Crossroads again

Crossroads again
Should the Miltablishment that effectively rules Pakistan be worried about the state of the country, about the viability of the hybrid political system it has hoisted, its institutions, its economy and relations with regional and international players? Yes. Consider the nature and scope of the various crises that we face.

Crisis of Hybrid System: The Miltablishment’s selected partner, Pakistan Tehreek Insaf, has come a cropper, in the process discrediting the Miltablishment for hoisting, protecting and sustaining it. Its attempt to replace the two party system with one party overlordship has only succeeded in breathing new life into its nemesis, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. In order to stave off defeat in the next elections that could challenge the civil-military imbalance, the PTI is fumbling with new laws to pressurize not just the opposition parties but also certain institutions of the state to heel. The NAB and FIA have fallen; the superior judiciary is being sorely tested, and the Election Commission and Media are under attack. The dysfunctionality of parliament -- marked by lack of quorum on most sittings -- is being papered over by frenzied threats to call joint sessions of both Houses to railroad suffocating new laws.

Crisis of Economy: Stop-Go policies have orchestrated a game of musical chairs to sow uncertainty and discontinuity. In the space of just three years, 3 Finance Ministers, 13 SAPMs, 6 CBR Chairmen, 5 Finance Secretaries, 2 State Bank Governors, etc., have worked overtime at cross purposes. Meanwhile, the stock market has crashed; our credit ratings have plunged from Emerging Market status to Frontier Market; Inflation is galloping at double digit speed; the rupee is the worst performing currency in Asia after losing nearly 50% of its value in three years; 24% of “educated” people are unemployed and 1.5 million people recently applied for the job of a “peon” across the country; the fiscal deficit has hit 9.3%; public debt is over 90% of GDP and rising; And so on. The poor are getting poorer, the middle classes are sliding down while the rich couldn’t care less.

Crisis of Foreign Policy: Pakistan’s relations with the international community -- led by the US and European Union with which it does most of its business and to which it owes its soaring debt—have hit rock bottom. The EU is threatening to withdraw GSP+ status that sustains a significant chunk of our exports while the US -- which controls aid-giving financial institutions like the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc., upon which we depend critically for debt to finance development -- is discussing laws to sanction Pakistan for “double-dealing” policies that contributed to its defeat in Afghanistan. Our relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States still haven’t recovered from the frosty embrace of Imran Khan. Relations with India have never been worse when these ought to have been “normal” in our own interest at this juncture. Ominously, the recent seizure of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban should have been an occasion of smug satisfaction for us. But it has quickly degenerated into a colossal concern. The prospect of a friendly regime at our back with secure borders that opens up gateways to Central Asia for mineral extraction and energy pipelines is fast diminishing owing to the threat of virulent terrorism from its bowels against everyone in the region, raising the spectre of foreign intervention all over again.

The dismay in these developing crises is all the greater when we examine them in the context of what seemingly matters more to policy makers in the Miltablishment and government. In the former, it is perceived to be decisions about tenurial extensions, promotions, postings and transfers rather than to finding sustainable solutions to pressing national security issues. In the latter, it is on how to eliminate the opposition, control the media, manage the judiciary and rig the next elections.

In the last seventy years since independence, Pakistan has arrived at the crossroads time and again but failed to take the right road to nation-building and sustained economic growth. In 1958 the Miltablishment opted for martial law instead of constitutional democracy and we paid the price for it by losing half the country. In 1977, the Miltablishment again chose martial law but rooted it in “Islamic jihad” in Afghanistan against the USSR, in the process birthing militant sectarian outfits that came back to bite us. In 1999, the Miltablishment seized power again and sanctuaried the Taliban as a long term strategic ally, in the bargain nurturing the TTP that has killed over 50,000 Pakistanis and is poised, along with Al Qaeda and ISK, to inflict even greater damage on us today. On all three occasions, we were allied to the Unites States which pump-primed our economy to fatten our civil-military elites and make them dependent. Today, however, we are at a crossroads where, instead of dollops of American aid as in the past, we are faced with the threat of isolation and sanctions by the international community in the midst of serious economic, political, institutional and constitutional crises at home, even as we see no respite from the backlash of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.

For all these reasons, Pakistan’s ruling civil-military elite needs to reset the framework of National Power – kinetic security, sustained and non-dependent economic growth, fairer regional and class distribution of the fruits of development and consensual rules of political participation and constitutional governance. A nation that is economically weak, politically divided and constitutionally frail is a nation on the brink of becoming a failed state for predatory super-powers.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.