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Friday, March 24, 2023

A bouncy journey for Pakistan: 1947-2020 (Part 2)

"Plight of the people is going from bad to worse and their patience is wearing out. While the government is not performing, the opposition is insipid and barren."

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During Zardari’s 5-year black rule, ethics, high morals, values and principles were replaced with immorality. Corruption as well as corrupt practices scaled new heights in Pakistan, state institutions corrupted and ruined, and economy reached the brink of collapse. Energy shortfall which started in 1995 as a result of Independent Power Plants climaxed when Raja Pervez Ashraf, known as Raja Rental, held the chair of PM.

Uptick in corruption post-2008

Mafias turned into uncontrollable monsters and Karachi became lawless due to MQM terrorism. Zardari & Co excelled in financial terrorism, money laundering and fake accounts. Collation partners PPP, MQM and ANP looted the national wealth with both hands due to which the rich became richer, the poor poorer.

The chaos suited the adversaries of Pakistan who waited with bated breath to snatch Pakistan’s nukes on the plea that the country had become ungovernable. Entry of over 10,000 CIA agents without ISI clearance, Raymond Davis incident, followed by helicopters stealth attack in Abbottabad, Memogate scandal and attack on Salala posts all happened in 2011. But for the role of the military and the ISI which busted Memogate and got Hussain Haqqani removed from the post of ambassador in Washington, Pakistan might have been reduced to a compliant state of USA and India.

Read More: Maulana Fazal calls on Zardari: Will 18th amendment amended?

The domestic situation became so murky that the people lost heart in democracy and started looking for an alternative. PTI under Imran Khan (IK) which had emerged on the political canvas in mid-1990s remained in wilderness but came into prominence in 2011 essentially due to poor performance of PPP. In the 2013 elections, PTI improved its political standing from one seat and formed a government in KP and became the second and third largest party in Punjab and in the Centre respectively. PML-N returned to power with a heavy mandate for the 3rd time due to its heavy vote bank in Punjab. PPP was reduced to a regional party based in Sindh.

PML-N takes control of Pakistan

The five-year rule of PML-N was much better. The feathers it added to its caps were overcoming energy crisis by adding 12000 mw electricity in national grid and ending 20-hour load shedding, tackling gas shortage, controlling rural and urban terrorism, launching biggest development program, lifting GDP growth to 5.8%, and above all signing historic CPEC agreement with China which attracted $46 billion China’s investment for the game changing project. All these achievements were made in spite of politics of agitation of PTI and PAT and judicial activism, which retarded progress.

What PML-N failed to do was to proceed against PPP leadership which had reduced the country to a carcass, bridle corrupt practices and to carry out reforms of the institutions. Sharif brothers multiplied their wealth beyond their means. The other weak aspects were Nawaz Sharif’s distrust of the Pak military and fondness for Modi. He paid lip service to BJP’s persecution of Kashmiris in IOK and agreed to the contention of Modi to place the issue of terrorism higher than Kashmir cause. Like Benazir and Zardari, Nawaz was also branded as a security risk after Dawn leaks, and when he stated that Pakistan had a hand in Mumbai attacks.

Rapid progress of CPEC became an added cause of worry for the Indo-US-Israel nexus since it has the capacity to overturn their global ambitions and make China the leading economic power and Pakistan a self-reliant nation. RAW shifted its focus towards CPEC and Baluchistan where Gwadar seaport is being developed and for that purpose had positioned naval officer Kulbushan Yadhav at Chahbahar.

US foreign policy

Pakistan was treated unfairly by USA despite Gen Musharraf, Zardari and Nawaz going out of the way to do the biddings of Washington and putting up with Delhi-Kabul enmity meekly. They earned the displeasure of people of Pakistan who see USA as a double-dealing unjust and ruthless Satan filled with Muslim hatred.

By and large the world is convinced that the US wrongly holds Pakistan responsible for its failures in Afghanistan and whips it callously to lessen pains of its fault lines. For India and Afghanistan, the real promotors of intrigue and terrorism, the US has different set of standards. They are cajoled and richly rewarded. In Afghanistan, the US has sunk $ 1.4 trillion and has no complaints. All genuine and unreasonable demands of India are met forthwith.

Major reason behind the US discriminatory policy is that it had occupied Afghanistan under a false pretext and had initiated war on terror with an ulterior motive. Pakistan was never an ally but was and still is the target. It was made an ally to achieve short-term objectives since without whole-hearted support of Pakistan, the US-NATO adventure into Afghanistan to topple Taliban regime would have been extremely onerous and costly.

While CIA, MI-6, Mossad, BND, RAW and NDS sat under one roof to make plans, ISI was kept out of the loop. An anti-Pakistan and pro-India regime under Hamid Karzai  was installed in Kabul which allowed the foreign agencies to use Afghan soil to undertake biggest covert operations against Pakistan in order to destabilize, secularize, denuclearize and balkanize it.

Was PTI government the knight is shining armor we had been waiting for?

People of Pakistan braved the hardships of dictatorship and corrupt civilian rule and remained in two minds which one was better. Majority favored military dictatorship which provided better governance, law and order and improved economy. Fed up of the two mainstream parties, they looked for a big change and saw PTI under IK as a better alternative. IK highlighted the ills of both PML-N and PPP and held them responsible for running sham democracy and plundering the country. He raised the banner of ‘change’ and New Pakistan.

Read More:Is PTI government committed to curb religious extremism?

