Talk to any Pakistani inside or outside the country and ask them what all they wish for their country. You will find that the answer is nearly the same: We want our economy to boom, with a sustainable GDP and manufacturing, IT and agriculture sectors meeting domestic needs. We want this to become the base of growing exports and strengthening the rupee naturally in the process. We want our economy to be documented with national kitty expanding from progressive direct and simplified taxation system. We want our political system to be devolved, with empowered local governments meeting all basic needs of citizens with recognition of multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national status of the federal democratic republic.
We want a strong opposition in the parliament that opposes all anti-people efforts of various lobbies but cooperates with the treasury for pro-people legislation to steer the country towards improved governance. We want a fiercely independent judiciary that stays within the bounds of the Constitution, does not interfere in the executive domain and does not challenge the Parliament, the mother of all democratic institutions.
We want our media to be independent so that it can work as the true watchdog and harness the creative potential of the people to remain vigilant in protection of our rights. We want our independent media to critically examine the organs of the state in peoples’ interest and not become their appendage.
We would want a strong and professional military that protects its physical (not ideological) borders, helps its people and its elected government in all natural and man-made emergencies and just like in other democracies, respects the Constitution and the civilian supremacy.
We want our country to engage with its neighbours and stay away from destabilising regional conflicts and proxy wars by creating friendly relations with our neighbours so that we can divert most of our resources towards building a robust economy and invest in the human potential of our people to ensure our genuine national security.
Are we headed that way? Sadly, the opposite seems true.
Consider this: after the controversial general elections last year, it became clear that the newly installed government seriously lacked the capacity to rule over 200 million plus souls. In the last nine months, the new government has broken every promise it campaigned on. Despite claims of bringing the best brains to the table to serve the country, the PTI government has gotten rid of all its stars and today its federal cabinet looks more like a comical hybrid of leftovers of Musharraf, PPP and PML-N tenures.
Yes, the economy had begun slowing down in the final year of the PML-N’s tenure, but the economic team led by Asad Umar wasted too much time making up its mind and by the time they decided to go to the IMF, it was too late.
The economy was too weak, too bruised and battered. The hostile regional and international climate did not help. When Asad Umar’s team tried to get a better deal and resisted some tough measures, he was let go, along with his team. Pakistan ended up talking to IMF with front loaded conditions that most economists think we will not be able to meet. The prognosis, most economists suggest is that of gloom and doom.
The stagflation is rearing its ugly head, with unemployment and price hike threatening to push many people below the poverty line. As we brace for the budget next week, it has become clear that in order to meet the 0.6 percent primary deficit, hundreds of billions of rupees worth in new taxes, mostly indirect, will be piled upon existing tax payers.
The prior actions committed with the IMF program are yet to be finalised in Washington, but Pakistan will not be able to go beyond one tranche, believe many economists. Only a miracle will bail us out, just like how we were saved by Soviet-Afghan War or the windfalls of the 9/11.
Analysts keeping an eye on the FATF imbroglio say there is no chance that Pakistan will come out of the grey list next week, when they body meets in Florida. The sword of Damocles will remain hanging over our heads.
With an impending economic meltdown, political chaos is touching the zenith. Most opposition leaders of the PPP and PML-N are facing trials, investigations, inquiries and jail terms while the government and its coalition partners are being given a pass by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the discredited accountability outfit whose chief was caught in a scandal with both the government and the opposition trying to get their pound of meat out of it.
Incidents of terrorism with links to regional proxy wars are rising in the length and the breadth of the country, but especially in the restive province of Balochistan raising serious questions over the future of CPEC.
Last month, leaders of a Pashtun youth movement were arrested. This movement appears well-entrenched and represented all over Pakistan. It also enjoys the support of Pashtun diaspora. The recent crackdown will force the movement to assume aggressive tactics. It will not be easy to suppress or crush this youth, and it could have serious implications on our future as the endgame in Kabul reaches the climax.
As if Imran Khan’s government didn’t have enough on its troubled plate, the new references filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa and K.K Agha has done the job of the final punch. Regardless of what happens in the proceedings starting on June 14, the damage has been done. Independent judges have been sent a signal that if they act on the wrong side of the powerful establishment, they will get marching orders. The journalist fraternity that has lost thousands of jobs since the new government took is already angry. Now lawyers around the country are up in arms and getting ready to protest.
This is the background shaping up as we head into the huddle of the All Parties Conference hosted by Maulana Fazal Rehman with new firebrand political duo of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif. We are in for some interesting times.