Tuesday September 21, 2021

Meeting the challenge

March 25, 2020

Pakistan’s success in meeting the challenge posed by the Corona virus crisis is set to shape the country’s future and define its position in the global community.

In the past fortnight since the fast rising number of corona positive cases were discovered across Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has rapidly faced a growing test of skills in managing the country’s politics, the economy and related affairs.

So far however, barring an unexpected change for the better, the regime has come out with a largely middling performance. Caught in the eye of the profoundest storm confronting Pakistan in history, the future now depends on successfully winning a three tier battle:

First, the battle ahead requires no less than an unprecedented national unity never seen before in Pakistan’s history. There are many aspects to meeting this challenge. At the top tier of national unity lies the cause of unifying Pakistan’s diverse politics into a singular response. However, surrounded by his partisan considerations, the prime minister is yet to reach out to other mainstream opposition leaders notwithstanding the push by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to achieve the same. Every step of the way, whether to forge a new set of economic policies or the government’s response to issues like enforcing a lockdown or not, a complete national consensus is central to any meaningful response.

Beyond politics, a societal unification is necessary to build a consensus across Pakistan. Towards this end, bringing diverse elements of the civil society on a single platform is necessary to meet the challenge. For years, Pakistan’s ruling structure has tried to stifle the work of non profit organizations (NPOs) ranging from non governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civic bodies to independently run philanthropic trusts across the country. The exercise has been undertaken to protect the best interests of the state. But now in the face of an unprecedented crisis looming just over the horizon, it would be best to move ahead quickly and decisively on this matter. Regulating such entities is an important need of the Pakistani state but so is the need to intensify civil society organizations to carry out their humanitarian work.

Second, much work needs to be done on not just reforming the economy. More importantly, it is essential to reverse the malicious effect of official policies that have further impoverished the poorest of the poor across Pakistan. In spelling out his argument against a complete lockdown in spite of demands to the contrary by many across the country, the prime minister ought to remember that the impoverished many of today are worse off than just before he came to power in 2018.

Reversing the economic landscape requires a monumental effort ranging from targeting the very precious agricultural sector to reviving Pakistan’s badly stalled industries. For the past year as the crisis multiplied around Pakistan’s farming communities, the government chose to turn a deaf ear to calls for a meaningful and immediate intervention. Turning around the heart of the economy appears to be beyond the capacity of the prime minister and his team. A broader consensus involving key political parties however may generate the much needed backing involving major decisions.

Finally, turning around Pakistan’s outlook must be anchored upon retreating from the many battles fought by the government with far too few meaningful outcomes. More than eighteen months ago, Prime Minister Khan became victorious when he carried the banner of ‘tabdeeli’ or change, promising to usher in a qualitatively new era. He promised to end corruption across Pakistan and establish a more efficiently run country. And of course, there were promises of overseeing the construction of five million new affordable homes for low income Pakistanis as well as the plantation of billions of saplings.

Today, however, the twin promises of new homes and many more trees are apparently waiting to begin. But fulfilling the promise of creating a corruption free country has become more of a witch-hunt without a credible outcome to create a brighter future. Notwithstanding the government’s public stance of tolerance for a free press, the recent arrest of Mir Shakilur Rehman, editor in chief of the Jang group of newspapers on a 34-year-old charge and targeting the DAWN group, stand far removed from democratic norms. For the prime minister and Pakistan, there is neither time nor space to turn around urgently in the midst of the greatest storm in the country’s history.

The writer is an Islamabad-basedjournalist who writes on political andeconomic affairs.

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