Political conflict and a troubled economy in Pakistan

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Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi
Increased political polarization in Pakistan has intensified wrangling between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N), whose leaders trade charges and countercharges inside and outside the National Assembly.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) faces an identity crisis in this war of words. At times it joins the PML-N to oppose the PTI government, and at other times it distances itself from the PML-N in order to assert its separate identity.
What matters most for political activists is how to outwit their adversary rather than join together to address the sociopolitical and economic problems that afflict society and undermine public confidence in the political system.
When opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif was brought to the National Assembly’s recent session from detention by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under the orders of the speaker, Sharif not only questioned the political legitimacy of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, but also accused it and the NAB of colluding against him.
Since the Sharif family has come under NAB scrutiny for alleged money laundering, corruption and partisan use of state resources, the best bet for them is to claim political victimization. This strategy is meant to push accountability issues to the background, and allege a planned strategy to oust the family from politics.
A negative consequence of intense political polarization is the establishment of a tradition of every opposition party questioning the legitimacy of the ruling party and state institutions and processes. In return, the ruling party describes the opposition as engaging in anti-people and anti-national activities. All this increases political bitterness and conflict.
Pakistan’s political leaders, in government and in opposition, face the challenges of bestowing confidence in civilian institutions and processes by agreeing to a minimum consensus for conflict management and resolution.

The greater responsibility for achieving this is on the ruling parties at the federal and provincial levels, by promoting tolerance, accommodation, mutual consultation, and judicious and non-partisan use of state resources.
Another set of challenges for the government relates to management of the national economy. The ongoing confrontation between the government and opposition makes the task of economic management very complex.
Foreign loans and liabilities that amount to $95 billion are the first dimension of Pakistan’s economic predicament. It is no longer in a position to pay back loans whose repayment is due by the start of next year.
This problem also covers the issues of the budget deficit, the balance of payments, the international trade deficit, declining foreign-exchange reserves and inadequate foreign investment. Pakistan plans to seek an economic restructuring plan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or obtain hard cash from friendly Arab states and China.
The second dimension of the economic challenges covers corruption, mismanagement, and the allocation of state resources on partisan considerations. A host of cases has surfaced in this respect, and the NAB is dealing with them. The challenge is to create a transparent economy that effectively tackles financial corruption and ensures efficient administration of economic affairs.
Third, the economy must reasonably protect citizens’ rights and interests. Socioeconomic inequities must be reduced and steps taken to ensure that the prices of essential commodities do not increase at a fast pace. Economic policies must benefit the common people.
The government needs to launch policies to overcome poverty and underdevelopment in society, and it needs to work to reduce youth unemployment. These problems cannot be resolved quickly, but the government needs to launch policies that give people hope that it has started addressing their problems.
For the time being, the PTI government can claim that it has inherited a troubled economy whose viability is in question. However, if it does not adopt quick measures to revive the faltering economy and provide relief to the common people, it will not be able to save its skin simply by blaming previous governments.
Currently, PTI governments at the federal level and in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enjoy the goodwill of the people, who are attracted to the party’s slogan of change. It needs to translate its agenda for change into reality.
(Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi is a Pakistan-based political analyst. Twitter: @har132har)