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Revamping of Pakistan’s political system

If the government wants to win the confidence of the oppressed classes, it will have to administer several more shock therapies to squeeze money out of the pockets of the rich class which evades paying taxes or sharing their wealth for the benefit of the poor. The mere removal of subsidies is not a remedy, nor is the IMF loan to make the sick economy healthy. These are abnormal times and need bold decisions to right the wrongs done.

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Muslims of India took part in the Pakistan movement to break the shackles of slavery and to create Pakistan, on Aug 14, 1947, under the dynamic leadership of Quaid e Azam. Since its birth, Pakistan has been lurching from one crisis to another due to leadership crisis, internal political instability, interventionist policies of India and wars with India, the hostility of Afghanistan, the former USSR and Israel, not so friendly relations with Iran, and the US interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Pakistan, the largest Muslim State was broken into two parts due to the maladroitness of our leaders, treachery of the Bengalis and conspiracy of the Indo-Soviet combined. Similar subversive tactics are being applied by RAW and other hostile intelligence agencies to subvert the minds of Sindhis, Muhajirs, Balochis, Pashtuns, Punjabis and Gilgitis and to make them rebellious against the state.

Dependence and servility towards Washington made Pakistan stand upon the US crutches and this dependence increased once Pakistan got addicted to aid and the loans from the World Bank and the IMF after 1990. The phenomenon of black money in the 1980s manipulated by the Mafias and big tycoons coupled with rising trends of corruption, graft, commissions, kickbacks and stashing ill-gotten wealth in foreign banks/tax havens were other factors that nosedived Pakistan’s economy, and it never stabilized. Presently, Pakistan’s economy is wholly in the iron grip of the IMF and the Mafias who run a parallel economy.

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Role of the elite class and establishment

Apart from dismal performance of the politicians, repeated army takeovers and the military establishment’s penchant to maintain its control over the civil governments when not in power are among the reasons behind lack of growth of democracy and brittleness of democratic institutions.

The political, military, bureaucracy and business cabals rule behind the façade of democracy. They are above the law, they divorce law from morality and virtue from the legal code, and they blatantly bend or break laws and get away. Being insensitive to the have-nots and feeling no remorse in indulging in corruption and in breaking laws, and deriving sadistic pleasure in flouting their wealth, the power elite is distrusted and despised by the deprived classes.

Pakistan political leaders are least bothered about the sinking economy and the sorry plight of the people living below the poverty line and struggling to survive. They are too deeply involved in their political struggle for power, infighting and making a mess of everything.

They neither have time to avenge the humiliation of the 1971 tragedy, nor are bothered about the Kashmiris in distress, or have plans to defeat the dangerous designs of India, or to liberate Kashmir. Instead, they desire normalization of relations with India and to recommence two-way trade.

Only the army has remained fully committed to its obligations of defending the frontiers. It has been actively involved in low-intensity conflict along the LoC and the LAC in Kashmir with India has suffered casualties and has given befitting responses. It also kept fighting the foreign paid and equipped proxies in the 20 years’ war on terror and suffered heavy casualties, but had the honor of being the only army in the world to defeat terrorism and to thwart a series of conspiracies hatched by our enemies to undo Pakistan.

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Political flare-up after regime change

Notwithstanding the failures in the fields of governance, financial and administrative management and diplomacy, the big damage done by PTI is to make the youth ill-disciplined and unruly.

The PTI is not reconciling to its ouster from power on April 10, 2022, and is blaming everyone under the sun. It is obstinately demanding early elections in total disregard to political, economic and ECP compulsions and overall adverse geopolitical environment. Its sole interest is to recapture power and that too quickly and with two-third majority. Had the PTI performed and given some relief to the masses, the PDM couldn’t have succeeded in its venture of No-Confidence-Motion.

The PTI after burning all its boats by resigning from the National Assembly on April 11, is left with no other option but to flex its muscles outside the parliament. To intimidate the govt through street power, Imran Khan (IK) is stoking religious sentiments of the youth and exhorting them to wage a Jihad to bring him back to power and for this noble cause embrace martyrdom.

