Andleeb Abbas is a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan since August 2018 and affiliated with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the country’s current ruling political party. This interview is part of a series for the January Issue of Global Village Space magazine looking at the next decade for Pakistan – its strategic challenges and opportunities (2021-30).
Pakistan’s political system in the next decade is going to be very challenging in many ways. What used to happen was that the traditional two dynastic parties – the Sharif’s and the Bhutto’s – who had formed a duopoly would come again and again, undispersed with the military interventions. These parties are being challenged for their control and their duopoly over the political system in Pakistan.
So, it is going to be interesting that this third-party phenomenon that PTI has brought in, which in most developed democracies is unheard of, because traditionally, in America, it’s Republicans and the Democrats. The third-party has always been a small party, which has not been able to breakthrough. Similarly, in London, it’s always been the Labour Party and the Conservatives. There are some coalitions, but nobody has really challenged them.
Even in India, it’s BJP and Congress. The regional parties have never really come into the center. Pakistan has almost created a democratic history by having a third party come in. First, it de-staged Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as the main opposition party, and then de-staged the Central Party and became the ruling party. A type of history has been written, and of course, when you have an entrenched system of 30 years, there are roots which are deep, and when you try to uproot them, they react, and that’s exactly what is happening.
So as the PTI slogan for accountability has raised its voice, political parties have become afraid because, for years, they had taken advantage of the duopolies; they had served their own personal interests, their personal wealth had amassed. Every time they were taken to the courts and cases were filed on them, they were either suppressed, or they would escape to various countries only to come back when they were in power. So, there is, at the moment, a huge resistance by them in the name of democracy, in the name of progress, in the name of development, in the name of anti-establishment.
There are mafias everywhere; in the industry, in the bureaucracy, in the media, who have benefited by that system for years. And so, from top to bottom, there are ambassadors everywhere, in the roots, who are now afraid that if the system topples from the top, their turn will come. So, the second, third, fourth tier, they’re all combining, and they are trying to, under the guise of anti-establishment, create a movement to save themselves, and save the system they have gleefully planted for so many years. I think the next five years will be interesting from the political part as it’s for the first time this is happening.
The second part is, of course, that how does Pakistan’s economy stand up? And the challenge over there is that COVID has come in. COVID has really shaken up the whole world. The economies that were the power economies like the USA, UK and
other Western countries or European Union, they look as if they have not been able to manage it and their economies are shrinking.
It’s going to be interesting to see how they recover in the next three to five years and do they really rule the world or as they say, in 2028, China will become the biggest economy in the world. And for Pakistan, this is an interesting time because the economy based on fake and short-term debt boost was really fragile, and in an ICU, and now when you’re trying to obviously correct fundamentals there is a problem in making popular decisions because the popular decisions would be ‘more debt and more fragility’.
So, when you make unpopular decisions, inflation goes up, and people are unhappy. The economy, fortunately for Pakistan, due to COVID, has gained in the sense that our exports have gained because orders from India, China and Bangladesh have diverted to us, the construction industry has boosted. We have a good opportunity of taking advantage of this for the next few years, and stabilize the economy, start growing it. I think after about four or five years, if Pakistan is less dependent on debt (which it has been traditionally), is not going to IMF, is based on foreign investment and exports, and tax revenue increases – that is the time when Pakistan can start making a big dent in the regional prosperity ranking.
Pakistan’s geo-strategic location makes it politically vulnerable because India is on one side and there is Afghanistan on the other side, but so far it has managed its borders well. So, what I see is that in the next decade, if Pakistan works on its economics, fundamental strength, governance systems, and keeps on promoting regional peace and foreign policy agenda, I see a much more stable and stronger Pakistan.
As per GVS policy, the interview transcript of MNA Andleeb Abbas has minor editing, done by GVS Desk for reading clarity.