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Thursday June 13, 2024

It’s the economy, stupid

By Aasiya Riaz
January 08, 2023

In the recession-hit United States in the 1990s under US president George H W Bush, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ was the catchphrase that defined the 1992 US presidential campaign of Mr Bill Clinton. The Clinton campaign’s laser-sharp focus on the economy not only helped Mr Clinton get elected as president as the phrase caught the imagination of US voters, but the slogan coined by Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville has since become part of the political lexicon in the US and is recognized and used globally to draw attention to a core electoral or policy issue from time to time.

The primacy of ‘economic security’ for Pakistan was also recognized in the official public statement by the PMO after the 40th NSC meeting. The statement, which many have attempted to unpack since, said that ‘comprehensive ‘National Security’ revolves around economic security and that sovereignty or dignity comes under stress without self-sufficiency and economic independence.’

Having stated the centrality of economic security for Pakistan, an entire paragraph was then devoted to the economy from which jump words like ‘economic stability roadmap’ ‘relief measures for common people’ ‘imports rationalization’ improving ‘agricultural output and manufacturing sector’ ‘food security’ ‘imports substitution’ and ‘employment.’ Despite the overload of such terms, there is little that makes sense even to the non-ordained in the economy on how the government plans to deliver on any of these lofty goals with zero economic space and luxury of time available to Pakistan at this time.

The acknowledgement of our economic well-being as the core issue for Pakistan is certainly a welcome change from earlier jingoistic rhetoric on national security. This policy realization, however, is not new. A year ago, the NSC with PM Imran Khan in chair at the time, had approved Pakistan’s first-ever National Security Policy (NSP) which placed ‘economic security’ at the core of Pakistan’s national security – arguing that ‘a stronger economy would create additional resources that would, in turn, be judiciously distributed to further bolster military and human security.’

However, as Pakistan’s economic implosion overtime shows, attaining economic security or even economic stability before that, would require far more than mere desire to do so from one political government to another albeit now in tune with the military leadership. Or as in the immortal verses of Faiz Ahmed Faiz: yeh aarzoo bhi bari cheez hai magar hamdam; visaal-e-yar faqat aarzoo ki baat nahin!

The second message emanating from the NSC on dealing with terrorism is just as grave as the economic situation. Without naming the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the NSC’s message on not allowing any country to provide sanctuaries and facilitation to terrorists and its resolve to deal with terrorism with full force of the state conveyed to the world that Pakistan meant business. This position has received US support which said that Pakistan has a right to defend itself from terrorism and reminded the Afghan Taliban to uphold their commitment to not allow their soil to be used as a launchpad for international terrorist attacks.

Another military operation might be the way forward in view of increasing terrorist attacks across Pakistan since after the TTP’s announcement to end the ceasefire agreed with Pakistan in November 2022. Such an operation has to have federal and provincial governments in the lead as rightly emphasised by the PM. However, the nation has a right to feel regret, loss and even resentment on how the gains achieved by earlier operations through such massive public, civil and military cost have been reversed so quickly.

Other than a few stories in the national and international media that have alluded in past couple of years to Pakistan’s negotiations with the TTP, Pakistanis have remained in the dark as to why, how and when the state began and concluded negotiations with the proscribed TTP which has on its hands innocent blood of 70,000 precious Pakistani lives. It is ironic that parliament too was only briefed on talks with the banned TTP in June 2022, a few weeks after the TTP had publicly announced in early June to indefinitely extend a ceasefire agreed with Pakistan. Apparently, this was the second extension in the earlier negotiated ceasefire deadline which had ended on May 30, 2022.

The post-effect briefing to parliament was reportedly only made possible after the PPP asked for it. An ambiguous statement issued from the PMO said that, while a civil and military committee from Pakistan had been engaged in negotiations with the banned TTP (through facilitation by ‘Afghanistan government’) under the ambit of Pakistan’s constitution, any agreement with the TTP will be subject to approval by parliament.

Two weeks later, it was reported that the Parliamentary Committee on National Security formally approved the process of negotiations and approved the formation of a ‘Parliamentary Oversight Committee.’ However, when the interior minister claimed last month that talks with the TTP were authorised by parliament, this assertion was publicly rejected by MPs belonging to the PML-N and the PPP who maintained that no permission was ever sought from the parliamentary committee which was only briefed!

The cover of this delayed parliamentary blessing has done little to sanctify the negotiation process which is now recognized as a catastrophic failed bid which allowed militants to return and gain ground in regions from where they were dislodged earlier. This militant foothold is not just evident through the spike in terrorism cases; its daily onslaught has come to include issuance of the TTP’s public threats against leadership of the PML-N and the PPP for taking a public position against it. For a country that has lost so many illustrious political leaders including a former prime minister to the same terrorists, it is hard to sidestep the grimness of such threats.

As Pakistan braces to fight another wave of terrorism, and brace it must especially in view of the dire economic realities faced by the people, it would be useful to remember how we returned to this crisis so soon and after so many sacrifices. The whole-of-nation approach required to fight this fresh wave of terrorism also demands that public input should be the defining factor for strategic decision-making in the future.

The writer is an analyst working in the field of politics, democratic governance, legislative development and rule of law.