Shahid M Amin
THE general election in Pakistan on July 25, 2018 will be a defining moment in the country’s history as Pakistan’s future depends on the outcome of these elections. This will be the third election held since the restoration of civilian rule in 2008. The contest is clearly between the outgoing ruling party PML(N) of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the PTI led by Imran Khan. In the last few years, some important political developments have taken place in Pakistan. Firstly, the PPP, which had been a leading political party since 1960s, has seen a sharp decline. It is now reduced to a regional party in Sindh, the province of its founder Z.A. Bhutto. Its last charismatic leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, but neither her husband Asif Zardari nor her son Bilawal has shown her crowd-pulling appeal.
Secondly, the other major party PML(N) suffered a major setback when its leader Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by Supreme Court in July 2017 and recently sentenced to 10 years in jail by a NAB court, on the charge of corruption. He was in London when the sentence was announced but took the risk to return to Pakistan last week in time to file an appeal against the judgment. His daughter Maryam Nawaz, who was being groomed as his successor, is also in jail on similar corruption charges, and disqualified from holding public office. During the trial, Nawaz Sharif tried his best to discredit the judiciary to convince his followers that he was being framed for political reasons. His narrative is that the establishment, his code word for the army, his old nemesis, is pressurizing courts to act against him. He claims that he is the great champion of democracy, conveniently forgetting that he himself rose to power during Martial Law regime of General Ziaul Haq. Nawaz Sharif was confident that when he returned from London to Pakistan, the masses would turn up in huge numbers to show their rejection of the court verdict. Though many did turn up, they were not in such numbers that could make a difference in his political fortunes. His party will probably still win many seats on July 25, but it does not look like Nawaz Sharif is going to stage a comeback to power anytime soon.
The third important political development is that Imran Khan, the PTI leader, has been gaining strength and might well be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. A former cricketing hero-turned politician, he has been able to garner increasing support, particularly among young voters, on the twin slogan of change and an end to corruption. There is no doubt that the erstwhile ruling parties, in cahoots with dishonest bureaucrats, have been guilty of massive corruption. They robbed the country ruthlessly and amassed assets in Western countries and Dubai through illegal commissions on government projects and large-scale money laundering. Their corruption is the major reason for the present economic crisis in Pakistan, on account of burgeoning debt burden that has resulted in depreciation of Pakistani rupee.
In addition to corruption, these leaders were guilty of misrule and poor economic planning. They gave preference to glitzy mass transportation schemes that are like white elephants, while denying funds to projects needed to fulfill the basic needs of the people —education and health, water and power. Most of these politicians have been driven by a lust for power and money. They sell loyalties for the sake of office. Influenced by the culture of the ruling elites, there has been a sharp decline in standard of morality all across the society. The moral fibre of our bureaucracy has been eroded. When civil servants are not selected on merit nor allowed to function honestly, the result is misgovernment.
It is tragic that the nation has strayed far from the vision of its founder Jinnah who was a model of spotless honesty and integrity. He wanted Pakistan to be a society free of religious or ethnic prejudices. The time has come to learn from our mistakes and build a new Pakistan. First and foremost, the top leader must be honest, dedicated and dynamic. This will have a trickledown effect that will help cleanse the whole society. Hopefully, Imran Khan can fill the bill, though he faces an arduous challenge. The reassuring thing is that the accountability process has seen an invigoration, backed up by a vigilant judiciary and a free media.
Pakistan is basically a sound country with good resources. Our people are talented. Our armed forces are brave and highly trained, and we possess nuclear power. Pakistanis can hold their own against any other people and have the ingredients to become a great nation. What we need is political stability under a clean, forward-looking leadership, which must operate with a clear plan of action. Education and health must be given high priority. Economic growth alone can provide jobs. The alarming growth of population has to be checked. If other Islamic countries like Iran and Bangladesh can achieve success in this area, why can’t we do it? At this difficult time, it is imperative to follow a pragmatic foreign policy as Pakistan needs peace and international cooperation. Eradication of terrorism and extremism are not only our internal need but would also help improve our ties with neighbours and others. The three recent suicide bombings show that terrorists are determined to jeopardize the forthcoming elections. They must not be allowed to succeed. Most of these terrorists are misguided fanatics whose mindset has to be changed by vigorous implementation of the long-neglected National Action Plan.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.