The year 2021 in Pakistan began with further accentuation of polarisation between the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the PTI-led government. While its meeting of December 31 reflected a combination of tact and hardness, the PDM made it clear that it would participate in the political process but also utilise the option of a long march and resign from assemblies after the deadline of January 31 given to the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, if he fails to resign.
In his press conference after the December 31 meeting, PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rahman targeted the Election Commission of Pakistan, the National Accountability Bureau and the “real culprits who brought Imran Khan into power”, while lamenting over why Pakistan is called a “deep state”. Never before in the political history of Pakistan has the crisis became so alarming that the PM is openly accusing opposition parties of promoting revolt in the military and instigating moves against the Army Chief and the DG ISI. The PDM, while rejecting the PM’s allegations, argues that it is the establishment which has salvaged the PTI government and in order to prevent an irreparable loss to the country, it should withdraw its support to the “puppet” PM.
It is futile to mention the merit of the stance taken by the PDM and the government against each other but what matters in 2021 is the total neglect of issues which harm the lives of 220 million Pakistanis. The opposition is unable to convince the people that things would get better if the PTI government is gone before completing its term. Likewise, the PM and his diehard but unwise elected and non-elected members in the government are unable to redeem the reality that they have only two years left to deliver and their performance of more than two years is so dismal that people have lost their trust and confidence in them. Sadly, a bunch of sycophants while ruling out the pressure from the PDM and the utter failure of the PTI government to perform are hopeful that they will win the 2023 general elections and Imran Khan will be the PM till 2028! Unrealistic and imprudent thinking shape the mindset of the PTI government which is devoid of a colossal damage to the country if the military is dragged into politics. The PM’s speech the other day, on the occasion of laying the foundation stone of Chakwal University, that the opposition wants a mutiny in the military needs to be taken seriously because it reflects a great degree of insecurity and fear in the PTI’s top leadership.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel or a silver lining for the people who continue to experience back-to-back crises? Why is the memory of our people so short and why do they lack proper judgment while casting their vote? How can a third force — which is different from the PPP, PML-N and PTI — emerge and pull Pakistan from the vicious cycle of corruption, nepotism, family fiefdom, bad governance and politics of religious-ethnic intolerance? The answers to these questions cannot be found in a superficial and rhetorical manner.
Those who have an understanding of Pakistan’s politics and civil-military relations realise the gravity of the situation not only in the economic arena but in the deteriorating conditions of law and order and state institutions. But those livings in their comfort zones and belonging to the PDM and PTI are oblivious to the fact that if they fail to manage the prevailing crisis, things may get out of control. A nation which is devoid of a thought process, reading habits, critical thinking, analytical skills and ability to seek truth is unable to manage a crisis. Such a nation would remain insecure because it lacks courage to face the truth. Critics argue that the PM is so insecure that instead of trusting people who voted him into power he bluntly states that the military is behind him.
There is not much time left to pull the country out of an impending grave crisis but one can contemplate two steps which can make things better for Pakistan’s people in the days to come. First, credible and respectful individuals, having clout in the government and the PDM, must come forward and help alleviate the sharp level of polarisation which has engulfed the country for the last several months. But that renowned personality should not be like a former federal minister and senator who is out to mediate between the conflicting parties but lacks integrity and statesmanship. In Pakistan, there is no dearth of personalities who are currently in the background but possess the credibility, respect and acumen to act as a buffer in the prevailing crisis.
Second, the saner elements in the PPP, PML-N, PTI and other political parties who consider the interest of the country supreme must come forward and prevail over their respective leadership to adopt a wise and flexible approach to provide a ray of hope to the people.
If the PM shuns his egoistic and humiliating attitude towards his political opponents and agrees not to call the PDM traitors, corrupt and a part of a conspiracy to weaken the military, then the opposition may be persuaded to drop their demand for his resignation for the time being. After all, two years are left for the assumption of office by a caretaker government and if the PDM thinks that the performance of the PTI government has been miserable and it cannot deliver in the coming two years, it should bear the PM with a condition that NAB will not be used for political victimisation against opposition leaders, and the Election Commission must ensure free and fair elections. Otherwise, the political chaos may turn into serious violence and cause a serious damage to the country.
It is time for the government, opposition and state institutions to focus on providing relief to people who have, in the past two years in particular, suffered enormously because of the sharp escalation in the prices of essential commodities and unemployment. If the PML-N) and PPP, carrying the baggage of family fiefdom, are again getting political space, it is because of the failures of the PTI government. The country cannot sustain a situation when internal and external debt has been more than the country’s GDP; foreign exchange reserves owned by the State Bank are merely $12 billion; circular debt is in trillions of rupees; and there is a periodic increase in the prices of fuel, gas and electricity.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2021.
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