An unending arc of crisis

The 75-year long struggle for stability in a volatile environment

Dr Moonis Ahmar June 05, 2022
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Science, University of Karachi and can be reached at [email protected]

In the last 75 years, Pakistan has consistently moved from one crisis into another. Whenever there is some relief from a crisis, a new crisis emerges that is more dangerous and lethal than the previous one. Earlier this year, when the PTI government was removed from power through a no-confidence motion, people expected some form of political stability. Instead, things turned uglier as Imran Khan’s defiance poses the risk of a new crisis. Pakistan’s unending arc of crisis has become a part of the country’s politics, society and economy.

Between 1947 and 1958, political instability and polarisation took a toll on the country with consecutive changes in the leadership. The 1956 Constitution failed to bring political stability and eventually, in 1958, martial law was imposed. After some semblance of stability, the country once again reverted to a crisis when the movement against Ayub Khan led to the imposition of a second martial law. The mismanagement of the East Pakistan crisis resulted in the breakup of Pakistan in 1971. From December 1971 to 1977, Bhutto enjoyed a majority in the government and popularity amongst the people. However, he failed to restore political stability and quickly lost control of the situation, which led to his ouster in a military coup in July 1977. This was the third and longest martial law in the country. In 1988, democracy was restored after the general elections were held in November. Unfortunately, back-to-back crises during Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif’s regimes led to a fourth military takeover in October 1999. Once again democracy was restored after the general election in February 2008. However, there was little political cohesion in the country, which led to the induction of a third force in the form of the PTI government in August 2018.

The continuous political instability raises the question: why has Pakistan failed to achieve stability and how has the vicious cycle of political crisis contributed to the country’s economic malaise? How can the arc of Pakistan’s political crisis be managed? What impediments does the country face?

Like many post-colonial countries, Pakistan is still grappling with the issues of political instability, bad governance, tanking economy, absence of rule of law, selective or no accountability, rising corruption and nepotism. However, the ruling elite who have been running the country since 1947 cannot be blamed alone. The public has failed to empower itself with education and active participation in the democratic process. The absence of civic involvement in political affairs coupled with poor decisions of the ruling elite has led to the constant political and economic upheavals in the country. In addition, the state’s failure in dealing with the threats emanating from the feudal, tribal and extremist factions has further deepened Pakistan’s arc of crisis.

A pessimistic approach cannot be used to resolve the issues that compound Pakistan’s politics, society, and economy. If the country is politically unstable it cannot have economic strength and vice versa. Pakistan’s inability to settle down as a nation-state demonstrates a structural gap in society, which has subverted efforts to establish political and economic stability. Despite having a population of 220 million people, the country has still to depend on international lenders and allies for its economic survival. Pakistan has the world’s largest canal system; the most fertile soil; tallest mountain peaks; vast deserts; and a coastline stretching more than 600 km. Yet it has failed to put its own house in order. The arc of crisis in Pakistan is existential and will not go away unless far-reaching measures are adopted to ensure political and economic stability.

The decades through the 1950s, 1960s and mid-1970s are quoted as the golden era of Pakistan as the country had to start from scratch but witnessed miraculous growth in industrialisation, the green revolution, per capita income and economic activity. Unfortunately, this boom did not last long, and the country descended into a downturn. Since then, the country has failed to lift itself out of the decline.

There is no quick-fix to resolve Pakistan’s arc of crisis; however, there are three ways to put the country back on track.

First, a zero-tolerance policy must be adopted regarding the use of violence, chaos, disorder, strikes, protest marches, sit-ins and the use of firearms. State institutions must ensure that no one is above the law. Those who are found guilty of abusing or disobeying the law must be given exemplary punishment. Last month, the PTI-led long march caused a financial loss of more than 1 billion rupees, which exemplifies that Pakistan cannot afford the luxury of violent and disruptive politics. The relevant authorities should either enforce rules and regulations for such activities, or completely ban sit-ins, long marches and demonstrations. The political parties’ non-serious, irresponsible and selfish attitude harms the country’s economy and global image.

Second, all leaders should focus on the development of the country, eradication of corruption and nepotism, and must adhere to time management to deliver on their responsibilities. Pakistan’s failure to maintain a work ethic has put it far behind in terms of progress and development. Even the countries that gained independence after Pakistan are far ahead in major economic indicators including per capita income, human development index, GDP growth, exports, foreign exchange reserves, etc. Those at the helm of affairs must realise the importance of strong leadership and guide the public through their exemplary attitude and policies. We must not expect overseas Pakistanis to bear the burden of running the economy. Instead, we must improve accountability and adopt a professional work ethic to undo corrupt and inefficient practices and uplift the economy through our consistent efforts. Also, the ruling elites should not enjoy special perks and privileges while the common people are burdened with rising fuel, electricity, and gas prices.

Third, in order to eradicate those who have looted and plundered the national resources, there is a need to take ownership of the country and adhere to Pakistani nationalism. Unless exemplary punishment is awarded to those who are not performing their duties and are involved in corruption and nepotism, the whole of Pakistan will remain under the arc of crisis. Currently, the country needs an effective crisis management mechanism to put the house in order and stabilise the economy.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2022.

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