A country needs to be anchored on principles, on a framework that is based on the rule of law and constitutionalism. Only those countries have progressed which have followed this basic premise. For there is not a single country in the world that stands among the developed and prosperous ones that has deviated from basic principle and yet has reached prosperity, social cohesion and political stability. This is irrespective of the huge advantage a country would have in terms of geo-strategic location or abundance of energy resources. A quick glance at countries, unfortunately mostly Muslim countries that are ruled by dictators or has nominal democracy reveals the pathetic state of their people and their heavy reliance on one or two major powers to sustain them politically and economically.

Reflecting on our past we find that repeated distortions of the system have occurred largely due to direct military rule, judicial activism or intrigue by politicians in consort with the bureaucracy. The consequences of which we continue to suffer to date.

One hoped that our political and institutional leaders would have learnt during these 70 years that the best course is a straight defined path of democratic development. Instead, we are faced with a situation where it is doubtful if we are willing to adhere to the basic norms of good behaviour and remain within the bounds of law and constitutionalism. It is of paramount importance that leaders of all hues abide by a rules- based order rather than depend on their coercive power to manipulate and dictate national policies. In several periods of our history in a coercive environment, the judiciary has conveniently validated military interventions.

During the previous PPP and PML-N governments steering of critical national and foreign policy issues by the establishment was justified by claiming better understanding, greater interest and patriotic fervour than the political class. Although during military rule or military-supported regimes the country suffered several foreign policy setbacks.

In the past manipulative operations in national and provincial elections to support a specific party invariably led the country into chaos. So it would be crucial that during and after the current elections all state institutions and the interim government remain committed to their neutrality. People are closely monitoring the pre-poll activities by the administration and would step up their vigilance during and after the elections. For we all know that there will always be a push back to any deviation sometimes weak, sometimes latent or even formidable as was the case after the elections in 1977.

The enormity of multiple challenges that Pakistan faces requires leaders to be more discreet and contained in their speeches and public interactions. Relentless personal attack of opponents and addressing national and international issues superficially betray how we have drifted away from being a responsible nation. In an environment of bitterness and downright hostility, the PTI would find it difficult to implement its ambitious manifesto. To create a million jobs and launching mega housing schemes and providing universal medical support are no easy goals to achieve. These would need a favourable political environment.

The people justifiably would be looking forward to the pre-and post-election enunciations and actions by the winning political party and neutrality of state institutions.

The party that forms the next government, and especially if it happens to be the PTI, it would be a major challenge for it to develop a functional relationship with the opposition. Without achieving a credible level of trust and cooperation within the country it would not be possible to gain credibility in international relations and partnership at the regional level. What the people are yearning for is a more mature behaviour from political leaders and greater trust and understanding between state institutions and political parties.

Months of trading harsh accusations and using foul language against political opponents have resulted in bitterness that is unlikely to fade easily. A healing process would be necessary for the smooth functioning of parliament and effective governance. All this would require a more nuanced approach by the leadership, especially by the party that forms the next government.

A more cooperative and down to earth approach displayed by the young Bhutto would be more appropriate in healing national wounds. The Party’s traditional sensitivity for the poor is also commendable. Similarly, there is comparatively a better record of the PTI in governance, education and police reforms and of the PML-N in building physical infrastructure, energy projects and motorways. A healthy competition to outdo the other in serving the masses in areas that affect the lives of the common people would be a welcome development as opposed to mere mud-slinging.

No party has seriously addressed the problem of dealing with terrorism and extremism issues. Indeed, these have been part of the National Action Plan but with scant focus by political parties. They seem resigned to the idea of leaving it to the military, which is unfair and can have consequences. Hopefully, the incoming government will take ownership of the National Action Plan and rehash it in the light of changed regional and national scenario. Recent militant attacks on our national and provincial leaders indicate that terrorist threat is far from over and lies dormant to raise its ugly head at an opportune moment. Foreign policy is another area that remains relegated and left to the armed forces to steer, especially when it comes to relations with neighbours and the US. Greater interest and involvement by political leadership would be necessary in light of the importance and impact it has on the overall security, economy and the image of the country.

Above all the state of economy is alarming with foreign exchange reserves fast depleting that stand at a mere nine billion dollars on the Election Day. This should be the first and foremost priority of the incoming administration to tackle this challenge. It would require harsh monetary and fiscal policy measures that the incoming government will have to take. On this would depend the future sustainability of our economic and political order.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2018.

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