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Pakistan’s dependence syndrome

As Pakistan prepares for its next national election, we need to ask a few questions. How is it that a country strategically located, with a population of 210 million well-motivated people having strong conventional armed forces and nuclear armed yet suffers from several insecurities? It remains financially dependent- on the brink of default; with Moody’s Investor Service downgrading its rating to negative from stable. Its politics is confrontational and highly personalised and constantly manipulated by non-political forces. More troubling that it faces multiple security challenges external and internal.
Besides, our politicians with few exceptions have, if at all, only casual interest in addressing serious issues such as the internal security situation, imbalance in civil-military relations, judicial activism and improving relations with neighbours and the United States?
Another worrisome aspect does the concept of “electable” and patronage politics imply that nothing has changed even for the PTI that claims to be a reformist party. And one should expect that as in the past electable leaders on the basis of their stranglehold over their areas would lead them to the election booths. The explanation being offered that this is an election tactic to capture power but the higher goal still remains the transformation of Pakistan. If electables are a compulsion for the PTI than what is the difference between them and other parties? Even if one were to accept this line of argument the question is, ‘will it be possible to bring about the change with electable being the fountain of the party’s power base?’ The valid question being raised would those electable local leaders be partners of change despite Imran Khan’s good intentions and weight of his leadership. Then are these not the same people who in the past have been milking the state to gain political and economic power. What is worse that strengthening the hand of electables would corrupt the system further as they would leverage their power over state institutions, especially at the local level to advance their interests.
With elections nearly a month away the political parties have yet to bring out their manifestos. Perhaps for the leaders this is merely fulfilling a bureaucratic formality, as programmes have no value for them. What matters are personalities? Certainly personalities are the key in every democracy, and even more so in dictatorship. But the more pertinent point is what does the leadership stand for. Character of the leaders, their value system, party programme and how it is to be implemented, and past record in terms of governance are all very relevant issues that matter.
It is therefore not surprising that the media is comparing the performance of the PML-N in Punjab, the PTI in K-P and the PPP in Sindh for the voter to note. They need to further highlight that their claims are at odds with the reality on ground.
It is abundantly clear that the next government’s foremost challenge would be to retrieve the distressed national economy. The decision whether Pakistan would need an IMF bailout and what measures are needed for the country to stand on its own will have to be taken by the next government. In fact, forthcoming political government’s foremost task should be to draw up a comprehensive financial plan that the country is financially viable. Pakistan cannot afford to live on the dole from other countries. It is humiliating and undermines its other positive attributes.
Pakistan would need new austerity measures for the next few years and will the incoming government be in a position to undertake stern measures especially if the government is a weak coalition.
Dr IshratHussain in his recent seminal book Governing the Ungovernable has rightly observed, “Pakistan has also been characterised as an economy where the state has been hijacked and markets rigged, with uneven development, pronounced income inequality, and gender and regional disparities.” The next government will have to take some difficult decisions regarding these critical issues. Another important area where successive governments have been grossly indecisive is the future of public-sector enterprises. Past governments fearing a backlash from trade unions and interest groups have remained a silent spectator while these entities continue to bleed the exchequer due to inefficiencies and corruption. This state of affairs cannot continue and the next government will have to take the hard decision to either privatise or restructure. Will changes in political power enable the next government to take these measures is to be seen.
One of the Pakistan’s strong links with China is the CPEC project. It would indeed benefit Pakistan economically and strategically provided it is implemented faithfully. To fully benefit from it Pakistan needs to implement its side of the bargain with greater efficiency. But to expect CPEC would be a panacea of our country’s economic problems is fallacious.
If the leaders are fabulously rich whether it is Nawaz, Zardari or Imran Khan and the people poor how do alter your politics to throw up leadership of middle-class and lower middle-class politicians. The concept of electable perpetuates the dominance of money politics to performance politics. Changing the political landscape requires a fundamental change in the structure of political parties. These have to conduct regular elections and that too not cosmetic which has normally been the practice.
An encouraging aspect is the heightened awareness of the voter and how this will change the voting pattern. He is more blunt in demanding better performance from the leaders. It listens to its leaders but in many cases forms his opinion.
Television has played a significant role in educating the voter on various issues. The most remarkable aspect it keeps showing the mirror to the leaders when their narrative changes. It is the media that has been blowing the whistle when there have been economic and political abuses by politicians and other state functionaries in power.
The interest of the electorate would heighten as we approach the election date. It would indeed benefit the party that conducts the election campaign in the last month more professionally and effectively.