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An uncomfortable gap?

Pakistan is once again surrounded by a series of headwinds as it faces a range of tough challenges from adverse global trends triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine to internal challenges with few solutions in sight.

In this increasingly adverse background, the opposition’s push to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan through a vote of no confidence only promises to take Pakistan away from the prospect of stability any time soon. Even if the next parliamentary elections are held earlier than scheduled by summer 2023, a period of volatility for Pakistan’s prospects will be a given.

For the immediate future, Friday’s suicide attack at a mosque in Peshawar yet again smashed the prospect of improving security conditions any time soon. Months after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was welcomed by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, Pakistan continues to face increasing security threats from across the Afghan border. That the arrival of a Taliban government in Kabul should have led to a more secure Pakistan remains an unlikely prospect in the foreseeable future

Even Khan’s recent overseas journeys – to Beijing and Moscow, appear to have brought back few visible dividends for the country in general and the mainstream population in particular. On the contrary, getting embroiled in the fallout from the Ukraine war with the Moscow visit may eventually work more to harm Pakistan’s best interests than bringing home some good.

Ultimately, from foreign policy fronts to the domestic outlook, the writing on the wall has repeatedly shown that without a clear grip on trends across Pakistan, any number of active diplomatic engagements will bring few returns. Friday’s Peshawar attack for example has prompted fresh questions over Pakistan’s internal security outlook.

Issues like Pakistan’s ability to manage concrete intelligence followed by watertight security and policing must all be counted among the core elements of internal security. Though not directly related to security in a strict sense, Pakistan’s economic outlook and the reality of a large segment of its people remaining impoverished nevertheless creates additional pressure on Pakistan’s overall stability.

The many slippages under Khan’s rule appear to have given added impetus to the opposition’s calls for the prime minister to resign. This week, as a procession of political activists led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made its way towards Islamabad to demand Khan’s resignation, another gap was far too obvious to be ignored. As leaders of Pakistan’s ruling and opposition political parties clamoured against each other, few seemed to have addressed what matters the most – the challenge of spelling out policies in favour of the mainstream population of Pakistan.

It is a gap that lies at the heart of Pakistan’s dysfunctional politics. For too long has the country been led by self-serving leaders whose main loyalty has remained primarily tied to serving the interests of powerful lobbies. In his latest concession to Pakistan’s top elite, Khan has controversially offered a powerful incentive to owners of new industries, allowing them to invest but remain immune from revealing the source of their investments.

The offer marked the second time under Khan’s watch of such a controversial loophole, since investors were allowed to invest in Pakistan’s housing sector without having to reveal the source of their wealth. Such examples in today’s world not only reinforce the powerful and dark reality of money laundering. More importantly, they become a repeated reminder of a state that simply doesn’t care about global trends, both in thinking and practice.

And, while Pakistan faces an increasingly troubled world, the country’s ability to steer through the prevailing turbulence appears compromised. Before Khan’s recent decision to order a reduction in domestic fuel prices, low to moderate income Pakistanis had already been saddled with inflation at a pace seldom seen in recent memory. At the heart of this tragic trend lie a number of economic factors.

Across Pakistan, most notably the large Punjab province ruled by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), there is widespread evidence of repeated failures of governance in keeping price rises in line with inflation. In other words, local cartels in different sectors have freely operated without checks while powerful traders have willingly set prices of food items, often without justification in line with inflation.

Eventually, Pakistan has progressed through a stunning gap where the ruling quarters have often failed to either appreciate the challenges at the grassroots or take decisive actions to provide immediate relief. For now, as the race between Khan and his opponents to grab power in Islamabad continues to gather speed, there is little evidence of respite for the Pakistani mainstream any time soon. If Khan’s opponents expect to be taken seriously, they must present a game plan to mark a new beginning for the people of Pakistan. In sharp contrast, only a change of regime in Islamabad will just not be impressive.

Email: farhanbokhari@gmail.com

Farhan Bokhari, "An uncomfortable gap?," The News. 2022-03-09.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political activists , Governance , Economy , Diplomats , PM Imran Khan , Bhutto Zardari , Kabul , Pakistan , PTI