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July 1, 2020

Vendetta versus stability?

Monday’s militant attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) premises in the heart of Karachi’s business district brought home a powerful message. Notwithstanding the Pakistani state’s successful advancement of its footprint across the once ungoverned tribal areas along the Afghan border, the country’s battle against militancy is far from over.

As intelligence and police investigators sift through the evidence from this latest attack, there are compelling questions over Pakistan’s past, present and future outlook. Together, the answer to each of these compelling questions will shape Pakistan’s destiny for times to come as the country struggles against unprecedented challenges.

The most dangerous pitfalls surrounding today’s Pakistan include the fallout from the coronavirus, the risks emanating from a dismal economy and the gaps surrounding the ruling structure which still appears to be going through the learning curve.

More than two years after the 2018 elections brought the PTI, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, to form its first government in Islamabad, the hope for a more promising future is shrinking all around.

One of the weakest elements in this difficult chain must be Prime Minister Imran Khan’s apparent refusal to change with the fast changing times. As Pakistan is forced to practically redefine its way forward for a more promising future, PM Khan and his team are still locked in seeking vendetta after vendetta against their real or imaginary foes.

Beyond the prime minister’s refusal to talk to key opposition leaders to evolve a national consensus on the most vital policy issues, the widening vendetta has taken an ominous turn.

In the past week, the Khan government’s public announcement that one-third of Pakistan’s domestically trained pilots carried bogus credentials has opened the latest can of worms in recent memory. If the intention was to push Pakistan towards progressive reforms, any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is far from visible.

Instead, the revelation has shone fresh international spotlight on the already beleaguered national air carrier – Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), with the added danger of possible international punitive action from overseas authorities.

The PIA related saga has closely shadowed Prime Minister Khan’s remarks in parliament describing the late Osama bin Laden as a ‘shaheed’ or martyr. Anyone familiar with the history of ‘jihad’ or holy war involving Pakistanis over the past four decades, must consider disagreeing with PM Khan’s choice of words.

This sorry period in Pakistan’s history saw scores of young men head out to join a holy war before many ended up practically disappeared. In parts of Pakistan there are many cases of close family members left behind, without knowing if they should mourn the departure of their loved ones or await their return.

As policy failures accumulate under Pakistan’s ruling structure, its hardly surprising that Islamabad’s power corridors have begun to increasingly resonate with just one question: Is dissent growing within the ruling structure? Exactly if and when such an outcome will materialize obviously remains unclear.

But the writing on the wall not just suggests shrinking popular confidence in the ability of the ruling structure to reset Pakistan’s direction for a more promising future. A similar wave appears to resonate across large parts of the business community and many professionals, as the future looks bleak by comparison to the past or the present.

In the interest of stabilizing Pakistan, Prime Minister Khan and his team need to step back from vendettas and lead the country towards unprecedented national unity.

This is all the more vital as Pakistan remains surrounded by very unpredictable consequences from the coronavirus. For the moment, an exact time-frame for the future of this terrible scourge and further toll that it will take on human life and material interests worldwide, remains unclear. And even if a new vaccine for protection of human beings is found, there are other challenging questions that remain unanswered. These principally include the time frame it will take for the vaccine to arrive in Pakistan and its affordability for middle to low income households.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s economic downturn is likely to keep the country in a slow growth corridor for at least another year if not more. Going forward, a failure to unite Pakistan will only spell disaster for a country that faces unprecedented challenges in the foreseeable future.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.

Email: [email protected]