Addressing major national issues

Agitative politics of PML-N, PPP and JUI-F would have been effective if they had delivered on their promises

Talat Masood January 19, 2021
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

There is need for serious introspection considering that the sensibilities of the nation have been blunted to an extent that nothing pricks its collective conscience. The pathetic state of Karachi and that of interior Sindh is one glaring example of the “new normal” for the government as well as the society. The broken roads, state of dirtiness and the chaotic traffic gives an impression of a city where there is no government and every individual sets his own rules. How have we reached that stage of decadence where people fail to react and lack the will and ability to resist the downfall. Moreover, do we realise that if the slide continues there are no limits to the depths that we can sink?

Similarly, there are several other serious departures from normal or expected responses from our leaders that are reflected in national policies and behaviour. The PTI and the opposition’s constant feuding and quality of discourse in parliament and the media or in public meetings goes far beyond the generally accepted universal standards of conduct. The PM seems to be more comfortable seeking the support of the military than using the traditional means of consolidating power through parliament and engagement with the opposition. Perhaps he has not realised the consequences and especially the long-term impact of this mode of governance as it would further weaken the democratic institutions.

For it provides greater space for the military leadership and bureaucracy to play a role in national decision-making. Pakistan’s fundamental problem has been that its leaders have deliberately overlooked the serious implications of not exercising power by strictly abiding by the Constitution. A glimpse of the extent of political chaos that a country suffers by straying away from democratic fundamentals has recently been witnessed in several countries at varied stages of development. Let these be an additional reminder of the political and military leadership to exercise restraint and stay within their constitutional limits.

The present agitative politics of PML-N, PPP and JUI-F, seemingly to strengthen democracy, would have been more effective if, when in power, they had delivered on their promises and met at least the broad expectations of the masses. The people would have looked up to them for a genuine change in their fortunes. They do endorse the criticism on the shortcomings of PTI’s governance as it is creating hardship due to rising inflation, overall economic squeeze and political uncertainty. This is the primary motivating factor that is bringing them to the streets to protest. It is not that they have any high expectations from the opposition parties for they see what is happening in Sindh and the challenges that the PML-N is presently facing internally. The masses are not sure if the future holds any better if another party were to win the next national elections. Moreover, the personal record of some of the opposition leaders raises serious doubts as their corruption cases continue to pile up even if the alleged prejudices of NAB are discounted.

The opposition’s young leadership — Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto — is talented, has a personal charisma and is drawing significant crowds. Both, however, lack experience and it is not wise to catapult them to the high party hierarchy without going through a few years of learning in other positions. They will not be able to delink themselves with the stigma of corruption until their parents and party leaders are cleared. Holding large public meetings and denouncing the government will only go that far. Moreover, people now expect result-oriented politics and they cannot be fed with slogans alone. These young leaders, when in power, will have to deliver by focusing on good governance and associating with capable and honest leaders that are not a part of the ruling family. These untainted politicians could burnish the reputation of the party by bringing a fresh approach and dealing firmly with the curse of corruption. But the dominance of the families inhibits their reach to top positions.

Pakistan’s internal vulnerabilities — highly divisive politics, heavy economic dependence and social incoherence — are providing the BJP government with opportunities to exploit the situation to its maximum advantage. The blatant and outright seizure of Kashmir and the world looking the other way is the most recent demonstration of this reality. India has deliberately stepped up firing on the Line of Control (LoC) to take the focus away from its brutalities on the people of Kashmir. Even within Pakistan we have not been in a position to put a united front to Indian hegemonic designs.

Our expectations from the Muslim countries for their support for Kashmir was misplaced. Relations with our traditional friends, Saudi Arabia and UAE, have lately lacked the warmth. These need to be given high priority and misunderstanding, if any, should be removed.

Moreover, it is demeaning of a nation of 220 million people to not be able to have a self-sustaining economy and seeking financial assistance from these countries.

Poor governance is being reflected everywhere. Court cases against Pakistan in foreign countries have not been addressed properly as a result these are causing more embarrassment for the country. The PIA Boeing 777 had been recently seized in Kuala Lumpur airport on the orders of a Malaysian court in a $14 million lease dispute. This week, a UK judge passed a stricture against NAB for disregarding the economic harm to Broadsheet LLC. Similarly, delay in handling the Reko Diq case has resulted in a heavy penalty that mounts with every passing day. All these cases are under litigation and are causing huge losses to the exchequer. What is most worrisome is that present and previous governments seem to have taken these matters lightly. It reflects weak governance, lack of oversight and manipulation for personal gains.

To address the major national, foreign, defence and economic policy issues, there is a need for a more mature and cooperative approach between the government and the opposition. The confrontational politics of the opposition may succeed in creating serious problems for the government but will take the country nowhere.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2021.

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