Faisal Zahid Malik
For the third consecutive term, the civilian government is completing its constitutionally mandated five year term and preparations are on for holding of next general elections to pave the way for a democratic transition. In normal circumstances, this should have been a source of joy, celebrations, satisfaction and optimism about future of the country and strengthening of the system but this is not the case as dark clouds refuse to disappear from the political and democratic horizon. At the end of the tenure of the democratically elected Government, no one knows for sure what would happen next and in which direction we are going to proceed despite the fact that everything is crystal clear in the Constitution that all stakeholders claim to be respecting and upholding.
The chequered history of the country is dotted with frequent periods of instability and crises but most of them were caused due to infighting among politicians. The frequent leg-pulling of the party in power by the impatient opposition parties led to dismissal of elected governments prematurely. Apart from the periods when supra-constitutional interventions were made, the Establishment and the Judiciary, in the past, also acted as arbiter and helped prevent the worst. But now the dreaded monster of clash of institutions is raising its head and there is no one who could urge or counsel for restraint and as a consequence the situation is going from bad to worse with each passing day.
Confrontation among institutions is the most unfortunate thing that could happen to a country as it can lead to devastating consequences both internally and externally. Some of the tension among institutions might be attributed to election-related rhetoric but public perception of a free-for-all infighting among institutions would damage the country badly. All this is happening at a time when there was dire need of unity and harmony among all stakeholders to tackle a host of problems and challenges that haunt the country these days. Economy of the country was doing well, not just as per claims of the leaders of the PML(N) Government but also according to oft-repeated statements and assessments of bilateral donors and multilateral lenders but the speed of the progress stands punctured after unprecedented judgement of the Supreme Court in Panama Papers that sent an elected Prime Minister packing. As if this was not enough, the Capital remained hostage in the hands of a few hundred people, who occupied Faizabad Interchange for over three weeks on the pretext of protest on an issue that cannot be blamed entirely on the treasury benches. This and the humiliating deal signed by the Government with the protestors sent dismaying signals not only to people of Pakistan but also to the outside world about writ of the Government and growing influence of extremist elements in the affairs of the country. It was because of the cumulative effect of deflection of attention from the real issues that the country had to witness some of the pinching developments on the foreign policy front including clear mention of names of some ‘militant’ organizations in the declaration issued by BRICS and decision of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to put Pakistan on the grey list of countries funding terrorism from June, 2018. There are clear indications that we are becoming increasing isolated on the issue and our options are very limited.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was such an epoch-making and historic initiative that it upset the anti-Pakistan forces on the bright prospects of the country coming out of the vicious cycle of poverty and catching with other nations making rapid socio-economic progress. One must give credit to the PML(N) Government for going whole hog in ensuring expeditious implementation of the projects under the umbrella of the Corridor despite initial hiccups and road-blocks put by some unscrupulous elements. Today 46 projects are in different phases of implementation and their completion would make a big difference as far as infrastructure facilities and availability of electricity are concerned. World class infrastructure and supply of uninterrupted power has the potential to bring about an industrial revolution in the country as apart from China a number of countries have formed a beeline to make investment in different sectors of Pakistan’s economy including automobile. But the political instability, uncertainty and confusion caused by confrontation among institutions are threatening smooth implementation of CPEC projects and also the prospects of increased foreign investment that could also ease the problem of unemployment.
It was because of significant improvement in economic indicators and financial health of the country that the incumbent government had decided not to go for another IMF bailout package but gaps in revenue generation, declining exports and falling remittances by Overseas Pakistanis might force this or the coming government to revert back to the Fund. There is dire need for the Government to concentrate on internal and external challenges but it is finding no time to do so in the face of fast-changing internal developments.
There is also a perception that institutions are competing for more and more space in the system and in the process encroaching upon the domain of others. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the Government was finding it difficult to make genuine appointments or take policy initiatives for which it has been voted to power by the masses.
There is no denying the fact that confrontation among institutions and their interference in each other’s domain has become a topic of discussion even by a layman. Former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif is complaining of a great plan against him, an apparent reference to moves that virtually mean Sharif family’s expulsion from politics. PML(N) claims NAB has suddenly become active but there is no worthwhile progress in cases except those against Sharif family. The party also cites abrupt judgement that forced its candidates to contest Senate elections as independents, as political targeting of the party. Together with change of Government in Balochistan and action on the basis of dual nationality directly hit only one party and therefore, there are complaints about victimization. A series of contempt of court proceedings against PML(N) leaders are also being seen with suspicion by the party rank and file.
The downslide is feared to continue if there is no let up in attacks on judiciary and a pause in verdicts that are construed as ‘motivated’ by the aggrieved party as these damage it during election year, which no party can afford. The Constitution envisages formation of neutral caretaker governments after dissolution of the assemblies so that general elections are held in a fair and impartial manner. There should be absolutely no interference in the electoral process and if the Government cannot release advertisements or launch developmental projects and programmes for the sake of level playing field then there is also no logic to pursue court cases that could harm a particular political party or benefit some other during this period. There should be a pause in view of the ground realities.
Pakistan is a proud nuclear power, bestowed with both natural and human resources, has a strategic location, can become a hub of regional and global trade and connectivity and join the ranks of developed and prosperous states provided we shun fissiparous tendencies and all stakeholders make conscientious and concerted efforts to promote internal unity and harmony that is also a firm guarantee against any blackmail by foreign countries. People especially young generation is getting frustrated over unending instability and internal wrangling and, therefore, they should urgently get positive signals from all concerned before it is too late.