By all accounts 2022 was a bad year for Pakistan against the backdrop of unprecedented political instability and a steep economic downturn. The mega political mess created by the country’s lords and masters has left many educated and professional Pakistanis disillusioned with politics and their country’s future. No wonder, an estimated 765,000 Pakistanis, most of them educated and professional youngsters, left Pakistan to seek employment abroad in the first 11 months of 2022. This is nearly thrice the number who left Pakistan in 2021.
Those who migrated for greener pastures abroad, included some 92,000 highly educated individuals, including information technology experts, doctors, engineers, and accountants. This reflects the mood of the moment in Pakistan where many college and university going students want to leave the country at the first given opportunity. They see no hope for themselves in the country where the system forgives, condones and supports the corrupt and their corruption and the oppressive and exploitative arm of the law exists only for the weak and the poor. The cesspool of the ruling elite keeps bringing the same old faces, their offspring, friends and lackeys into the corridors of power, who have been running and ruining the country decade after decade. The system exists only for them and does not allow a change. Any talented lower or middle class person gets entry into the corridors of power only as a henchman and yes man type aide of dynastic politicians. Even the economic managers of the country do not change – whether it is under military rule or the so-called elected government. The same old faces – Hafiz Shaikhs, Shaukat Tareens, Ishaq Dars and their likes — keep going in and out of the revolving doors of the Finance Ministry under this or that ruling regime.
Should we expect that 2023 will change all this? There are hardly any chances. Given the kind of political and economic challenges Pakistan faces, the New Year will prove much tougher than 2022. Our civilian political players – the parties in the ruling coalition of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and opposition the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – have demonstrated once again that they are unable to settle their disputes or find a middle ground within or outside the Parliament. The Pakistan Military, which is still seen by many as the last fallback, seems to have lost the plot since its high command under the former Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa raised the banner of neutrality and of being apolitical in early 2022. Since then, the country has been caught in the never-ending vortex of political uncertainty and chaos. This shows that politically-correct jargon borrowed from the West fails to deliver when applied in a developing country like Pakistan where institutions cannot and should not abandon their traditional role all of a sudden. In Pakistan, where civilian institutions are weak and under-developed, the armed forces have always played a stabilizing role. They cannot abandon this role. Here, this publication is not advocating that the Pakistan Army should grab power, but rather, it should act as mediator to break this grinding political impasse. If the current military leadership continues with the course set by General Bajwa, the crisis would only aggravate. The reason: General Bajwa helped restore those corruption-tainted politicians who not long ago were painted black and even declared a security risk by his own institution. And the institution was not wrong when it exposed their corruption. It was only reflecting reality. Pakistan Army’s anti-corruption narrative won applause and enhanced its respect among an overwhelming number of Pakistanis. This role should continue and the armed forces being the most disciplined and powerful institution of the country, should help civilian institutions to transform themselves into pro-people entities.
If the Army fails to act now, the rot will only grow and become an existential threat for Pakistan. Yes, Pakistan needs democracy, but not the democracy of the elite and corrupt, but a pro-people one. Corruption should not be taken as a premium that Pakistanis must always pay to sustain democracy. Therefore, reviving the accountability process should be the part and parcel of the solution aimed to pull the country out of its political blind alley. Early elections and accountability is the only way forward for Pakistan. Anything short of that would not be able to end the country’s political turmoil. Pakistan Army’s new leadership can “nudge and coax” the civilians to take this route in the larger national interests. This is a must to save Pakistan from a collapse and total failure.