The second democratic transition has injected new vigour and vitality in the nation. This is not to overlook the deep cleavage between the ruling and opposition parties or the fear of an economic meltdown threatening the country. Or for that matter the unfriendly move on the part of Washington to reduce the assistance to a paltry $150 million and suspend the training programmes for military personnel. And there are many more problems that face this nation, including the unfortunate incidents where remnants of the TTP or ISIS affiliated groups miss no opportunity to target innocent civilians and military personnel.
What gives me the confidence that for Pakistan facing challenges is not new? During 71 years of its life it has faced existential threats, military takeovers, a distressed economy with hardly a month’s foreign exchange in reserve and the TTP closing in towards Islamabad. Indian and Pakistani forces facing eyeball-to-eyeball in 2002. This is only to recall a few to illustrate that despite the current enormity of the problems Pakistan relatively is better placed to face these than before.
Politically, we are moving towards democratic consolidation. The PTI despite its inner contradictions seems determined to prove that it will outperform its predecessors. Whether it achieves this goal under these difficult conditions only time will tell. But certainly the endeavour would be there. The opposition parties having been in power during the last 10 years have a better understanding of the problems facing the country and are more politically mature. They have experienced parliamentarians that will keep the ruling party in check and play a far more effective role than its predecessors. One expects that Imran Khan adheres to his recent commitment that he will take his parliamentary responsibilities seriously. Opposition parties have already indicated that they would use parliament to keep the government in check and play a constructive role. Adherence to this commitment would contribute towards equitable balancing of power between institutions.
More deliberate and serious involvement of the civilian government in foreign and security policy at the institutional level is necessary, if Imran Khan wants to pursue his declared policy goals. This is especially relevant in conducting relations with India, Afghanistan and the US. PM Modi’s message of congratulations and his desire to improve relations with Pakistan was a good omen. How the two leaders of the two countries are going to move forward on, would be observed eagerly. A good omen is that the firing on the Line of Control has appreciably decreased. Improving relations with India would not only reduce the dangers of a conflict but, promote strategic stability and less reliance on continuously advancing nuclear capabilities.
The Chinese example is in front of us. Despite territorial disputes and serious strategic rivalry India and China are benefiting from mutual trade. China is the largest trading partner of Taiwan. We need to learn from others.
The incoming government inherits a great burden of Pakistan being in the frontline of regional and global conflicts. We have to pursue a highly nuanced foreign policy to gradually extricate ourselves from being in the cross-fire of global fault lines. It will not be easy but has to be pursued in our vital interest. Our proximity to China, and CPEC in particular, has invited the US and Indian hostility. The reduction in US assistance to the minimum and other punitive measures are mostly related to our lack of congruence with the US on Afghan policy and their opposition to CPEC. Surprisingly, the US pressure has increased at a time when it is looking forward to engaging directly with the Taliban to find a way out of the Afghan quagmire. Pakistan of late has been assiduously working towards the Afghan peace process, so these American actions send confusing signals.
One expects that as the government settles down it will take advantage of Pakistan’s unique geographical position. So far it has only been exploited by others to our disadvantage. Let it not only be a corridor for CPEC but also a booming trade route to both Asia and the Middle East. Efforts to step up relations and connectivity with the Central Asian states will open up access to countries with surplus energy to offer and other trade opportunities.
We need to remind ourselves that we are the second-largest Muslim country and the sixth in the world in terms of population. By educating our people and giving them the necessary skills relevant to the modern technological world, we can significantly enhance our influence and weight in the community of nations. However, with the current state of economic dependence and political incoherence this remains a distant dream.
Expectations of those voted from Imran Khan and the PTI’s leadership are that they would seriously undertake the mission of Pakistan’s economic, social and political transformation. It needs to be recognised that the three elements are closely interrelated and genuine progress would come about if these move in tandem. Without an appreciable improvement in these sectors, the prospects of turning Pakistan into a progressive modern state would not be achievable.
Imran Khan’s acceptance speech indicates he is fully aware of the need for national unity to overcome economic challenges and reducing the political and social divide. Without reducing this polarisation it would not be possible to strengthen institutions or build new ones. How supportive the electables and parliamentarians in general are, would be seen in the transformation efforts that will be put forward. It will be in the interest of the politicians with feudal and tribal power to change so as to transform their societies. And so should the political leaders who have depended more on patronage and less on performance. Without these changes good governance is not possible as we are witnessing in Balochistan and many less-developed parts of Sindh and Punjab. It is also a sad reality that wherever political power has remained with these pre-modern politicians, the progress has stagnated.
The new government undoubtedly faces multiple challenges. It will depend how the government actualises the potential of its people to bring a change for the better.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2018.