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February 1, 2018

Can Pakistan make history?


February 1, 2018

There are two competing visions that are vying for Pakistan. One of these involves spreading chaos and instability in Pakistan, and has been championed by PTI Chairman Imran Khan and his proxies. The other is of a democratic, progressive, inclusive and stable Pakistan, which has been spelled out in the Pakistan Vision 2025 and espoused by Nawaz Sharif. The people of Pakistan have witnessed both visions which have been actively competing with each other over the last four-and-a-half years.

It is important to ask why Imran Khan has opted for the politics of chaos and instability. The reason is simple. After forming the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the PTI chairman soon realised that governance and development are not his forte and his party can’t compete with the experienced PML-N in terms of delivery of public goods and development. Imran Khan took an easy but unfortunate option: disrupt the system so that the PML-N does not deliver on its development promises. Since 2014, Imran Khan, along with others like Dr Tahirul Qadri, has been trying to create instability. The purpose of this is to not allow the PML-N to implement its manifesto and Vision 2025.

Imran Khan and his party were trying their best to keep Pakistan in political turmoil while the PML-N government was quietly channelling all its energies and efforts towards implementing its agenda of the 4Es (energy; economy; the elimination of extremism; and education) and the Pakistan Vision 2025.

There is no comparison between the PTI and the PML-N when it comes to the delivery of development initiatives. The biggest achievement of Imran Khan and his government in KP are that they organised the sit-in and lockdown at Islamabad. Despite the best efforts of the PTI and the PAT, the PML-N delivered on every socioeconomic front. In terms of big ticket items, the PML-N successfully addressed the energy, economy and security situation of Pakistan.

Energy shortage was a major crisis in 2013. Today, most parts of the country do not experience power blackouts. Our industries are getting uninterrupted power supply because the PML-N government has added more than 10,000 MW to the national grid. The economy was on the verge of default in 2013. Today, Pakistan has achieved macroeconomic stability and is growing by more than five percent – the highest increase over the last 10 years.

Infrastructural facilities were crumbling in 2013. But over the last four years, the PML-N government has successfully undertaken national-level infrastructural development projects all over the country. It has also turned the dream of CPEC into a reality.

The successful delivery of development is the reason why opposition parties, especially the PTI, are trying their best to disrupt the democratic process in the country. Even independent media outlets like The Economist have confirmed that the PML-N is most likely to win the next elections based on its performance.

The demand for early elections is another manifestation of the PTI’s disruptive politics. The party knows very well that general elections cannot take place until voter lists and delimitation of constituencies are finalised. Therefore, it is impossible to hold general elections before July 2018. So, the demand for early elections is a demand for a long-term caretaker setup that would exceed its constitutional mandate of 90 days.

How can any democrat support this idea? I would urge every Pakistani to ask what the purpose of disrupting the democratic system can be when general elections are only a few months away. If the PML-N government is so ‘unpopular’, why not wait and vote it out in July 2018 elections? Shouldn’t democratic voices in the media confront Imran Khan with these facts?

Never in Pakistan’s history have two successive constitutionally-elected parliaments finished their terms. Can Pakistan make history this time or will it repeat its past mistakes? This is a challenge, not only for the PML-N government but for the state. The complex geopolitical situation in our region and the continuation of CPEC requires that we maintain internal harmony, stability and solidarity in the country. Any disruption at this stage will be detrimental to our security and economic situation.

Pakistan needs democracy. This is a lesson we should have learned a long time ago. In the 1950s, Pakistan had a chance to lay the foundation of a democratic welfare state that was envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Unfortunately, the 1950s were spent in the tussle between elected political leadership and the unelected civil-military bureaucracies.

In the 1960s, Pakistan had a chance to become an economic power in the region. Due to the non-representative character of Ayub Khan’s regime, it could not sustain high economic growth and conflicts emerged across regional and class lines. During the 1970s, we had a chance to forget our past mistakes and strengthen democracy in Pakistan. The political leadership of the country devised a constitution after a consensus and chalked out a roadmap for our future success: a constitutional parliamentary democracy. But the democratic process was halted due to the military coup of 1977.

In the 1980s, General Zia’s government was the darling of one of the superpowers of the world. During this period, Pakistan could have done what South Korea did: focus on economic development. Instead, we got involved in the geo-strategic war theatre and brought war and drugs to our homeland. In the 1990s, Pakistan was given another chance to not only consolidate democracy but to revive the economy. Under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif, the PML governments in the 1990s introduced economic reforms and initiated mega infrastructural projects to leapfrog the industrialisation process in Pakistan.

But Pervez Musharraf’s military coup brought us back to square one. The policy choices exercised by Musharraf once again pushed us into the geo-strategic war theatre. Because of shortsightedness on the policy horizon, no major energy or infrastructure project was undertaken by Musharraf’s government.

The restoration of the judiciary and the democracy movement was like a light at the end of the tunnel. The elected parliament restored the constitution in its true spirit via the 18th Amendment.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, an elected government finished its term and transferred power to another elected government. This not only gave our nation hope, but also restored confidence in our democratic institutions. Over the last four years, the PML-N government has successfully addressed the energy, security and economic crises. CPEC has become a source of hope for a prosperous and industrialised Pakistan. We cannot let anyone spoil this golden opportunity by repeating past mistakes.

The old idea that we have failed to get rid of is our attempt to disrupt elected civilian governments. We need to understand that this spurs political instability and halts economic growth. No matter how good our economic policies are, if we cannot provide peace and political stability, they will not yield the desired results. Therefore, it is imperative that we maintain peace, political stability and continuity in our economic policies and avail lost opportunities. The choice is very clear: Pakistan can either make history or fall prey to its own history.

The writer is the federal minister for planning, development and

reform, and interior.

Twitter: @betterpakistan

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