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Where Pakistan Stands on Its 68th Birthday

In 68 years of its existence, Pakistan has experienced democratic and military regimes, pseudo democracy and quasi dictatorship, and even a civilian Martial Law. For outsiders, the political history of Pakistan may make an interesting story, but for those who have lived through the experience, it is extremely painful. It amounts to living perpetually in a laboratory wherein all kinds of political experiments are being conducted by whosoever is in control of the State for the time being. It is a story of ambitious and adventurous generals; manipulative and crafty bureaucrats; self-serving and crooked politicians; and pliable and self-centred judges. It is a horrifying spectre of a new nation with formidable prospects being ruined by its own leaders.

Pakistan is again in a deep political chaos and political uncertainty. Both Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) lead by Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) lead by Tahir-ul-Qadri are claiming to bring revolution by leading long marches into country’s capital Islamabad. The planned demonstrations, and violent clashes between security forces and supporters of PTI and PTA, have frightened the Nawaz government. The government has blocked roads in major cities of the country to stop protesters from gathering in the capital, where Section 144 has been imposed. The imposition of Section 144 prohibits the gathering of more than four persons, whereas several leaders and workers of both PTI and PAT are being detained by authorities under Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) ordinance. Cellular services are blocked in parts of the country, and are expected to remain suspended for an indefinite period.

Imran Khan has alleged that the last year General elections were rigged by the current ruling party Pakistan Muslim League (N). He has also alleged that extra ballot papers were printed and that senior judges, officials and returning officers were involved in the alleged rigging. He initially demanded a recount of votes in electorates but the current government of PML (N) has offered a review in only ten electorates. Prime Minister of Pakistan in his yesterday televised address to nation has also requested  the Chief Justice of Pakistan to form a three-member commission that will investigate the rigging allegations and give a final verdict. This measure seems appropriate but too late as it came just two days before the launch of massive anti-government marches led by PTI and PAT.

When Sharifs assumed offices 14 months ago, they had everything for a stable government; a decisive majority, a clear mandate, and above all, their huge electoral slogans. They also enjoyed the support of the media and the superior judiciary. But to the disappointment of ordinary citizens of Pakistan, they have not given up their habit of king-like capricious (often dictatorial) decision-making.

During yesterday’s address, Prime Minister of Pakistan has cunningly tried to win the support of Pakistan army by appreciating their efforts and sacrifices in the military operation Zarbe Azb. The fact remains that there had been a limited recalibration of Nawaz government on National security policy towards armed terrorist groups. One cannot ignore that Nawaz has a reputation of deal making with extremists. This policy bought encouragement to Taliban. Mr Sharif wasted a lot of time on talks with the terrorists but failed to persuade Taliban to murder less in return for concessions. Due to compromising attitude of PML-N’s leadership and their mild will to fight against the menace of terrorism the members of law enforcement agencies were completely demoralised.

Like his previous regimes, Mr Sharif fanaticised to bring armed forces of Pakistan under the civilian control. Certain media outlets have allegedly tried to de-fame Pakistan’s armed forces in collaboration with the government of Nawaz sharif.  Relations between the army and the Prime Minister also soured after Nawaz decided to charge the previous army chief and President, Pervez Musharraf, with treason. He had hoped Musharraf’s conviction would affect a crippling blow to the army’s culture of impunity and help him tame the military. But developments did not go the way he wished.  There is a considered opinion that Nawaz Sharif mishandled the situation. Bantering with the army, when terrorism stalks the land was absolutely counter-productive.

While the Nawaz government is busy in building the concrete structures, roads and bridges; the country’s economic situation has worsened. Nawaz wrongly claimed in his yesterday’s speech a GDP growth of 4% during his present regime. Government of Nawaz Sharif did not achieve its target of 4.2%. The GDP growth forecast for fiscal year 2013/14 has been revised upward slightly to 3.1 percent but it is still less then GDP growth in 2012. Inflation is projected to hover around 10 percent in the remainder of 2014 fiscal year. The current account deficit is expected to be about 1 percent of GDP. Pakistan’s Gross official reserves declined below US$3.2 billion. The Government of Pakistan was unable to attract substantial other financing and it has already borrowed 90 billion rupees additional funds from the State Bank of Pakistan during fiscal year 2013/14.  Weak inflows and continued debt payments resulted in a US$1.5 billion decline in Pakistani reserves. Next 7 months are very crucial for Pakistan’s economy as 64 percent debt is due to be paid back which entails high rollover and refinancing needs. Inflation in Pakistan has increased sharply as a consequence of economic downturn.

Rising food prices also cause severe problems for the poorer segments of society. Pakistan ranks 145 of 187 in the U.N. Human Development Index (HDI) and is still categorised as a country with “low human development.” The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIC) puts Pakistan on rank of 75 of 80 countries in its index that considers the “best place to be born” in 2013. The World Bank figures had stated that 60.8% of the population lived on less than $2 per day.

The fact remains that only 62% of Pakistanis have access to electricity, but they also face chronic shortages. In the face of rising consumer demand, the problem of load-shedding has intensified in recent years and an unreliable supply remains a major obstacle to economic growth and competitiveness.

Unemployment is a critical problem in Pakistan today. High unemployment is not only resulting in underutilisation of available manpower but also resulting in economic agony. This high rate of unemployment is also giving birth to many undesirable social consequences in the country e.g. crimes such as theft, kidnapping, burglary, suicides, assassinations, threat to national security etc.

The Nawaz government has continued the trend of intermittently interfering with media channels by temporarily disrupting or pulling off the air certain television stations or programmes. Pakistan under Nawaz Government has been ranked 158 out of 173 in the 2013-14 Press Freedom Index.

In a democratic system, the political leadership is expected to synchronise between the expectations and demands of its support groups and the groups that oppose its leadership. The task of the leadership is to establish a framework on the basis of which uniform and credible principles of political game may evolve. However, Sharifs’ experience reveals a two-fold dilemma. First, a growing disharmony amongst the federal cabinet, secondly Sharifs’ authoritarian policies and practices. On the one hand Sharifs claim to struggle and sacrifice for restoration of democracy. They have promised to build constitutionalism, promote democracy, uphold rule of law and, yet, their own conduct and behaviour portrays an equally strong indulgence towards autocratic tendencies. This considerably can damage the sustainability of democracy in Pakistan.

 

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