2024: major challenges

Year 2023 was tumultuous for Pakistan; country remained in grips with multiple challenges

Kamran Yousaf January 01, 2024
The writer is a senior foreign affairs correspondent at The Express Tribune

The year 2023 was tumultuous for Pakistan, to say the least. The country remained in the grip of multiple challenges. It was on the verge of default but managed to survive thanks to China and other friends. There was no semblance of political stability. Elections were supposed to take place in November 2023 but had to be postponed on the pretext of redrawing the constituencies based on the new census. While the country had to deal with economic and political crises, there was a resurgence of terrorism too. The number of attacks has gone up since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021. The highlight of 2023 in terms of foreign policy was the rapid deterioration in the bilateral ties with Afghanistan. At the heart of the problem was the issue of banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which Pakistan says operates from the neighboring country with impunity.

So what holds for Pakistan in 2024 against this backdrop? There are three major challenges confronting this nation of 240 million. Since this is an election year, the major focus would be on who would form the next government. Although there are many uncertainties, indications are that the elections will take place on February 8. The reason why Pakistan has to conduct this democratic exercise is that any further delay in election would certainly have grave implications for the country. Given the precarious economic situation, it is certain Pakistan needs another IMF programme. The international players are keen Pakistan must go for polls. There seems to be an unwritten understanding Pakistan has given to the international financial institutions and major players that there won’t be a delay in polls beyond February. The next big question, however, is: will the polls bring the much-needed political stability? Pakistan has never been as polarised on political lines as it is today. Ahead of the elections, the leader of a major political party, PTI is in jail. The party accuses the authorities of not providing level-playing field, and that its political rival, the PML-N, is being given undue advantage. But some would call it karma. It is the repeat of 2018 election. The only difference though is that the PTI is now on the receiving end.

Nevertheless, these political shenanigans have only added to Pakistan’s woos. The biggest and the foremost challenge Pakistan has to deal with is the fragile economy. The numbers speak for themselves. The country’s debt has gone up to Rs78,000 billion. In the next three years, the country has to repay $70 billion in foreign debt. This means every year Pakistan needs over $23 billion to service the debt. At this stage, none of the political parties contesting the elections has a clear roadmap. In fact, in this country election manifestos have never been a part of national discourse. The media is keen to debate on rhetoric and statements given by poetical leaders. To ensure any semblance of economic stability, Pakistan will have to ensure consistency in its policies. That is not possible without political stability. Given the current situation, it is highly unlikely political stability will return any time soon.

And this would lead us to another challenge — the deteriorating internal security situation. Ever since the Afghan Taliban returned to power, terrorism is rearing its ugly head again. With continued economic frailties and political instability, terrorist outfits are out to exploit the situation. The major worry is the deteriorating ties with the Taliban government. Despite repeated demands, Kabul is reluctant to take action against the TTP and hence the stalemate. It is evident that the Afghan Taliban would not change their course. This would certainly test Pakistan’s patience as well as its diplomatic skills. We are living in a tough neighborhood and any further hiccup in ties with Afghanistan would only add to Pakistan’s troubles. If 2023 was tumultuous, 2024 won’t be different either!


Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2024.

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