The PTI instead of marching towards Srinagar, marched towards Islamabad on May 25 to achieve freedom since it considers the PDM a bigger enemy than India.

Both sides are accusing and abusing each other and tearing apart the norms of decency, ethics and human values.

The media is throwing logs into the raging fire of animosity and so are the supporters of each party including the veterans and the bystanders. Today, almost every house and family is politically divided.

The politicization of the army

The worst damage caused by the PTI is to create deep fissures within the armed forces and to make a segment of serving and retired armed forces officers go against the army chief. They have been taking active part in the social media war belittling the generals. They and their families became part of the Azadi March.

This sort of politicization of the army was never seen before. The reason is that the army first impelled Nawaz Sharif (NS) to rant his grievances in 2017/18, then allowed the PTI to drag it into politics through a one-page mantra, next the PTI didn’t digest neutrality, and then all the major contenders of political power dragged the army into their power tussle.

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Today the establishment finds itself in an unenviable position. It was ridiculed when it was supporting the ruling PTI regime and is now censured by the PTI for being neutral. Other political parties have no love lost for the army.

PTI’s bellicose hysterics

Sudden calling off the programmed sit-in at D Chowk by IK was initially ascribed to lack of preparations. Later on, IK clarified that he took the decision to prevent a bloody clash since many of his die-hard supporters were armed. It is ironic that the PTI hoped to fulfil all its rosy promises made in 2018 without preparations, and now launched this gigantic march with an expected two million people without preparations and hoped to crumble the sitting govt.

Blinded by the popularity and charisma of their iconic leader IK, the other leaders of the party did little to mobilize the people and to organize the long march. Lack of mobilization and organizational structure resulted in an abysmally low turnout in Isbd on the day of reckoning.

IK is extremely unhappy with other PTI leaders for failing to muster sufficient numbers due to which he had to call off the long march inconclusively. PTI activists and supporters who had been indoctrinated to become Jihadis are disappointed and are resentful for being left in a lurch.

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To mitigate their resentment, IK is once again exhorting his followers to get ready for another invasion with greater vengeance if the govt failed to submit to his dictates. He doesn’t mind putting the lives of his loyalists and the law enforcement agencies as well as the bystanders at risk. Apart from outbursts of Mahmood, CM of KP, some PTI hawkish leaders are favoring suicide bombings if IK is arrested, and are provoking the Pashtuns to avenge the high-handedness of the Punjab Police.

It is sheer opportunism on the part of IK to give the name of Jihad to a struggle being waged solely for regaining political power. Jihad against own people/sitting govt is akin to foreign-sponsored TTP-BLA waging Jihad against own army.

Ground realities

Encouraged by the outcome of the first round, the federal and provincial govt of Punjab and Sindh are likely to be equally well prepared, to take on the law breakers more forcefully.

Early or delayed elections are no answer to chronic ailments. It is another sop-like accountability which has been treating the headache with aspirin but never removing the cancerous ligament to cure the disease.

The PTI is mindful of the ground reality that if it recaptures power, it will be an uphill task to revive the sinking economy particularly when the advantages it had during its first tenure would be missing. All the political parties less PML Q are its antagonists and the establishment will either be neutral or unfriendly.

As such, IK’s future crown will again be full of thorns and the going extremely rough, but still he is desperate to regain power. His ambitions are stirred by those who view him as a Messiah with a magic wand capable of doctoring all the chronic ailments of Pakistan and making it healthy, prosperous and self-reliant.

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Possible urgencies

There could be four possible urgencies which impel the PTI leadership to seek early elections.

One. The phenomenal growth of popularity of IK and unprecedented spontaneous response of the public seen on April 10, and in a series of public gatherings from April 12 to May 22. They know that this wave of enthusiasm cannot remain high for long and is bound to decline with passage of time or due to extraneous factors.

