111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Time for change

Last week, in an article in the Financial Times, columnist Victor Mallet concluded that Pakistan’s phenomenal population growth rate (3.8 children per women), not politics, threatens Pakistan. At this growth rate, by 2050 population could exceed 395 million or nearly double its current level, and could be much more frustrated and hence ungovernable.

Indeed, strain on the country’s natural resources (water, energy, power), its collapsing physical infrastructure, incapacities and inefficiencies of state-provided services (compounded by bureaucratic incompetence and corruption), and the misery they together cause to the masses, is immense and could worsen. That said population growth isn’t the lethal threat; it is politics.

Mallet overlooks the fact that Pakistan’s politics remained short-sighted, self-serving and, above all, devoid of futuristic thinking. The real threat therefore is politicians’ lack of foresight, incapacity for planning a need-based future, and undoing the distortions in civil society’s thinking about the future, especially about nurturing a family size that is manageable.

If those with foresight and a commitment to finding problem-specific solutions to the national issues adore Pakistan’s legislature, threats to the future can be confronted effectively by rationalising peoples’ thinking, and by making optimal use of the vast, untapped national resources. The ongoing political crisis owes itself to the incompetent adoring the legislature.

Political regimes opted to privatise the power generation sector rather than build dams to preserve river water (instead of letting it cause deadly floods) and generate the cheapest electricity there from. Kala Bagh dam was virtually ‘buried alive’ by the PPP, Sindh’s nationalists, and the ANP. Now, power shortages are the deadliest problem that Pakistan faces.

Now this lot opposes the set-up of more administrative units – local governments – in provinces, labelling it as the ‘break-up’ of the provinces, although, over time, population growth rendered the existing units incapable of delivering, and burdened the state with the accusation of failure. Yet, these politicians insist that future-blind governments must complete their 5-year term.

At a huge cost to the nation, the government insists on staying in power despite its visible failure to deliver anything except higher poverty and the resultant social chaos that is damaging Pakistan’s image globally although it needs a huge inflow of financial resources to urgently plug the gaps (built over decades) in its infrastructure, if a total collapse is to be avoided.

The hallmark of politicians “success” (in fact, of the PPP and PML-N that Ishaq Dar admits) is accumulation of over $200bn in banks abroad by Pakistan’s politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. This sum is only one-third of Pakistan’s external debt, default on whose servicing now threatens bankruptcy almost every quarter. Three cheers for “governance” over decades!

Imran Khan’s hugely successful public meeting in Karachi on September 21 (partly courtesy MQM’s decision not to obstruct it) and his blasting of the PPP for its being in league with the PML-N in sustaining the PML-N regime was interpreted by the PML-N leadership as the result of a “muk muka” (compromise) between PTI and the MQM, and hence a dangerous sign.

Not surprisingly, events with significant consequences followed thereafter. The first was the Rangers’ raid on an MQM parliamentarian’s house, arrest of 23 party workers, subsequent ‘sit-ins’ by MQM on all major road crossing in Karachi, and disclosure by DIG Sindh Police that the assassin of PTI’s Zahra Shahid (who the PTI had earlier claimed to be an MQM worker) had been arrested.

Political observers are divided on the possible outcome of these events; some think these developments aim at re-kindling a PTI-MQM divide to turn Karachi – Pakistan’s largest city and its industrial-financial powerhouse – into the centre of popular dissent against the government. Others think it is to materialise this outcome to justify PML-N’s exit from office.

MQM chief’s letter addressed to the CoAS and his subsequent outbursts added another twist to the chaos triggering rumours that the raid by the Rangers (who report to the Sindh government) was aimed at driving a wedge between MQM and the Army to lead (hopefully not) to a repeat of the 1992 tragedy, to prevent any Army-backed undoing of the current political malaise.

The legal arena too exhibited significant developments. Lahore High Court (LHC) accepted a petition seeking the indictment of PTI and PAT for contempt of court by defying its August 13 order that prohibited these parties’ launch of their protest marches. At the same time, the court ordered the release of 36 PTI-PAT protestors.

But, the LHC order bailing out Gulloo Butt (of the Model Town tragedy fame) just two days before PTI’s public meeting in Lahore because of insufficient evidence about his being the part of a terrorist outfit, surprised many observers because Gulloo Butt has not yet been cleared of the criminal charges relating to his role in the Model Town tragedy.

On the other hand, on September 26, the Supreme Court (SC) finally admitted for hearing a petition filed on September 2, for disqualifying the Prime Minister for lying before the parliament about the role he assigned to the CoAS in negotiating a compromise with PTI and PAT. This petition was initially rejected by the Registrar on the grounds of the Prime Minister’s immunity.

The Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) stand that the damning Post-Election Review Report about 2013 elections doesn’t amount to anything more than mere “recommendations” of the stakeholders including international and domestic observers, was a poor cover-up of its blunders that strengthened the view that poll rigging did take place and had ECP’s tacit (or definite?) backing.

Against this backdrop, the scenario reflects mounting challenges to the government but the worst off are the law enforcers who, while remaining severely handicapped, must defend it. In three articles published in this newspaper on December 22, 23 and 24, 2009 (based on my discussions with the then Sindh’s AIG Crimes), miseries of the police were highlighted. Since then, things have only worsened.

Police – the target of terrorists since 2003 – is now seen to defending a regime that didn’t have the mandate to govern. That’s the biggest tragedy now confronting Pakistan. Yet, politicking, not urgent remedial action to rescue the flood-affected people, revive the economy, plug fiscal and trade deficits, and through containment of inflation restoring the social order are the lowest priorities of our politicians.

The opposition’s focus is on protests and the government’s on crushing them ruthlessly, which is fuelling protests and disorder at an even wider scale. If the ongoing socio-political chaos isn’t contained quickly via installation of a technocrat caretaker regime, the price Pakistanis, without “any” exception, will have to pay, defies estimation. Courtesy its track record, the incumbent regime has forsaken every chance of survival.

A. B. Shahid, "Time for change," Business recorder. 2014-09-30.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social needs , Social crisis , Social systems , Population-Pakistan , Population growth , Natural resources , National issues , Political issues , Political crisis , Power shortages , Political leaders , Politics-Pakistan