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January 27, 2021

The big disconnect


January 27, 2021

As the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) faces internal differences over how best to confront Prime Minister Imran Khan, the latter has few reasons to rejoice.

In recent days, differences have surfaced among opposition parties over the best way forward. Some favor mobilization of street pressure while others prefer building pressure from within legislatures across Pakistan to force a premature end to Khan’s tenure.

It may still be early to predict the final outcome of these trends. At best, the present-day status quo may continue to drag on without either the opposition making headway or the Khan government defeating its political foes.

However, for the Khan government, survival in the face of the opposition’s onslaught tragically does little to lift Pakistan’s badly sagging outlook. Having arrived at the midpoint of its five-year tenure, Pakistan’s ruling structure led by Khan’s ruling PTI can draw little comfort for even meeting its own electoral promises.

Clearly, acknowledging what is more than just half a defeat is driven by an all-encompassing disconnect between the view from the power corridors of Islamabad and the grassroots realities across Pakistan.

Since coming to power, Khan has repeatedly promised to lead Pakistan towards a long overdue ‘tabdeeli’ or change. But the goal of creating a new Pakistan has been talked up without even early signs providing evidence of change.

The prime minister’s oft-repeated rallying cries were led by his attack on corruption. Though a laudable goal in its own right, the promise appears to have become more of the basis for a vendetta against opposition leaders rather than heralding a long overdue systemic change. Across Pakistan, ordinary folks go about their daily lives without feeling a difference on corruption as they deal with one formidable odd after another.

The biggest drawbacks to Khan’s promise appear to be two-fold. On the one hand, the promise of creating a new Pakistan must have been based on a robust formula to revamp key institutions at the heart of daily life. That has not even begun to happen where it mattered the most.

On the other hand, the biggest impediment to the journey towards a new Pakistan must have been led by the task of revamping the country’s all too visibly beleaguered economy. While the prime minister in his many tweets has talked up economic progress by selectively choosing improvement in a few indicators, the overall picture is clearly at least half dismal.

Since late 2019, Pakistan has been haunted by the constantly growing food insecurity that has widened to an unprecedented crisis for ordinary households. Across Pakistan, the most frequently repeated lament remains that of the crisis surrounding ever-shrinking household budgets. With anecdotal evidence suggesting that families from middle-to-low-income tiers are increasingly finding themselves pressed to access food and medicines which were once taken for granted, Pakistan’s economy is in a far-than-ideal state.

With the economic challenge remaining all too visible, the Khan government has taken fewer than required tangible steps to target the area where it matters the most – the agriculture sector.

With a succession of crops either having failed or under performed, it's clear that the ruling structure has been caught napping on this front. The biggest culprit regarding under-performance in agriculture is none other than the PTI government of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in Punjab. The province which is home to more than 60 percent of Pakistan’s population was once reputed to be the country’s bread basket. But today after the failure of the last cotton crop and reports of gaps in other main crops, the outlook for agriculture is far from impressive. Indeed, this outlook has only fuelled the food insecurity.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s focus seems to have shifted squarely towards the image factor – a reality best illustrated by his frequently reported meetings with official spokesmen.

Tragically, it’s a wasteful exercise that appears to ignore the writing on the wall: that Pakistan’s change for the better remains tied to progress in tangible areas, notably the performance of its largely moribund economy. Targeting the opposition in the absence of progress surrounding the daily lives of the mainstream population carries little meaning. And that’s where the disconnect is visible the most.

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

Email: [email protected]