Two. Imported govt is currently under fire and is being intensely censured both at home and abroad. If it manages to show some progress in economics with the help of the US, IMF and friendly countries and provides some relief to the people, opinions might start changing.

Three. Appointment of next army chief in Oct or early Nov this year. Every civil regime had aspired to appoint the army chief of its choice and this factor has gained further weight in the wake of extreme political polarization.

Four. The danger of foreign funding cases is lurking over their heads. If it goes against the party that may cause a fatal blow to it. Scores of other corruption cases have been opened up and if one of them gets proven in the court, it would rupture the mask of honesty of the party. It must prevent this from happening.

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Government’s frailties

The present coalition govt of 12 parties which is being jeered by the PTI and its fans as a bunch of looters and traitors, and taunted as an imported regime in a fix. It had moved a vote-of-no-confidence against IK on the plea that he had failed to control the price hike and to provide relief to the people. In addition to the constant pressure of the long march exerted by the PTI, and the public pressure, it is not achieving any breakthrough with the IMF.

The $ 6 billion loan in installments from the IMF is critical for moving the jammed economic wheels.  Friendly countries are expressing their inability to extend bailout packages because of the IMF standoff. The IMF wants removal of subsidies on oil, gas and electricity in accordance with the agreement signed with the PTI in 2019 as a precondition to restart the suspended program.

The govt is desperate to provide relief to the masses so as to justify its takeover, but instead of providing relief, it had to swallow the bitter pill and drop two heavy petrol bombs in the form of increase of price of petrol by Rs. 60 per litre. Electricity and gas tariffs are also likely to be increased. These increases have shot up the prices of daily commodities, and given a handle to the PTI to beat the govt with. In the ongoing blame game, the poor people and middle-income salaried class are suffering the most.

The shock therapy through painful injections was essential to receive loans and to save the country from default, and Sri Lanka type crisis. Unless the macroeconomic indicators including the GDP are stabilized and the foreign exchange reserves that have dipped below $ 10 billion are shored up, the economy cannot be lifted out of the morass.

To reduce the anger of the people, PM Shehbaz has provided some relief to the hard-pressed 14 million poor families by granting them additional Rs. 2000 per month, and promised no tax on salaried class/ pensioners in the budget. A 10% increase has been made in the salaries/ pensions and interest rates of saving schemes increased. Another pay/pension raise is speculated in the next budget. Load shedding will be reduced to two hours by the end of June, and Saturday has been declared a holiday to conserve energy. These token gestures wouldn’t help in removing the frustrations and resentment of the people unless the prices are controlled and moral credibility of the rulers repaired.

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Darkness can turn into the light if the managers bring a healthy change in their pompous lifestyle and corrupt practices, and execute well-thought-out balanced policies with sincerity of purpose. Once the holes of corruption and immorality are plugged, it would open the doors for economic stability, would speed up completion of incomplete development projects, and would help in stabilizing the record-breaking inflation and price hike.

Volatile internal situation

Pakistan faces one of the most riotous and hazardous moments in its political history. The overall situation is full of uncertainties and unpredictability. The govt of unnatural allies is faced with challenges of its reputation, its own unity, political instability, and economic meltdown. Swords of IMF, FATF and default hang over the country. Untrustworthy USA and aggressive India are exacerbating security concerns of Pakistan. Hybrid war has morally contaminated the society, socially poisoned the minds of the great majority, divided the country, deeply polarized politics, deepened tensions in civil-military relations, created fissures within the armed forces and the veterans, and weakened the national unity.

Pakistan has sought loans from the IMF 20 times and yet the external debt and current account deficit have remained the biggest economic issues. In the last 20 years, Pakistan received $ 112.6 billion loan from external creditors and paid back $ 118 billion in interest and principal. Yet Pakistan’s external debt has grown by 228%. 70% of the new debts were taken to meet the balance of payments needs. Since 2001, Pakistan has been paying $ 1.5 billion annually in interest alone.

