Former federal minister Muhammad Ali Durrani has taken the initiative to foster reconciliation among political parties in an effort to steer the country away from its current looming crisis. He has shared some encouraging news, stating that no political party, including the PTI, desires a confrontation with institutions.
Furthermore, Durrani has put forth an innovative suggestion: holding elections for the constitutionally mandated third-tier government concurrently with federal and provincial elections. Punjab currently lacks a politically, financially, and administratively autonomous local government. Even in provinces that have established these local governments, they have not been granted the autonomy stipulated by Article 140-A of the Constitution.
It is worth noting that mainstream parties, particularly those with dynastic orientations, have opposed the concept of a third-tier government. This opposition resulted in its suspension or paralysis for an entire decade (2008-2018), with severe consequences such as minimal progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The absence of effective mechanisms for the fair distribution of resources has emboldened various vested interests to cartelize the economy. This neglect of the third-tier government has exacerbated a trust deficit between established political parties and the grassroots population. The situation has inadvertently favored newer political parties like the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), which saw the local government system as a remedy to the issue of creating new provinces. Regrettably, even the PTI, during its rule in the largest province of the country, was unable to establish an autonomous local government.
The challenges facing the country today bear striking similarities to the situation in 2006 when the country was under quasi-martial law rule and a process of political reconciliation culminated in the Charter of Democracy between rival parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
In the tumultuous landscape of Pakistani politics, the Charter of Democracy singed in 2006 held the promise of a stable and economically prosperous future for the nation. This landmark agreement brought together rival parties of the 1990s, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in an effort to set Pakistan on a path of political reconciliation, independent judiciary, and autonomous provinces. However, as this political brotherhood unfolded over a decade, it came at a significant cost to the country's economic well-being.
The absence of effective mechanisms for the fair distribution of resources has emboldened various vested interests to cartelize the economy. This neglect of the third-tier government has exacerbated a trust deficit between established political parties and the grassroots population.
With the signing of the Charter of Democracy, self-exiled political leaders were granted amnesty through the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), allowing them to return to Pakistan. For a decade, the PPP and PML-N alternated in power, often sidelining the opposition. However, this period of political stability came at the expense of accountability, as the elite retained a tight grip on power and resources, leaving democracy in Pakistan somewhat compromised.
One of the unintended consequences of this political consolidation was the paralysis of the constitutionally mandated third tier of government, meant to bring benefits of devolution to the grassroots level. Although the Constitution was reformed in 2010, the power and resources were never adequately devolved to the grassroots, hindering progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Furthermore, while the benefits of democracy seemed confined to the privileged sections of society, Pakistan's debt burden increased. The elite class resisted returning privileges or paying their fair share of revenues, leaving the lower and middle-income groups to bear the brunt. Investments, domestic and foreign, remained scarce, and structural reforms, though essential, required additional borrowing.
The Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party emerged as a new entrant in the political landscape, possibly driven by a desire to address prevailing issues. Primarily, the PTI sought to address the pressing concerns of repaying external debt and revitalizing local governments to make progress toward Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
However, the PTI's endeavors encountered a series of formidable challenges, including the unforeseen shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and a precarious majority in Parliament. To manage these challenges, the PTI had to secure loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and resort to selling the country's wheat reserves. Unfortunately, these measures ultimately led to the PTI's removal from power due to the burden of inflationary pressures.
With martial law not being a viable option, the fate of Pakistan's political landscape shifted to a thirteen-party anti-government alliance. The PTI's decision to abandon Parliament left the country's affairs in the hands of its opponents, and whether this was politically correct or not remains to be seen.
The PTI leadership has endured numerous trials and challenges. They have consistently pushed for timely elections, firmly convinced that only a resounding defeat of the dynastic parties at the polls could pave the way for essential structural reforms. However, it has become increasingly clear that its path to electoral victory is riddled with obstacles, given the prevailing reality of elite capture and the constraints on voter freedom.
To enhance their credibility and, consequently, their effectiveness in leadership, political figures must acknowledge the immense value of grassroots democracy. This approach will foster a stronger connection between political parties and people, consequently, making them immune from the undue influence of mafias and cartels.
Economically, Pakistan grapples with issues like a weakening currency, rising import bills for essential commodities, and escalating oil and gas prices due to global crises like the Ukraine situation. The country's business environment suffers from expensive energy and limited employment opportunities, leading to persistent inflation.
In terms of regional trade, Pakistan's relations with India remain strained, while Afghanistan and Iran face US sanctions. China presents an economic opportunity, but Pakistan is not even self-sufficient in basic necessities like grain.
To establish a sustainable economy through democracy, Pakistan must embark on a comprehensive overhaul of its political system. This transformative endeavor necessitates shedding the vestiges of the colonial era, instituting constitutional and administrative reforms and crafting a legal framework that staunchly upholds fundamental rights. These reforms have the potential to facilitate essential changes in taxation and economic structure, open doors to regional trade, and set Pakistan on the path towards sustainable development.
To enhance their credibility and, consequently, their effectiveness in leadership, political figures must acknowledge the immense value of grassroots democracy. This approach will foster a stronger connection between political parties and people, consequently, making them immune from the undue influence of mafias and cartels. Grassroots democracy duly means intraparty democracy, rule of law and equitable distribution of resource across Pakistan.
So, it is unquestionably crucial for political parties to come together and forge a consensus approach that places the well-being of the people at its core. Through such unity, they can collectively navigate the nation towards the stable and prosperous future originally envisaged in the Charter of Democracy back in 2006.