‘Politics as usual’ is destroying Pakistan. The continuing political instability has widened fault lines in the country, while the ballooning economic crisis is biting almost every sector and segment of the society. And to top it all, the ghost of terrorism is back with a vengeance. For a vast number of Pakistanis, these are the worst of times when no political force or institution seems to be in-charge of the situation and in a position to pull the country out of its ever-deepening political, economic and law and order predicaments.
On the political front, it is not just one set of politicians pitted against the other, but even the state institutions – from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to the Parliament and the superior judiciary to the Pakistan Armed Forces – all have become controversial and face growing public criticism as witnessed on the traditional and social media. People seem to have lost faith in the government, the state institutions and unfortunately the state itself.
The all-encompassing hopelessness is understandable. We have a 13-party coalition government which lacks credibility and public support. Some of the most corruption-tainted faces and political dynasties have been thrust in the corridors of power through dubious means. And since assuming power, the only significant law-making that they have done through an incomplete National Assembly is to get the accountability law diluted just to benefit themselves in mega-corruption cases. Barring this pro-corruption law-making, the Shehbaz Sharif government has no game-plan other than to hang on to power and target Imran Khan, his party officials and independent voices in the media through false cases, arrests, torture and below the belt smear campaigns.
On the economic front, the Shehbaz Sharif government has only messed up the situation by bringing in Nawaz Sharif’s trusted aide and father-in-law of his daughter, Ishaq Dar, as finance minister. Dar, known for his anti-reforms’ mindset, again resorted to the same old tricks of artificially propping up the rupee, defying the IMF’s reform agenda, and the arm-twisting of local businesses and investors for short-term gains. But his policies backfired in a big way, which is evident from the mega-slide in the value of Pakistani currency against the dollar, shrinking forex reserves, a record high inflation and slowdown in the economy. This has resulted in the closure of big and small industries across Pakistan, growing unemployment and falling incomes. After ruining whatever was left of the battered economy, Dar finally succumbed to the IMF demands and got engaged with it to complete the 9th review which had been pending since he became finance minister in September 2022. But despite these failures, Dar continues to hold the office as the Sharif family thinks his loyalty and the fact that his son is married to Nawaz’s daughter is the only qualification required to hold the all-important office of the finance minister.
To add to the uncertainty and toxicity of the country’s politics is the ECP’s role, which instead of focusing on holding free, fair and transparent elections, appears focused on targeting the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). ECP’s cases against former premier Imran Khan and his close aides, which resulted in the arrest of senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry, manifests that holding fair elections under this set-up is impossible. The controversial appointment of Mohsin Naqvi as caretaker chief minister Punjab, the highly flawed delimitation of constituencies in urban Sindh, especially Karachi, in the recently held local bodies elections, and then all the rigging and manipulation charges during these polls and in the announcement of results show what’s in store for the country in general elections. Yes, the tidings are that the 2023 general elections will also be controversial if the institutions fail to act fairly — by design or default.
With politicians failing to sort out their differences, the biggest responsibility lies on the shoulders of the military leadership to play its role in clearing the mess. But the military leadership must be clear that they have to select the right civilian partners to take the country forward. And the right political partners won’t come from tried, tested and failed political dynasties. Imposing the same set of corrupt politicians or their offspring will only exacerbate the crisis and damage the credibility of the country’s armed forces. The only way forward for the country is to hold fair general elections. If the institutions fail to ensure them, Pakistan would slide into greater trouble, which the country cannot ill-afford at this critical juncture.