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December 28, 2016

Pakistan’s future: questions for 2017


December 28, 2016

As the new year is set to begin, here are a few of the many questions that we struggle with as we look towards Pakistan’s future at home: Is an electoral alliance between the PPP and PTI possible? All the signs, ranging from the provision of electricity and gas and the construction of roads and metro buses, suggest that the PML-N has delivered and plans to deliver through 2017.

The organisational strength of the PML-N, its hold over Punjab, its continued electoral alliance and government in Balochistan and its decision to seek an alliance with the JUI-F, JI and MQM, indicate that it will be a very tough contestant in electoral politics.

Even constituency-wise, the two major opposition parties, the PTI and PPP, on their own will not be able to give a tough fight to the PML-N. Hence, the question of a possible PTI-PPP electoral arrangement becomes critical for the not-too-distant elections in 2018. The answer to this question is not an easy one. The PTI, which stands against corruption, has a strong constituency and will seek a solo flight instead of entering into any arrangement with a party that has a strong reputation of being corrupt.

 Zardari is known for his strategy to opt for pragmatism and adjustment with the PML-N, whereas Bilawal has been following an aggressive, anti-PML-N route will hold sway. For the PPP, Zardari is damaged goods while Bilawal has not yet delivered, either in Azad Kashmir or in Gilgit-Baltistan. Whichever of these two brands of the PPP rule the day eventually, what is clear is that without an arrangement between the PTI and PPP – and any major dent to the Sharif family from the Panama leaks case – the PML-N may well be back in the saddle at the federal level.

How far will the Panama Papers case remain a mainstream political issue? Unlike the security leaks issue, which has now become a backburner issue despite the January 5 inquiry report that is due, the Panama Papers issue still remains a politically volatile matter. While the matter will return to the court in early January, the PTI is determined to keep it alive on the streets too. Also the extent to which the Supreme Court hearings in November and December actually pointed a finger and indeed shifted the burden of proof on the Sharif family, the PTI can still bring out its supporters on the streets to demand justice.

The critical question will be how far the PPP and PTI cooperate to push for justice over the Panama Papers. The PTI and PPP’s cooperation over the Panama Papers will also directly influence the possibility of any election arrangement between the parties.

Will the 2015 political peace initiative for Balochistan be revived? During the middle of 2015, the prime minister, his key cabinet members, in consultation with the Balochistan government and the military high command decided to open dialogue with some of the alienated Baloch politicians. A major military operation against militants in Awaran coincided with this peace initiative. The result of that were conciliatory statements by Brahamdagh Bugti to the BBC. But the PM neither had political will nor stamina to overcome the hurdles that followed this initiative. In 2017, renewed effort should be given priority by the government to bring back the alienated Baloch.

Will Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments opt for using technology in the many areas of governance that require improvement or will they restrict it to limited spheres only? A sign of some misplaced priorities is perhaps the enthusiasm and energy with which the PML-N and the PTI use information technology in their social media battles against their opponents. Meanwhile, the technology-based solutions available to tackle prevailing problems, especially in the social sector, are mostly only a keyboard away. Only recently Shakir Hussain,  an entrepreneur, who is fairly active on Twitter, tweeted information about an IBM-based technological solution currently being developed for the Kenyan government to prevent fraudulent activities in education – such as academic certificate fraud.

Will the CPEC produce a positive change in Pakistan’s political and bureaucratic culture? A fate-changing project, the CPEC seems to be acquiring greater significance as other countries, including Iran and other neighbours, continue to express their interest in seeking links with it. China’s interest, despite internal bickering over the route and related projects within Pakistan, is fully on track. Nevertheless, the health and implementation speed of the CPEC are directly dependent on the ease and competence with which the project is handled by the federal government and the bureaucracy. Much greater energy and engagement is required by the two key men – Minister of Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal and Senator Mushahid Hussain – to ensure the provinces are completely plugged into all the CPEC developments.        

For this, the PM’s attention and regular use of platforms, such as the Parliamentary Committee on CPEC, to keep the provinces in the information loop is important. These two men must be engaged in a transparent manner, especially with national and provincial leaders complaining against the federal government for undermining the interests of smaller provinces.

Will we see earnest governance replace rhetoric? The old problem of most elected parliamentarians, who wield constitutional authority, sounding as if they are principally critics and analysts and not authority-wielding problem solvers, persists. For example, on the PPP’s reversal of its own Sindh assembly bill on forced conversions, Senator Farhatullah Babar complained against, what he called the ‘national security brigades’ and ‘national ideology brigades’. Similarly, the federal government complains against the opposition and the media for creating hurdles in reforming PIA and the public sector corporations. The government believes such hurdles prevent them from calling workers to discipline them or objectively assessing their performance. There is some truth to this, but such are the challenges of governance in modern-day politics. In shrill contestations, there is a high price tag attached with serving the electorate.

Naturally, decisions are never free. In Pakistan, we often find that when governments conclude they can’t afford the political price of a correct decision, they opt for a politically viable decision. The paralysis of reforms in public-sector corporations, the inability to impose taxes on the rich and allowing Fourth Schedulers to contest elections are some glaring examples. The removal of corrupt officeholders from party memberships, the overhauling of public advantage in the social sector, the genuine decentralisation of political and financial power at the local level are a few others.

It’s only short-term thinking that does this kind of cost calculation in which the cost of correct decisions is juxtaposed as undermining legitimate power ambitions. Is anyone willing to adopt the very obvious mathematical formula which shows us that power accumulation without reference to resolving the problems that the electorate faces actually leads to power depletion? It’s worth checking out the growing chaos where the ruling elites ignore this formula.

And finally for 2017, the question that most citizens of Pakistan should legitimately ask is: how disciplined and responsible will the mainstream media in Pakistan be? How much will we opt to stay with facts and how much will we avoid fictionalised facts? How much will we stay away from fact-free reporting and analysis and how much will we hold ourselves accountable to facts and the law? Neutrality is no virtue since it’s important to state the truth as it is – neither fictionalised nor selective.

Good luck Pakistan!


The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nasimzehra


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