairs, it will depend on how strong the civilian institutions are and to what extent they enjoy the confidence of the people.
It will be as much damaging to malign institutions for personal or party gains. Case in point is the current campaign of Nawaz Sharif, notwithstanding he may have genuine grievances against the judiciary and military to air. His campaign to appear as a martyr will go only that far. And his major aim that the political government should be able to exercise powers in accordance with the Constitution has merit. But removing the power imbalance between institutions would require improved performance of the government to gain confidence and support of the people. Nawaz Sharif is fighting his political battle by projecting his person and family as victims, whom he claims have been affected by the alleged collusion among certain institutions. A more strategic approach would have been if he had taken the broader and specific issue that all institutions remain within their defined constitutional boundaries. There seems to be belated realisation as his narrative now includes this message as well.
The present infighting among institutions is undermining the national power, distracting the government from normal functioning and allowing foreign powers to exploit the situation to their advantage.
If we look at the political history of Pakistan one major weakness has been dominant that when institutions or leaders have suffered from an illusion that they have the monopoly of patriotism or wisdom the country has invariably suffered. We have unfortunately been victim of this malaise since the inception of Pakistan. What is needed is that the institutions should look inwards, undertake reforms where necessary and stay within constitutional boundaries! While looking inwards they would realise they have been equally fallible as others. Can any institution honestly claim that it has not grossly strayed from its national and constitutional responsibilities? I would also include bureaucracy for their share of misdeeds. Looking inwards and doing self-correction requires courage and humility that we are generally lacking both individually and at the institution level. Politicians being in public eye are more susceptible to criticism than other institutions and justifiably so. The recent power manipulation in the formation of the Balochistan government is a classic case reflecting the current quality of Pakistani politics. The PTI leadership has been making repeated claims that their party stands for clean and principled politics but the recent drama that unfolded in Balochistan betrayed their role and was no different from other stakeholders.
While one could blame certain institutions for manipulating these changes or criticise outside forces for meddling in Balochistan’s politics the ultimate responsibility rests with the political leadership.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2018.
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