Pakistan: Self-adorned in a vortex

Pakistan finds itself at a pivotal juncture, where the actions of its leaders, both elected and military, have precipitated a profound state of economic and political upheaval.


“Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders – presidents, prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power…..” – Steven Levistky

Just as one could scarcely fathom that Pakistan’s descent into an economic and political abyss could deepen any further, its leaders, encompassing both the civil and military spheres, have managed to conjure yet another superfluous crisis. The deployment of the military to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan within the sacred confines of the Islamabad High Court epitomizes the incapacity of Pakistani political leaders to provide a coherent strategy to combat the nation’s economic and political tribulations. As the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan reverberates throughout the nation, it has ignited widespread protests, prompting the authorities to impose internet blockages across the country in a bid to quell dissent. The significance of this event extends beyond a mere arrest; it serves as a resounding message, underscoring the intensifying conflict and signalling a no-holds-barred approach by the parties involved.

If the ultimate objective is to eradicate Imran Khan from Pakistani politics, the unleashed tempest threatens to unleash unintended and uncontrollable consequences of cataclysmic proportions. The coalition government along with the establishment’s calculations appear to hinge on the presumption of a diminishing trajectory in Khan’s popularity, coupled with an inflated sense of their own prowess to quell street unrest. However, what they may have failed to fully grasp is the cumulative impact of such unrest on the fragile national economy, gasping for survival and hurtling towards the abyss of hyperinflation and imminent default. Moreover, the institutions may have gravely underestimated the potential emergence of schisms within their own, a ticking time bomb that could explode with devastating force. Will factions within the institutions rear their heads? Or will the pandemonium and upheaval provide a convenient pretext to indefinitely postpone constitutional provincial and national elections, casting doubt on the very essence of democracy? Pakistan stands on the precipice, facing a dire choice. A coup d’état, modelled after the Egyptian scenario, would plunge the nation into an extended period of anarchy, making it an economic and political pariah of colossal proportions. The stakes are perilously high, and the fate of a nation hangs in the balance.

A captivating tableau of absences unfolded in Pakistan this month. The prime minister sought solace in London, indulging in regal ceremonies, while Pakistan burned in turmoil. His return to the country on May 10, after an extended visit, was accompanied by a national address. Even the interim chief minister of the influential Punjab province was gallivanting abroad as the unfolding drama took its course.

Who held the reins of authority? Who made the momentous decision to permit a relatively modest yet marauding mob to breach and incinerate the esteemed Corps Commander House in Lahore? Where did the guardians of these establishments vanish to? And where were the military patrols and the security tactfully positioned at various check posts around the circumference of the area, allowing the mob to breach the gate leading to the revered army headquarters in Rawalpindi? Who sanctioned the audacious “liberation” of the Frontier Corps headquarters at the respected Bala Hissar fort in Peshawar? Certain pundits have posited that this may be an elaborate clandestine scheme yet to fully unravel. Social media revelled in the confusion, proliferating vivid conspiracy theories until the abrupt cessation of internet access curbed their dissemination. However, the myriad images shared by countless participants in the riotous acts created the perception that the military was being audaciously challenged by hordes of impassioned youth and women. Abandoned military checkpoints in certain military cantonment areas remained an enigma. Only a day later did the provincial authorities in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa beseech military assistance in support of civil power.

In a single sweeping stroke, Pakistan has inflicted greater harm upon its stability than any adversarial incursion could have achieved. Will its leaders now step forward and assume responsibility for the chaotic mire that unfolded on the fateful day of 9th May? The silent majority of Pakistan, burdened by the consequences of abysmal governance and covert decision-making, is deserving of expeditious and unequivocal answers. The friends of Pakistan across the globe, who yearn for its return to a trajectory of stability and progress, also await such clarity.

The critical juncture

Pakistan stands at a critical juncture, where the imperative to finalize an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and secure external financing becomes paramount to avert an impending default beyond June. Over the past fourteen months, the nation has witnessed a disheartening disregard for the rule of law and national interests by its major power players, intensifying an already grim struggle for power. This unsettling spectacle has unfolded in tandem with a severe economic collapse, resulting in a staggering 40 percent (and increasing) inflation rate this year. The consequence of this dire situation is the repetition of personal tragedies, as ordinary citizens swiftly and seemingly irretrievably plunge into the depths of poverty, manifesting in heart-wrenching instances of parents resorting to unthinkable measures, including taking their own lives and the lives of their children due to the inability to provide sustenance. Furthermore, the country grapples with chaotic stampedes in food distribution queues, epitomizing the endemic suffering plaguing the populace.

To avert an impending catastrophe, Pakistan must expeditiously conclude negotiations for an IMF agreement and diligently address its external financing concerns. The nation has endured not only gross internal mismanagement but also a lack of coordination among its crucial creditors, encompassing the IMF, the Chinese government, and its Middle Eastern allies.

On 6th May, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang delivered a candid message while visiting Islamabad, emphasizing the need for Pakistan’s political forces to forge consensus, uphold stability, and effectively confront the domestic and external challenges, allowing the country to redirect its focus towards economic growth.

However, just two days later, the arrest of the immensely popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan catapulted his followers into direct and physical clashes with Pakistan’s various forces, widely perceived as the orchestrator of Khan’s political downfall.

One cannot help but ponder the thoughts of Pakistan’s creditors in Beijing, Washington, Riyadh, and other capitals, as they witness yet another distressing chapter in the chronicle of economic mismanagement and recklessness that pervades the nation’s governance.