Punjab is in deep political and constitutional turmoil; the govt of Abdul Qadus Bezinjo in Baluchistan survived no-trust motion by the skin of its teeth. Tone of the KP and GB govts is rebellious. FIRs have been registered against 150 PTI leaders and activists including IK on account of arson on May 25. The parliament has become insipid and the establishment is in neutral gear, while the judiciary has become proactive and is sorting out political matters. The fuel sprinklers are adding fuel to the hawkishness of PTI.

Read more: Understanding FATF politics against Pakistan

Inferences

The vegetated current political system cannot deliver unless it is thoroughly reformed and all the state institutions which includes the establishment are also transformed. With this system, we will keep playing the game of snake and ladders, our economy will remain in doldrums and dependent, and the external powers will keep exploiting and disgracing us.

The victory of one party or the other is certainly not the answer since all the political parties are equally tainted. Zardari, NS and IK, are equally guilty of doubling external debt and destroying the economy. Foreign debt doubled from 2008 to 2014, and from 2015 to 2021, it grew over 200% and exports grew by 3%.

IK is certainly not a Messiah as advertised. If he couldn’t overcome his personal weaknesses and couldn’t reform his own party and his allies, how can he transform the nation and make the country corruption-free? Over ambitiousness and ego has clouded the minds of the hawks in the PTI, who are dividing and not integrating the nation. Pakistan urgently needs reforms, political stability and economic uplift and not fanciful so-called Azadi, which is a route to destabilization.

The PTI irrespective of its host of plus points and proclaimed noble intentions cannot bring the govt to its knees with accusations, banter, emotions and street power since it is a lone warrior. It cannot win the political battle outside the parliament or in the courts. The 2nd long march will not achieve the stated objectives but could land the PTI leadership in bigger trouble.

On the other side is a huddle of 12 parties with state resources, the judiciary and the establishment. It can also garner street power with the help of JUI-F and TLP.  Being in power, it is in a better position to cover up its sins and to clear its past sins, which it is doing.

Stubbornness and haughtiness of PTI leadership has impelled the spineless and stained govt to stand up to the PTI’s challenge. It is in no mood for early elections and has made it clear that it would not be blackmailed and would hold elections in Sept next year. Zardari and NS are contemplating 10-year rule.

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The cabinet ministers of the coalition govt seem more interested in saving their necks from the juggernaut of accountability, and have hastened to remove the accused from exit control list, and have passed a bill to clip the wings of the NAB. A bill has also been passed to prohibit the use of EVM machines introduced by the PTI to facilitate Pakistani expatriates to vote in the elections.

Like the former regimes, the Shehbaz regime also succumbed to the IMF’s anti-poor prescription, and applied shock therapy which is poor-specific. However, when it comes to providing relief to the poor by taxing the dirty rich, it has no spine to displease the latter.

The ones in uniforms or those who have doffed their uniforms are supposed to be more experienced, sagacious and wise. They must extinguish rather than add fuel to fire by their provocative write-ups and statements in the social media which is entirely controlled by adversaries of Pakistan. Political leanings and right to vote are accepted norms but hero-worshipping has never been a custom even within the Army.

Senior officers are respected for their par excellence in professionalism, bravery and superior conduct but never worshipped. Those in service should show their skills in training, in sports and in the battlefield and not in the field of politics and that too at the cost of reputation of the army.

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What is direly needed is a big change in the outlook and thought process of our policy makers, the stakeholders, the thinkers and the civil society. They should focus on ideological reformation to improve our declined moral turpitude, to strengthen our religious foundations which act as a glue and helps in gelling the nation, in promoting nationalism, discouraging negative trends of provincialism, ethnicity and sectarianism, and in getting rid of the feudal mindset and the colonial mindset. Ethics, civic sense, humility and sense of responsibility needs vast improvements.

Recommendations

Without two-way dialogue and a policy of give-and-take, no headway can be made. The way forward is tolerance, patience, harmony, trust-building and dialogue. An offer of grand dialogue by Shehbaz is a step in the right direction.

