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A plethora of issues

Although Afghanistan currently looms large in the plethora of issues facing the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government, its penchant for creating unnecessary conflicts that do not redound to its benefit is also on display.

First, Afghanistan. Despite the fact that seeming peace reigns in the country after the Taliban takeover, some conflicts have already emerged a mere few weeks after their march into Kabul while other potential issues of conflict are looming. The Taliban’s assurances of having turned over a new leaf ring increasingly hollow. The first to feel the blows of their notorious proclivity for fascist behaviour are women. Their ministry has been dissolved, its building now housing the vice and virtue police setup that in the past brought them much criticism for enforcing their brand of extremist religious fervour on the lines of Saudi Arabia. Girls are not so far being allowed to attend school whereas boys can. Higher education is mooted to restart whenever it does with gender segregation and an ‘all-enveloping’ dress code for women.

Another front is Panjsher. The Taliban claims of having ‘taken’ the formidable valley must be treated with due caution. Certainly the main town/s have been taken, but the fact that no major leader of the resistance has been killed or captured and neither have any large numbers of resistance fighters suggests the Panjsheri guerrillas have simply melted away into their mountain fastnesses in the face of overwhelming force and decided to live to fight another day.

The interim government announced by the Taliban is exclusively old guard leaders of the group, including the Haqqani Network (not, as our well informed Prime Minister Imran Khan had it in an interview on CNN, the Haqqani ‘tribe’; there is no such tribe in existence). They are all Pashtun hardliners, with no other ethnic minorities or women in their ranks. So much for an inclusive government committed to by the Taliban.

The Afghan economy is teetering on the brink of collapse. Almost half a century of war and conflict has rendered the economy dependent on aid for about 80 percent of its needs. After the debacle of the US withdrawal, none of that aid is likely, apart from humanitarian assistance by the UN and other aid agencies, all of whom insist on handling the distribution of that aid themselves, not through the Taliban government. Whether the latter will agree is not yet clear. They may make some concessions in this regard only if widespread hunger and deprivation ensues, threatening their grip on power.

Afghanistan’s mosaic of nationalities, with the Pashtuns constituting about 40 percent, seems unrepresented in the interim Taliban government. This is bound to escalate through heartburn to possible active resistance unless the Taliban change course.

Pakistan is foremost in pleading the case to the world that the Taliban should be engaged with, if not recognised, or else chaos and trouble will ensue for Afghanistan, the region and the world. This is increasingly sounding like a self-fulfilling prophecy, given the demonstrated tendency of the Taliban to impose a harsh religious order more and more on the lines of their previous stint in the 1990s.

As though the PTI government at home did not have its hands full trying to convince the world of its new-found ‘credentials’ as a peacemaker in Afghanistan rather than the almost universally perceived backer of the Taliban, it continues to open new fronts that can hardly be viewed as doing itself any favours. The media, strangulated financially and forced to toe the government’s line, seems still not to have satisfied the authoritarian mindset of the PTI government. Dissenting, critical and progressive opinion has incrementally been weeded out of the mainstream media and relegated to finding whatever solace it can in the social media and the internet. The Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) stunt attempted by Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, despite his aggressive advocacy, appears to have foundered on the rock of a united media bodies, opposition parties and civil society opposition. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) hopes to deliver this stillborn baby the coup de grace through its announced long march on Islamabad.

The PTI government has also managed to rile up the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the Election Commission (EC) as a whole. Not having succeeded in browbeating the EC through inflammatory accusations of corruption and singing the opposition’s tune, PTI ministers are now reportedly attempting to stir up members of the EC against the CEC appointed by itself. The main issue of discord appears to be the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for the 2023 general elections. There are innumerable reservations about the introduction of EVMs on the part of the EC (37 objections in their report on the issue are being quoted), opposition and general public opinion. The elephant in the room is the 2018 general elections and the controversies that have swirled around that electoral exercise. The PTI government installed in power as a result of the 2018 general elections has a credibility issue regarding being a fairly elected dispensation. That is bad enough, but the PTI, full of rage and indignation against anyone or any institution that dares to disagree with it, is traversing the same path of confrontation it embarked on three years ago (if not longer). Whether this attitude stems from a sense of entitlement or simply reflects an authoritarian mindset (or both) can be debated. But the fact is that the track record of the PTI government over the last three years does not inspire confidence.

Parliament is dysfunctional, the political debate has been reduced to the gutter, and the PTI, given its fundamental narrative about corruption by its political opponents being the main, if not only, problem for Pakistan, is not open to running things with even the minimum of tolerance of dissent, without which democracy cannot function.

The delicate situation stemming from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, which is being squarely blamed on Pakistan’s support, poses grave potential problems for us. If the US’s pique at being ‘betrayed’ by its ostensible ally Pakistan in the Afghan theatre continues to inform Washington’s attitude to our bilateral relations, we are in for tough times.

Rashed Rahman, "A plethora of issues," Business Recorder. 2021-09-21.
Keywords: Political sciences , PTI government , Haqqani network , Afghan economy , Taliban government , Election commission , Parliament , Fawad Chaudhry , Afghanistan , Pakistan , CNN , PTI , PMDA , PFUJ , CEC

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