Mueen Batlay |
On July 25th 2018, Pakistan elected a different party to lead the country from the ones that have been taking turns at governing it in recent years: Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI), the Party of Justice, led by the charismatic cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan.
The whole country is at the cusp of a transformation. As the last-minute negotiations get done to secure the seats required to form the government at the center and in the most populous province, Punjab, Pakistanis hold their breath. They know that nothing is going to remain as it was. Pakistan’s intractable problems are finally being confronted by a leader who has had the audacity to build a political party from scratch, with the ambition to govern a challenging country in a tough neighborhood, in a manner that can truly realize it’s potential.
The high impact of climate change and a looming water crisis will greatly test the resolve and governance capabilities of Pakistan. These challenges are ultimately global, and need global partnerships to be adequately dealt with.
It is unfortunate that the world media appears to view this development with skepticism and disdain. Granted that PTI’s path to electoral victory has not been textbook, or without controversy. Yet the achievement far outweighs any misgivings on political strategy that people may have.
The first misgiving is the perception that PTI’s electoral victory has been forged with the strong backing of the “establishment”, a code world that refers to the country’s military and intelligence agencies. Pakistan has been ruled by its military for half its existence. This has made its army influential and involved in the nation’s life, beyond defending its borders. Their influence spans across politics, business and foreign policy.
Then again, perhaps the world needs to look at governance in developing countries beyond the simple binary of civilian and military rule. A balance of powers is needed to prevent the amassing of overwhelming power in any one arm of government, and if this countervailing power cannot be provided within the civilian framework, the military supplies it.
Nevertheless, Pakistan has been strengthening its democratic credentials. The present election marks the 3rd peaceful transfer of power in 10 years, and culminates 2 full government terms. A free though often partisan Press has often critiqued the weaknesses of Pakistan’s democracy, and the gaps are likely to be bridged over time.
The whole country is at the cusp of a transformation. As the last-minute negotiations get done to secure the seats required to form the government at the center and in the most populous province, Punjab, Pakistanis hold their breath.
Secondly, there is the concern that PTI went into protest mode right after the 2013 elections rather than giving the governing Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) a chance to rule. True, but keep in mind the overwhelming advantage an incumbent government has in Pakistan, where it traditionally uses the bureaucracy and government funds to perpetuate its rule. Imran Khan, with a keen eye on employing a winning electoral strategy, used the protest mode to counter this advantage.
Thirdly, negative coverage happens because of the role of the “problem child” that the world appears to have assigned Pakistan. But Pakistan has quietly largely overcome its energy shortage, security challenges, and forged an unprecedented multi-billion dollar investment partnership with China, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is these achievements that people often refer to when finding fault with bringing down the previous government. But while the previous PML-N government was successful in laying down this hard infrastructure, it failed to build the soft structures of education, health and poverty elimination.
Getting these areas right is essential if Pakistan wants to utilize its youth bulge. This is what PTI promises to do. So what lies in store? PTI promises to fix governance, focus on fighting poverty and building a welfare state. Under PTI, Pakistan is more likely to secure its national interests itself, rather than being conveniently tossed around like a football by world and regional powers.
The other good news is that although Pakistan’s macroeconomic indicators are problematic, the underlying strength of its businesses is substantial. This, combined with a growing entrepreneurial wave and expanding middle class, is likely to boost the economy sufficiently to put Pakistan on a firm track to middle-income status.
Conflicts in Pakistan’s neighborhood which have weighed Pakistan down are winding down rapidly. The warring parties in Afghanistan are exhausted, and are increasingly inclined towards peace. Prospects of improving ties with India appear good, and relations with Russia and Iran are strengthening. With the lessening of these burdens, Pakistan’s economic potential is likely to be unleashed.
What about the prospects of confrontation by opposition parties? Thankfully, weary after several years of street politics, the parties have expressed their intent to fight their battles inside the parliament rather than outside.
An obstacle to the resurgence of Pakistan’s economy may be an IMF program. Using Pakistan’s problematic macroeconomic indicators as a pretext to apply economic brakes would be a mistake. They are instead symptomatic of Pakistan’s struggle in financing its growth. With increasing political stability, these financing impediments are likely to disappear. Plus Pakistan’s all-weather friend China will shore up its investments in the country with the economic assistance needed. Russia is also likely to use this opportunity to enhance its economic relationship with Pakistan.
The truth is that the present elections have cleared the decks of political instability in Pakistan. Entrenched political parties have been sidelined, and a new party empowered by the youth is at the forefront. Politics, as usual, has seized to operate, and innovative, out-of-the-box solutions are likely to be utilized.
Technology is the other enabler of Pakistani potential. With youth naturally inclined towards the world of computers, solving intractable problems such as providing health and educational services to Pakistani citizens is within reach. Increasing smartphone population, e-commerce, e-government, data analytics and artificial intelligence will help Pakistan leapfrog the development cycle and reach an economic level that reflects its human and natural resources.
A balance of powers is needed to prevent the amassing of overwhelming power in any one arm of government, and if this countervailing power cannot be provided within the civilian framework, the military supplies it.
It is important for the world to recognize the promising juncture that Pakistan stands at, in its national journey. For Pakistan surely needs the world’s help. Not financial help, as that capital will automatically flow, attracted by the investment opportunity. But technological help, trade linkages, educational help and diplomatic support.
There is a new beginning happening in Pakistan. The country will pursue its destiny with or without the world’s support, but will be greatly aided in its work if the world correctly reads the atmosphere. We do not want to reinvent the wheel, and hence need the benefit of best practices worldwide. We want to plug ourselves into major Global Value Chains, and move up in them. We want to be part of the solution to help the world recover from conflict, distress immigration triggered by it, and frayed trade relations.
Read more: Pakistan’s ‘Tipping Point’
The fact that the political transition is happening despite the security and economic challenges is a testament to the growing political resilience of Pakistan. Tempered by past internal and external conflict, the country has developed a resilience that will help it meet future challenges.
The high impact of climate change and a looming water crisis will greatly test the resolve and governance capabilities of Pakistan. These challenges are ultimately global, and need global partnerships to be adequately dealt with. These partnerships can only be formed in a culture of equal relationships between sovereign states. Pakistan stands at a transformative moment. Its citizens, especially its youth, are motivated to use all their capabilities to help build the country. Pakistan is open to the world. It deserves the world to be open to it.
Mueen Batlay is an independent consultant who has worked in the areas of investment and development banking, education, regulation and fintech. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.