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The fault in political stars

They say politicians don’t care about the people, and the events of the past couple of weeks have done little to dispel this impression.

The lengths they will go to in order to protect their narrow political interests, pro-democracy and pro-people rhetoric notwithstanding, seem to have pushed the country to a breaking point.

As the economy sinks deeper and deeper into quagmire, the ruling alliance — led by the PML-N — and the opposition PTI have taken their fight to the streets, at the expense of their inflation-stricken citizens, governance and, last but not least, democracy.

No wonder then, that neither the IMF nor the so-called ‘friendly countries’ appear very interested in helping Pakistan back from the brink of an imminent default.

In such a climate, hearing about growing ‘divisions’ within the military and the judiciary along political lines does not come as much of a surprise – it is after all merely a reflection of the polarisation that has already taken place in the social fabric at large.

Nor is it surprising to see parliament and the executive becoming totally dysfunctional as the country goes under.

With Imran Khan demanding immediate elections and the ruling alliance hell bent on delaying them, the political temperature is soaring to boiling point.

The most important question now seems to be: do those on either side of the political fence — involved in this power struggle — have what it takes to save the state of Pakistan?

“Both those in power and those in the opposition are to blame for what we are seeing today. But those in government have a greater responsibility to cool down political temperatures,” says a journalist and political analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sadly, he notes, the ruling coalition is “indulging in revenge politics, unleashing police action and arresting its opponents – all in the name of executing court orders”. 

“The polarisation has reached a level where even the caretaker setup in Punjab, whose job is to make arrangements for fair polls in the province, has lost its neutrality and is now looking like an extension of the PML-N or the federal government,” he notes.

This does not augur well for the federal government or the upcoming elections. “Who will agree to elections under the present caretakers in Punjab? The interim government must distance itself from the coalition led by the PML-N to restore its neutrality,” he argues.

But at the same time, he is also critical of Imran Khan and his party. 

“It is unfortunate that Mr Khan has not even once denounced the violence (by his party workers against the police). Why? He never tires of giving us examples of the rule of law from the West. Do politicians behave like this in the Western democracies he says he knows better than any fellow Pakistanis? He also has a responsibility to tone down his rhetoric.”

The current chaos, in his view, can be traced back to the PTI chief’s decision to quit parliament and bring his politics to the streets.

“When you bring politics out of parliament, you always run the risk of encouraging agitation and violence. But the political, economic, governance and institutional crises confronting this nation of 230 million people cannot be tackled through agitation and street fights.

At the end of the day, Imran will also have to sit across the table from his opponents and talk to them to find a way out of the current quagmire, the analyst notes.

“He will have to give something in order to obtain something from his opponents. There is no other way out of the turmoil we are in. Both sides will have to take a step back and talk. Neither party can fix this country alone,” he observes.

Fahad Rauf, who is head of research at Ismail Iqbal Securities in Karachi, says the economy has fallen victim to political strife.

“The IMF programme was suspended owing to the political decisions of the PTI government to slash and freeze power and fuel prices ahead of the vote of no confidence against Imran Khan a year ago. It took months to restore the funding package as the new government took its sweet time to reverse the energy subsidies, only to deviate again from the programme (in October to revive the PML-N’s political capital),” he says.

It is unfortunate, he notes, that politics always dictates economic policy in Pakistan.

“We do not tax real estate, retailers, big farmers and other lobbies due to their political clout. We never shy from giving generous (tax) amnesties to the mighty and the powerful. We are where we are because of this very reason,” he says. 

In his view, the reason why IMF or friendly nations are not coming forward to help us in this dark hour is because of the growing political instability that is tearing the country apart.

“We need a stable government for economic stability and revival. New elections are no solution to our problems; but these at least will send a message to the Fund and other creditors that they have a permanent setup in Islamabad to talk to. With elections round the corner, it is useless to expect the government to take rational economic decisions.”

Then, there is the constitutional imperative. In the view of an Islamabad-based lawyer, the constitution prescribes a definite timeframe for organising polls.

“The current political turmoil created by confrontation between the PDM government and the opposition PTI has pushed the real issues (such as inflation and the economic crisis) to the bottom of both sides’ priority lists. You can’t expect economic stability without political stability,” he says.

Although he fears that that the party that wins the elections may have undemocratic tendencies, he still suggests that the ruling alliance should follow the Constitution.

“Deviation from the constitutional path will push us deeper into political and economic turmoil. We have fought forces with fascist tendencies in the past and we can fight them in the future as well. Nevertheless, there’ll be no coming back from the abyss that we are leading this country into.”


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