DURING his traditional address to the joint session of Parliament at the beginning of the new parliamentary year, President Dr Arif Alvi drew the attention of the government and the elected representatives towards daunting challenges facing the country and the need to address them squarely through united efforts.
He repeated his call to politicians to end growing polarization in the country and decide on an election date by coming together.
He pointed out that there has been a disagreement on the issue of general election for the last several months and a satisfactory solution can be found through mutual consultations.
The anguish expressed by the President over continued political instability is understandable as the country is faced with mounting problems which can only be addressed through national unity and cohesive policies but polarization is assuming new and dangerous dimensions with the passage of every day.
The seriousness of the situation can be gauged by the fact that PTI Chairman Imran Khan is pursuing active plans to organize another long march towards Islamabad, terming it as a ‘crusade’.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who is otherwise considered as a strong proponent of the policy of reconciliation, made hard-hitting remarks against the PTI leader saying that by building a deceitful narrative of the conspiracy against his government committed treason against Pakistan and its people and inflicted irreparable damage to the reputation of the country.
In a related development, senior leadership of the PML(N) discussed the threat of long march threadbare at a high level meeting and authorized the Prime Minister to take appropriate decisions and measures to foil the designs of those who are trying to compound difficulties of the country and its people in the midst of flood situation.
All this could mean that the stubborn attitude of the two sides is moving the situation towards a show-down, which would not benefit anyone and might inflict further losses on the national economy that is already in tatters.
Moody’s Investor Service cut Pakistan’s sovereign credit rating on Thursday by one notch to Caa1 from B3, citing increased government liquidity and external vulnerability risks, following the devastating floods.
And the same day, the World Bank (WB) revised downward Pakistan’s macroeconomic projections in the aftermath of severe floods, by lowering GDP growth and hiking inflation as well as worsening fiscal and external deficits.
The President has rightly credited the government and other institutions including defence forces for their hard work in mitigating the sufferings of the flood affected people but it is understood that the country needs complete peace and stability to accomplish the gigantic task of rebuilding and rehabilitation that would spread over many years.
Therefore, the call of the President to the politicians to end polarization becomes all the more important and relevant but the question arises who would take the lead to initiate the process when the two sides are poles apart on the fundamental issues involved.
How the differences can be bridged when parties are not showing flexibility in their approach and this was highlighted once again on Thursday when the Islamabad High Court (IHC) told PTI that it does not accept the party policy of boycotting Parliament, giving the party five days to satisfy the court that they will return to Parliament.
However, Imran Khan told newsmen that he will neither return to the Assembly nor attend proceedings of the Election Commission.
There are clear indications that the PTI was ready to play the final gamble in a bid to advance its cause of early elections and to have a say in the process of selection of the new Army Chief, which is the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister.
The ruling coalition too has made it clear, time and again, that it would not succumb to pressure tactics aimed at forcing it to go for immediate fresh elections and that polls would be held on completion of the tenure of the present assemblies.
Things are, therefore, moving in a wrong direction but regrettably there is no towering political personality, who could help salvage the situation by acting as an honest broker.
On several occasions in the past, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) played a constructive role in pacifying the tense situation but it is no longer available for such roles for understandable reasons.
Despite all this, it would be unfortunate to leave the country at the mercy of circumstances and this is a litmus test for all those who matter.