The parliamentary system having outlived its efficacy, there is an urgent need to sit together to either revamp the existing political system or to chalk out a new system.

The four pillars of the state – the executive, the parliament, the establishment and the judiciary – should decide once for all to stay within their constitutional defined orbits and not to enter into the domain of the other.

If the govt wants to win the confidence of the oppressed classes, it will have to administer several more shock therapies to squeeze money out of the pockets of the rich class which evades paying taxes or sharing their wealth for the benefit of the poor.

Read more: Pakistan’s dishonorable conduct in politics

The mere removal of subsidies is not a remedy, nor is the IMF loan to make the sick economy healthy. These are abnormal times and need bold decisions to right the wrongs done. The foremost is to reduce dependence upon the double-dealing USA and to break the begging bowl since IMF loans retardss growth and development.

A policy on imports has been given but it is far too less and is cosmetic in form

Ban on luxury items wouldn’t be of much help since their consumers are the upper 5% bourgeoisie. Import of all non-essential goods should be reduced to bare minimum. Craze for foreign items to be diluted and quality of local products improved through effective quality control systems.

Enlargement of the tax base and evolution of a foolproof system to collect taxes have become essential to increase our capacity of revenue generation. Burden of taxes must be put on the shoulders of the wealthy.

Without widening the tax base, increasing agricultural yield through incentives, modern technology and water management, enhancing exports by revitalizing sick industries, commissioning special export zones speedily and finding new markets, and galvanizing the IT industry, the deficits and financial imbalances cannot be stabilized.

Part of the $30 billion remittances received each year to be earmarked for repayment of external debt.

Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the officials of OGDC, Wapda, telephone, irrigation and other service-providing organizations, the government departments and the tycoons are the biggest defaulters of non-payment of utility bills and dues, and are also involved in corrupt practices. As a result, the public sector corporations remain under debt and sick. These must be reformed by weeding out bad hats.

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Expenditures to be drastically cut by 40% to reduce the fiscal deficit to about 6%.

Ravenous appetites of the white elephants guzzling state finances and resources need disciplining.

Habits of wastefulness and lavishness in all the ministries and govt/ semi-autonomous departments need to be curtailed and a culture of austerity introduced. At least Rs. 2000 billion must be saved through cuts in expenditures to reduce fiscal deficit. Each household should reduce monthly/daily expenses by adopting austerity.

Money launderers, drug traffickers, smugglers, fake account holders, the Mafias controlling black money and the profiteers are hydra-headed monsters in sync, and they keep the nation impoverished. Unless they are bottled, Pakistan’s hard-earned foreign currency would keep flowing to foreign banks and the national kitty would remain empty.

All loans taken by affluent public office holders as well as all written-off bank loans recovered and policy framed to terminate the culture of loans.

A number of ministries at national/provincial levels to be reduced, and perks, privileges and salaries of the legislators cut down. Likewise, directorates in GHQ under the five PSOs to be condensed by abolishing unimportant ones.

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The population explosion is alarming. Pakistan’s population in 1947 was 35 million, it has now climbed to 225 million and the annual growth is above 2.8%. Mouths to feed are rapidly increasing while the resources including water receding. Since we do not have the will and capacity to increase our resources, birth control is one way of tackling socio-economic pressures.

Food and water security will have to be ensured.

With 65% of the population living in rural areas, emphasis should shift from urban development to rural development.

CPEC is the economic lifeline of Pakistan which can change the destiny of the country and make it self-reliant. Concerted efforts must be put in to complete the phase-2 projects and to provide an enabling environment for future phases.

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Some of the initiatives taken by the PTI regime like health-cards, Ehsas program and housing scheme are poor-specific, which must continue.

The veterans must remain wedded to their mother organization which paid them well for the services rendered, and it continues to look after their needs through pensions, medical facilities, etc. They should let sanity and prudence prevail, and must not jeopardize the dignity of the armed forces.

 

The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence, security & political analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows, and delivers talks. He can be reached at asifharoonraja@gmail.com. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.