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Sail or sink?


January 16, 2021

The year 2020 has in many ways been a curse internationally due to the pandemic but in this part of the world the effects of the pandemic were compounded due to the inefficiency of Khan’s government.

Now that the world has entered a new year, people have started looking for other political options – giving the PDM an opportunity to emerge as a saviour. But, at the same time, we must learn from history to see why we are surrounded by multiple challenges today. The pandemic has changed life but hasn’t changed the desire to strive for stability. For this, any country needs a statesman/woman who would keep their personal interest aside and prioritize the people of the country. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been handed an inept head who after 30 months of power has himself conceded he was not prepared enough for the job.

With countless flaws and historic misgovernance, there is much to talk about the current government’s poor performance. The face-off between the PDM and Khan’s regime – with the enraged Fazl, ambitious Maryam and charged Bilawal – has set the battlefield ablaze but the other player seems a bit worried as he has lost confidence and public support. So, the question is: what is the plan?

March or no march? Maulana who has nothing to lose will try to compel other parties in the PDM to resign while the PPP, with stakes in Sindh and chances of getting the second position in the coming Senate, cannot afford to resign.

With the resignation card kept for some time later, the question is: will the PDM march towards the capital and if yes then what are they expecting? Resignation of the premier or re-election? Well, the PML-N is quite in favour of the latter but many may prefer a subtle change through this present parliament. Suppose the long march hits the nail on the head by successfully gathering a mass crowd marching towards Islamabad, will they look up to the umpire's decision or rely on public support?

Perhaps, there are too many questions and too many possibilities in all this. But, as mentioned above, it must be learnt from our history that marches and sit-ins have weakened governments for sure but never has a premier resigned as a result of such agitations. So, will this march be an exception? That has to be seen.

What is the strategy brewing within the PDM? Maybe the PDM wants to build pressure by flexing some muscles and showing its relevance to the power houses and meanwhile engaging the already miffed government allies as we recently saw.

One thing is sure: so far, the PDM wants to remain part of the system by contesting by-elections and not leaving ground in the Senate. This is quite a wise decision and might not risk our already fragile democracy. Meanwhile, some panic moves have been taken by the government by talking about holding the Senate elections before time, and launching federal ministers in counter-press conferences and thereby raising the political temperature and widening the gap between the two sides. The PM’s insistence on implementing a ‘show of hands’ in the Senate polls raises quite a few eyebrows; it seems he himself is not quite sure about the level of commitment and loyalty of his own MPs and may be afraid of losing the slot of chairman Senate.

What if the PDM rules out the idea of a march, raises the temperature in parliament and attracts government allies step by step to form a new alliance – this time, starting from Punjab. The Chaudhrys can easily jump off from the tabdeeli bus and hop into the orange line. All they need is to change the roles in Punjab; the speaker can be the new CM. This would be a huge blow to Khan who adores Waseem Akram plus more than anyone.

If rumours are to be true, quite a few legislators of the ruling party may be ready to ditch Khan and vote for the other side in the National Assembly. But let's not forget that in politics timing matters the most. If the PDM kicks off with its long march before March, then they might have to compromise on the Senate but if they focus on the Senate first and later hit the streets then it can be a game changer for the opposition. In the second scenario, the PDM can be in a secure position with politically correct moves. But it all depends on the right decision and the right timing, keeping the resignation card for the final bout.

Pakistan is also facing an extraordinary economic crisis. The rise in unemployment and discomfort of investors has severely affected the life of common people. This economic meltdown is the Achilles’ heel of this regime, which has given historic inflation and not much ‘ease of doing business’. The local business community has been discouraged by the uncertain financial policies and hefty taxes. The motor industry has been badly affected, pushing them to halt their productions and increase the prices leading to lowest sales ever witnessed.

PTI spokespersons often hide their incompetence behind the novel coronavirus but factually the disaster was done before the pandemic with the dollar exchange rate touching the sky, petrol prices shooting up and constant price increase of grocery items and lot more. The most important challenge for this government would be to manage the vaccination process, in which we are lagging behind.

Bangladesh is procuring 30 million vaccines, Turkey 50 million and Malaysia 19 million vaccine doses. A comparative analysis shows that we are nowhere close to the rest of the world in fighting the pandemic. Supply chain and logistics would be another task as the vaccine requires 2-8 degrees celsius storage temperature which would be quite difficult to maintain in the remote areas of Pakistan where there is no electricity. It seems the NCOC has not been well prepared for the vaccination process.

Also, it would have been better if the PM had diverted the budget from Ravi City to procure larger quantities of vaccines and provide sufficient cold storage facilities across the country as the world is focusing more on health than anything else post-pandemic.

If we talk about international relations, then Pakistan has to uplift its foreign relations in 2021 as global dynamics are changing post corona. Lately Pakistan’s foreign diplomacy had been a non-starter with the Arab countries; it would not be wrong to say that all this is the result of weak diplomacy and incompetent leadership.

It will be an uphill task to pull Pakistan out of this catastrophic situation. The current government must realise that constant bickering and poor governance will lead us nowhere. This ship needs a new captain who must be competent enough to sail it through these rough seas.

The writer is a columnist and social activist.

Twitter: @MustafaBaloch_