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June 20, 2018

Our political future


June 20, 2018

In my last article, ‘One hundred days’ published in these pages on June 12, I had argued that the PTI’s ‘100 days’ plan lacks economic strategy as it lumped together things that are not compatible with the real working of economy and politics.

The PTI’s private sector led approach will force it to cut down on jobs in public-sector enterprises to make them profitable. The economy would need to grow at a pace of 7.5 percent for at least 10 years, coupled with protectionist economic policies for sustaining job growth.

The country will need to pay off its liabilities of $92 billion to get rid of IFI dependence. It would also need to generate Rs30 trillion to build five million homes in the country. Ideally, this would be a good 15-year agenda – if we were to start working on these strategies now. This lays bare the confusion at the core of the PTI’s vision for a new Pakistan and lack of any political and economic strategies to attain it.

The top leaders and the workers of the party were equally frustrated when the party could not make much difference in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to substantiate its anti-Nawaz reductionist political tirade. The PTI’s decision to invest in mass transit in Peshawar is sensible but contradicts its own allegations against the PML-N’s misplaced priorities of building metros in Punjab at the cost of human development.

On other political counts of building a new Pakistan, many feel that the party has failed to evolve new leadership from the educated middle classes which supported the PTI and made it one of the leading parties of the country. With few exceptions, the PTI has relied on the vanguards of old Pakistan as well as political opportunists who have defected from other parties to capture high ranks in the party.

It is hard to differentiate between the PTI, PPP and PML-N in terms of political tactics they use to get the electable lot as means of gaining political power. The PTI has been worse than the other two parties in this tactic too because it is being perceived as a party with state patronage – much like the Jamaat-e-Islami in the past. The PTI can make it to power and to the PM House through its electable lot but there is a slim chance that it will get 137 seats in parliament to form government in the centre. Political pundits believe that, even if the PTI makes alliances with independent candidates and smaller groups, there is no likelihood of the party getting adequate seats to form its government in the centre.

The party’s popularity graph was at its highest during the elections of 2013 but it could gain only 33 seats in the National Assembly. This time, according to analyses, its graph of popularity has gone down significantly.

And, while it would be misleading to say that the PML-N has done wonderful work in the country, it has done better in Punjab compared to how the PTI has done in KP. The PML-N has been able to ring-fence its political campaign with palpable examples of reduction in loadshedding, improvements in law and order, good physical infrastructure etc.

All these cannot be attributed to the PML-N’s political acumen because most of these things were influenced by factors external to the party’s political strategy. However, the party has been clever enough to capitalise on these positives in its election campaign.

It has also been able to position itself to stand out as a party that currently stands against the political status quo – even though its history is of being close to powerful forces. The PML-N is primarily fighting a war of the political survival of its leading family dynasty. In so doing the party has learnt the art of being seen as an underdog to gain sympathy votes.

There is a strong fear among many – one that I share – that we are drifting towards fascist politics in this country, and that too from the middle class which did not take part in political sloganeering in the past. It is unfortunate to note that disagreeing with a party is equated as becoming accomplices of killers and murderers. Our expressions are filthy, our language is foul and we have lost all civility in pursuing our newfound causes. Being critical of a potpourri of different political interests should be okay and should not mean that one is necessarily the follower of an antithetical ideology to the PTI’s brand of democracy.

And it is even less about allegiance to the Sharifs-driven PML. Rather, it is about questioning the anti-democratic ideals of these political parties. All the major parties including the PML-N, PPP and PTI are driven by personalities not by political ideologies. How does anyone expect these political parties to bring about democracy when they themselves believe in personality cults and wealth accumulation as a fundamental rule of politics? None of these parties is open to the idea of leadership selection and rotation based on performance and democratic credentials. Their leaders – all of them – think of themselves as infallible born leaders with the birth right to rule the people of this unfortunate country.

Without Imran Khan, the PTI is equal to naught, which means that it has failed to evolve second tier political leadership and – much like the PPP and PML-N – it relies on individuals rather than a well-governed intraparty system. Being critical of these mainstream parties does not make one antidemocratic as they would like us to believe. Let us open up the debate for a realistic and well-thought-out political future of the country. Can we learn something from Mahathir Mohamad whose excitement to see his people prosperous is something our leaders must imitate if they can’t manage to acquire these traits of statesmanship.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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