Effective demonization of Sharif brothers by PTI and its partners supplemented by six months sit-in, electronic/social media and judiciary under chief justice Saqib Nisar, helped the PTI to win elections in July 2018 with a narrow margin. It formed government in KP, but it couldn’t even muster simple majority in the Centre and in Punjab. To form governments, it had to seek help of PML-Q, MQM-P, BNP-M, GDA and independents, all with soiled past. PPP managed to retain its bastion of Sindh, while PML-N was bowled out.

Hope of PTI that 60 PML-N leaders would join the winners dashed when PML-N managed to keep its fort in Punjab intact despite persecution by the NAB. Political manipulations earned IK the title of ‘selective PM’ and the opposition pointed their fingers towards the military establishment.

Already heavy with electables from other parties, the PTI got compromised at the very outset by relying on allies which it had severely criticized, and appointing non-elected on key posts. Repeated U-turns, downslide in economy, soaring inflation and price hike further reinforced the stance of opposition parties that IK and his team are incompetent.

Major folly on part of PTI is that it took over without any homework and started its innings on wishful assumptions. Major ones were return of looted $200 billion from foreign banks, Pakistanis living abroad will flood the banks with remittances, tax base would get enlarged, and corruption would die down. It lived in the fool’s paradise that milk and honey would start flowing in soon after popular and charismatic IK would take over the reins of power.

Read More: Is PTI government ‘the most corrupt regime’ in Pakistan’s history?

Pakistan, a difficult country to govern

It didn’t take into account that Pakistan is the most difficult country to govern and there are too many intriguers and spoilers whose sole job is to create hindrances and spoil the game. In the last 72 years, the land of the pure has become socially, morally and politically diseased, due to which immorality, dishonesty and corrupt practices have seeped into every layer of the society. Moreover, the state institutions are dysfunctional, high and low government officials down to peon are governed by feudal mindset and lethargy. Merit based system is non-existent.

Surrounded by sycophants and dishonest and opportunists, IK instead of first putting PTI’s house in order by conducting internal elections, restructuring the non-performing political system based on dynastic and family politics and British inherited bureaucratic system, reining in the mafias controlling state institutions, taking a look at the constitution whether it is attuned to the aspirations of the people, removing flaws in capitalist oriented economic system which has failed to alleviate poverty, evaluating the judicial system which is pro-rich, the three-tiered education which has sharply divided the society, the social and primary healthcare infrastructure which has kept the rural belt out of loop, the large and unwieldy provinces which are difficult to govern, he started chasing his political opponents vehemently.

While none of the assumptions materialized, his financial team has performed poorly which is IMF selected. The two decisions of increasing the bank rate to 13.25% in order to reduce inflation, and to heavily devalue the Rupee so as to increase exports neither reduced inflation nor enhanced exports, but added weight of $ 40 billion to the already crumpled economy.

Phenomenon of loans grew in size. On top of it, coronavirus has further bled the economy and GDP, which declined from 5.8% in 2017 to 2.1%, might dip to -02%. Pakistan is faced with rising poverty, unemployment, surging inflation and price hike, mounting debt burden and fiscal deficit. There have been crisis after crisis in two-year tenure of PTI.

The economic crunch has rendered IK powerless to accomplish his dream of providing jobs to one crore jobless, to build 50 lac houses for the homeless and to transform the country on the model of Riyasat-e-Madina. Not a single Mafia has been collared, which have become uncontrollable monsters, and no institutional reforms undertaken.

NAB is spinning around the pole star with zero results, while judiciary’s reputation stands soiled. Convicted NS managed to slip out of the country. Allies of PTI have begun to jump the ship and BNP-N has taken the lead. Leading lights within the party have started fighting and some are aspiring to take over from IK.

Cornered PPP is taking advantage of 18th Amendment to play Sindh card. Foreign-aided anti-Pakistan groups have grouped together to intensify terrorism, Indo-Afghan nexus is busy devising techniques to destabilize and unravel Pakistan. No step has been taken to provide relief to the 9 million locked up Kashmiris in IOK since August 5, 2019 and undergoing worst oppression. Opponents of IK are paying him in the same coin and leaving no stone unturned to tarnish his reputation.

It didn’t take long for the PTI to realize the gravity of the situation, because within two years of its rule all macroeconomic indicators went into negative. IK’s lack of experience of management, his weak decision making capacity, his inexperienced team, alliance with blackmailers, constraints of 18th Amendment, unreformed state institutions, bankrupt economy, mountain of debts, accountability making no headway, together with political and internal security challenges and Kashmir imbroglio, when viewed in context with dangerous designs of Indo-US-Israel nexus has made the overall situation grave.

Plight of the people is going from bad to worse and their patience is wearing out. While the government is not performing, the opposition is insipid and barren.

Talk of yet another experiment of Islamic presidential form of government, or national government, or government of technocrats has become louder. Some suggest tough martial law for ten years minus politicians, while others propose an in-house change. To hide its inadequacies, PTI is making the same old excuse of blaming the predecessors. Apologists are of the view that the muck of 72 years cannot be washed in 2 years and that IK is still the best choice.

There is a growing perception that the ‘third force experiment’ has also failed to deliver and after PTI’s failure there will be a complete political vacuum because of absence of a viable national party. IK is however unruffled and is confident that he will weather the storm and will sail past the choppy waters to the shores of prosperity.

Is this yet another wishful assumption or he has a solid plan up his sleeve? The question is that will it be wise to pin hopes for a better tomorrow on outdated and dysfunctional system? Whatever new experiment if enforced would again fail since the implementers would be the same old bad eggs moving from one green pasture to another.

Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, member CWC PESS, Member Council TJP. He can be reached at asifharoonraja@gmail.com