It is an understated reality that political governments have an extremely hard time trying to translate their initial policy promises successfully into practical solutions, in the Pakistani context. A chequered legacy of military rule, amongst other factors, has acted as a facilitator for curbing civilian agency and therefore, constraining policy space for the elected governments, especially in matters related to foreign affairs and regional security. Sixty to sixty-five percent of the formal budgetary allocation is allotted to debt servicing and the military, and there is not a lot of space left after that in the tank for a political government to be able to enact radical change. The positions Foreign Ministers take on foreign policy remain generally static, irrespective of who is in power. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet will constantly have to defend allegations of them having taking U-turns and not maintaining fidelity with their initial postures. And that’s the structural and institutional dilemma that the newly elected PTI-led federal government finds itself riddled in. In any case, every Pakistani political party would struggle to maintain a respectable face in history, given the Herculean odds on offer. The quest for trying to turn civilian agency into civilian control, goes on, and can only be won democratically, if political parties try to manage the state of affairs prudently, in a visionary manner.

Normally when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But removing the economist Atif Mian from the Economic Advisory Council after appointing him in the first place, and genuinely wilting under pressure from the religious right, was a catastrophic error in judgement. It seemed like the PTI senior leadership was out of touch with the socio-cultural reality, on one part, and lacked the strength in conviction to act positively against religious discrimination, on the other. In any case, Atif Mian’s security has been compromised. And the Information Minister’s initial attempt of trying to convince the masses that the political system would take a progressive direction and the rights of the minorities would be protected, was a shambolic public relations exercise. The PTI leadership professes to wanting to attract foreign investment, as well as boosting the tourism industry, and this instance dealt a severe blow to their credentials, internationally.

The PTI senior leadership has remained coy over the management of the key issue area of the existential threat that religiously-inspired terrorist networks pose. Scant attention has been paid in the Premier’s speeches and policy statements. With Pakistan included on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force for failing to control terror financing, amongst other things, convincing steps need to be taken to ensure that the diplomatic failure which lead to our fair-weather friend, China, as well as the oil-rich, Saudi Arabia, voting against Pakistan, is not repeated. It seems like dismantling terror networks in South Punjab, and performing the civilian side of the National Action Plan are not very high on the government’s agenda. If Imran Khan’s history of cynical Taliban apologism, his utter refusal to call a spade a spade, and the massive funds being thrown the way of the Madrassah Haqqania to top it all off, is anything to go by, the situation looks bleak. The Americans have been flat out calling the Pakistani state’s bluff on the Haqqani network, and careful civil-military convergence is required to attempt to solve that particular stumbling block. Something needs to give: the world conscience needs to be convinced that Pakistan has been a genuine sufferer in the war against terror, rather than a vile facilitator of chaos, as is generally assumed. The Pakistani political leadership needs to show the world that genuine lessons have been learnt from history, and the ill-fated policy of “good Taliban, bad Taliban” and pursuing strategic depth on the North Western front, did more harm than good, for the domestic security situation. At any rate, we have been fighting a war for almost forty years and it must be kept in mind that the nature of conflict has become multifaceted in the contemporary world. Sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but ideology can be deadlier in contemporary warfare that is orchestrated through modern means of communication and proxies.

India has managed to expose the naivety of the civilian leadership once again by refusing to engage with the political government, on the hollow pretext of the issuance of Burhan Wani stamps. When one considers that the stamps were issued during the tenure of the interim government, it reflects far-sightedness on part of the potent South Block in New Delhi who killed two birds with one stone. The Modi government has been increasingly tending towards fascism and Pakistan needs to reorient her stance, pointing out the menacing potential of a supremacist Hindutva ideology, especially for the Muslims in India. Peace might be decades away, and it might not necessarily be in the strategic interests of the military establishments on both sides, who stand to gain economically by the continuation of conflict. The only difference here is that the Indian military does not have as grand an impact on the foreign and domestic policy formulation processes as its Pakistani counterparts.

Selling sixty-one PM House vehicles (to gain around Rs. 200 million) and eight buffaloes (for merely Rs. 2.03 million) were extremely hollow austerity stunts on part of the political government and they will not help too much in building dams. Political governments are supposed to take the hardest political steps early in their tenures so as to ease tensions by the time of the next election cycle, and the aforementioned steps only amount to cheap populism. On the other side of the spectrum, it has been rumored that the political government might be interested in rolling back the effects of the 18th amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan: steps which could be disastrous for a newly curated provincial autonomy and reoriented contours of federalism in the parliamentary republic of Pakistan. The constitutional struggle for civilian supremacy needs to be steered in a progressive direction.

Gas prices have been raised by forty three percent, and hikes in electricity and fuel prices are set to follow. The downtrodden masses are going to continue to feel the economic crunch in substantive manners. The PTI government needs to be very tactful in the negotiations as it marches towards the IMF for a bailout, which will come with a heavy price, and guided structural reforms. It must be kept in mind that the US green signal is a necessary prerequisite for the IMF bailout and its specific details, to be put into practice.

Preaching to the choir might increase the loyalty of the core PTI supporter group, but the PTI needs to seek buy-ins: it needs to attract the non-voters. The PPP, as well as the PML (N), even more so, believed that they had done enough, to warrant a second federal term. The electorate brutally defied those notions. The PTI senior leadership needs to improve its planning mechanisms if it stands any chance of quelling the perennial wave of disillusionment that mars the legitimacy of political governments in Pakistan. Political criticism should not stall for the initial three months, as the Premier requested, naively. Democracy cannot function healthily without responsible dissent, and a culture of informed debate.

 

The author is a freelance columnist.

@irtiza_shafaat