Simultaneously, the foreign exchange reserves stand at a precarious $4.457 billion, offering a meagre buffer of just one month’s worth of imports. The countdown continues relentlessly. It has been nearly 100 days since the last visit of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff level mission to Pakistan, and the crucial preliminary agreement, essential for unlocking the next funding tranche, remains elusive. This is the lengthiest period that the IMF has taken to strike a deal since at least 2008.

To put it bluntly, unless unprecedented corrective measures are promptly undertaken in the coming days, the spectre of default looms ominously, leaving little room for doubt.

Journalist survival manual

Let us spare a moment of reflection for the journalist—those who strive for a journalism rooted in integrity and truth, the dedicated reporters, camerapersons, producers, assignment editors, and desk editors who yearn for a semblance of normalcy in their profession. For the past year, politics in Pakistan has seen an unprecedented surge, akin to being fuelled by amphetamines. These journalists find themselves depleted, undercompensated, and grappling with stories that are shaped by everything except their intrinsic newsworthiness.

Reporters have confided on how their stories have been discarded by their channels simply because it did not align with the channel’s predetermined agenda. At times, journalists are coerced into finding evidence to fit a preconceived verdict.

Over the past five years, journalists have mastered the art of covering the untold and the unutterable. Others have sought solace and subsequently faced legal and physical threats through their engagement on social media platforms.

Read More: Where are we standing as a nation????

Nevertheless, these pockets of resistance remain relatively small, as political allegiance continues to offer safety and financial rewards that outweigh the pursuit of independent journalism. In the aftermath of the arrest of Imran Khan on May 9th, journalists in Pakistan have endured a series of grave challenges, including arrests, physical assaults, and intrusive surveillance. Notably, Sami Ibrahim and Imran Riaz Khan, who, despite lacking any familial connection to the former prime minister, often provide a platform for supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party on their talk shows and promote pro-PTI and anti-PDM content on their YouTube channels.

Media professionals consistently find themselves in the crosshairs during episodes of political repression in Pakistan, as the nation draws significant condemnation from international organizations advocating for press freedom and human rights. Pakistan’s flagrant disregard for the principles of free speech and its failure to safeguard the well-being of journalists have attracted severe criticism. This is evidenced by the country’s abysmal ranking of 150 out of 180 on the 2023 Press Freedom Index published by ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF).

Democracy on the brink

In a dramatic turn of events, senior leaders within the PTI, who once held prominent positions in Imran Khan’s inner circle, have found themselves repeatedly rearrested despite being granted bail in the past two weeks. Faced with relentless pressure, these leaders have succumbed one after another, severing ties with the party. The exodus commenced with the departure of Shireen Mazari, the former human rights minister, who endured a staggering five arrests within a mere fortnight. Following suit was Fawad Chaudhry, the former information minister, and soon after, Asad Umar, a trusted confidant of Khan, declared his immediate resignation from key leadership roles within the party upon his release from custody. While former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, still imprisoned, remains as one of the PTI’s senior-most leaders, a wave of prominent party members has also chosen to abandon ship. The government is now contemplating the possibility of imposing a ban on the PTI, further escalating tensions.

Pakistani politics has long relied on the strategy of exerting pressure on politicians to either resign or switch parties, serving as a means to maintain their firm control over the political landscape. Imran Khan himself had previously benefited from such manoeuvres prior to the 2018 election. However, the current wave of defections, characterized by its intensified pressure and rapid succession, has taken even seasoned observers of Pakistani politics by surprise, exposing the intricate dynamics between the civil and military spheres.

In parallel, the coalition government has embarked on a distinct confrontation with the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, blatantly violating orders of the court, disregarding the supremacy and respect of the institution and alleging biased inclinations within the judiciary favouring Khan. Consequently, this has ignited a divisive rift within the judiciary itself, amplifying the already volatile state of affairs.

Read More: Predicaments of an ‘Army Brat’

Challenges for startups

Pakistan’s growing political and economic instability has already cast a shadow over the prospects of startups operating within the country. The recent turn of events has brought forth additional repercussions, particularly with regards to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority’s recurrent suspension of mobile broadband services and the restrictive measures imposed on popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. These immediate actions have dealt a severe blow to the technology sector and startup ecosystem, both of which heavily rely on these platforms for user acquisition and business expansion. The ramifications, however, extend beyond the mere operational realm of startups, as a significant portion of the Pakistani population primarily engages with the digital economy through mobile devices. Consequently, their ability to access innovative startup solutions in areas ranging from financial services and mobility to food and commerce has been severely impeded and halted.

Compounding the situation is the fact that Pakistan’s increasing political and economic instability has already influenced international perceptions of the country. This unfavourable narrative surrounding Pakistan will inevitably reverberate in the minds of global investors, further exacerbating the funding challenges faced by startups operating within its borders. The confluence of political turmoil and economic uncertainty has created a negative backdrop against which potential investors may assess the viability and potential risks associated with supporting startups in Pakistan. Thus, the funding landscape becomes even more treacherous for these emerging companies, adding an additional layer of complexity to their already daunting journey.

Poised at a pivotal hinge

Pakistan finds itself at a pivotal juncture, where the actions of its leaders, both elected and military, have precipitated a profound state of economic and political upheaval. The arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan has galvanized widespread protests, exposing the vulnerability of the nation’s institutions. The ramifications of this crisis transcend a mere struggle for power, as the economy teeters on the precipice of collapse, hyperinflation looms ominously, and the spectre of default looms ever closer. Pakistan faces a daunting choice: a descent into anarchy and the prospect of a coup d’état, or a path towards stability, rooted in democratic principles and economic recovery. The destiny of the nation hangs in the balance, closely scrutinized by the international community, with a collective hope for the restoration of stability and progress. The future of Pakistan hinges on its capacity to navigate these formidable challenges, confront them resolutely, and forge a resilient, prosperous, and democratic nation.

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