The real solution to challenges in Pakistan

Make no mistake, we shall continue to face the challenges one after the other in times to come

Qasim Mehmood October 05, 2022
The writer holds an MPhil in IR and has been working with leading think tanks in Islamabad

Today, Pakistan faces an extraordinary amalgam of challenges.

In the forefront is political polarisation which has not only left the parliament redundant but has also spiraled into a political competition which like a tornado is engulfing and devastating everything that lies in its path. May it be the opposing political sides, social fabric of the society, state institutions or foreign policy, everything seems hostage to this power politics. The perceptions are being muddled such that every move or act is either being labelled as fascist, seditious or sacrilegious. Stakeholders across the aisle are going overboard in their attempt to label the other side as treasonous.

Our second challenge is the worsening of economic situation in the country which has all but completely eroded investor confidence and strangulated the middle and lower income strata, with inflation rising to more than 27% in Aug 2022 (base year 2015/16). Even the IMF bailout package has done little to restore confidence back in Pakistan’s financial system.

The third challenge is an unprecedented humanitarian disaster, a calamity of biblical proportions in shape of the floods which will likely end up costing Pakistan more than USD 30 Billion in cumulative economic losses, further deteriorating the abysmal economic situation and the common man’s plight.

We must be honest with ourselves. Today, despondency knows no bounds. Our very survival has become a point of discussion.

If my memory serves me correctly, this sentence has a familiar ring to it. In the past we faced multiple crises of similar nature and somehow we came out of it, bruised at times but with new hope and desire to bring meaningful change. Let’s jog our memories a bit to find the traces of today in our recent past in an attempt to learn how best, we can navigate the present impasse.

The political blame game in Pakistan is not new. Despite periods of political instability, decade and a half of democratic rule and multiple martial laws, the governance and economy of the country has not seen much improvement. The suffering of common man in Pakistan continues behind the false façades and rhetoric. However, despite a symbiotic yet toxic relationship between political parties and state institutions, a glimmer of hope has always emerged when all stakeholders stood united to tackle critical national issues.

From navigating the precarious security environment towards the beginning of our transition to geoeconomics, we find traces of whole of Nation approach as the enabling factor in our successes. Be it defeating terrorism, enabling CPEC, handling Pulwama crisis, dealing with COVID, facilitating US withdrawal from Afghanistan and then managing the fallout, navigating international challenges from FATF grey-listing to Reko Diq to Karkey, Pakistan did manage major successes in a short period of time. The recipe for success was prioritizing a unified, dispassionate and coordinated approach in dealing with the crisis over political rhetoric, turf battles and personal feuds.

Take the National Action Plan (NAP) for instance, where an integrated approach to a critical problem was perhaps most prominently formalized, in the aftermath of APS tragedy in 2014. Even though its implementation has been lacking in some areas, the fact is it enabled all political actors and the military to sit together and adopt multipronged approach to address the causes. The government at the time took the lead, no political actors objected, and the military acted as the necessary supplement. This was especially true in areas like establishment of Military courts. In four years, military courts were able to decide a total of 546 out of the total 717 cases which were referred to them by the government.

Operation Rud-ul-Fasad, initiated in 2017, reinforced implementation of NAP successfully as it worked to eliminate the residual terrorist threat, restore peace in tribal areas and metropolises, and begin the long term effort of changing behaviors and minds in society.

Regionally, guided by the belief that peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan is a shared responsibility and that peace in Afghanistan is critical for Pakistan, the government and military leadership continue to render magnanimous support to the people of Afghanistan through a unified approach. Be it supporting diplomatic efforts for peace, facilitation for political reconciliation, hosting over three million Afghanistan refugees, helping in the safe withdrawal of international military forces from Afghanistan, assisting in evacuation of nearly 14,000 foreign nationals belonging to 31 countries and over 500 employees of international organizations from Afghanistan, the civilian governments and army remained at the forefront of all efforts towards peace.

In the non-security domain, undoubtedly the most prominent example of coordinated success is our fight against COVID. The NCOC model was originally proposed by the military but quickly adopted and led by the civilian administration. The experience synergized civil and military apparatus in its true essence as both worked hand in glove to save precious lives. Innovation was rife in the form of locally produced ventilators, manufacturing of PPE, Infectious diseases hospital constructed by FWO in few weeks, and the like.

Pakistan is also overdue for white listing in FATF. The combination of political ownership and a dedicated structure within the GHQ to lead the coordination effort among more than 30 departments, ministries and agencies has allowed for a turnaround and unprecedented success in complying with the global watch dog’s techno-political process. Few countries got as stringent an action plan as we did and none other produced the results we did. We achieved technical compliance to all 34 FATF observations in short span of 3 years and are now ranked 2nd amongst FATF member states in technical compliance of FATF recommendations.

Another feather in the cap is achieving consensus between Federal and Provincial Governments, and in this case with the army in the lead, to pursue a synergistic national response resulting in successful settlement of Reko Diq dispute. The recent settlement has saved us a whopping USD 11 billion losses in the shape of penalties. The settlement has also opened up multiple opportunities that can bring massive socio-economic benefits to Balochistan fueled by approximately Rs 160 Bn investment in social uplift and USD 8 billion in FDI in Balochistan province.

And while we might only see the negatives of Karachi, the Karachi Transformation is yet another example of Civil-military collaboration through which major drain nullahs are being expanded and cleaned to save Karachi from the detriments of urban flooding. The impact was visible during the recent monsoon spells during which through efforts of civil administration, NLC and FWO, all major areas of Karachi and highways were cleared of water within 2-3 hours, the adjoining areas were cleared in 6-8 hours, and the low lying areas of South Karachi were cleared within 24 hours. Compare this to the devastation caused in 2020 and the difference is obvious.

There is much more by ways of examples that can be put out. The point, however, is made. When we act as a whole, we overcome whatever is in our way. Sadly, this seems a remote possibility today. Our national narratives have descended into character assassinations, truth has stopped mattering and political immaturity is there for all to see. The political masters are not willing to bury the hatchet even though the country desperately needs them to. The institution of the army, which always works as the glue for our federation, is being maligned to the point that the sacrifices of our jawans are not worthy headlines for our media anymore. Internationally, our promises hold little value and, as the Prime Minister put it, other countries are hesitant to provide assistance. None other than the army chief himself has had to use his good offices to secure much needed foreign assistance for Pakistan from partners in the West, China, and Muslim world.

The choice is ours. We can continue spending time blaming each other and the military, the political elite can avoid acknowledging that the military has worked hand in glove with governments of the time to push through national priorities, and keep ignoring the plight of the masses all too obvious to anyone and everyone. Or we can realize that polarization and discord is only benefiting Pakistan’s enemies and weakening our institutions.

Make no mistake, we shall continue to face the challenges one after the other in times to come. Such is the state of the world. It is how we come together in face of adversity that will decide the outcome of these challenges. Our political differences and preferences need to take a back seat at this time of crisis. We won’t succeed unless we all work together. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the successes we have achieved over the past half a decade, this is it.


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