Wednesday December 01, 2021

The only way forward

October 27, 2021

The writer is a veteran journalist.

It seems efforts are underway, once again, to drag Pakistan into an oft-repeated game which has historically left everyone empty-handed at its bitter end. It is obvious that losers have the most to part with, but winners are often found wanting as well.

The opposition is taking to the streets, the PDM parties are holding sit-ins everywhere. Although the PPP and the ANP have left the opposition alliance, they haven’t left agitational politics, and are holding protest rallies to prove their relevance. Activists of a theoretically banned organisation are also adamant on marching towards Islamabad. They have had violent skirmishes with the police in Lahore causing casualties on both sides. A sizable part of the city remained paralysed as a result. The protesters have been claiming that the agreement inked with them by the government has not been honoured. Now they aim to claim their rights by force.

The Jamaat-e-Islami, perhaps fearful of irrelevance in this free-for-all season, has also carved a niche for itself by seeking to gather a large number of unemployed youth in Islamabad. The atmosphere is lending support to a few other strata of society to make their presence known as well. It is more than probable that traders, doctors, clerks, media workers and similar disgruntled elements fan out for redressal of their own grievances. Everyone seems to be itching to add fuel to the fire.

The government is doing exactly what Pakistani governments have always done. When intoxicated with power they treat their opponents with utter disdain, but once the hangover begins to subside the reality starts to sink in. They realise that their opponents have regained their strength and now negotiations by the government are taken as a sign of weakness. And opponents get ready for the kill and a deadly fight ensues to the end.

The country's economy is going though under constant pressure; the dollar is spiraling higher, the rupee is continuously depreciating, and the volume of imports is not subsiding. The import of petroleum products is understandable but for some time now essential food items have also been imported. The fact is that we are not self-sufficient even in pulses, a daily staple for most households. Wheat and sugar prices also seem to increase unabated. Moreover, negotiations with the IMF also appear to have stalled after making some progress. The current account deficit is swelling, swallowing a lot in its wake.

As if all this was not enough, the matter of appointment of the new ISI director general threw even more of a spanner in the works. While the notification has finally been issued yesterday on October 26, how will the damage done, and the trust shaken, be repaired or restored? Those who understand the gravity of the situation seem greatly perturbed, but those who do not want to read the writing on the wall have chosen to remain confined to the darkness.

The government’s allies are raising all sorts of voices. The MQM is ‘suddenly’ feeling the pain felt by the people, and Senator Kamil Ali Agha is also aggrieved over his wise counsel being ignored constantly. Psychologically, the government is trembling a bit with the popularity graph also sliding. Those who were dreaming of living it up in green pastures are now wailing in a dark wasteland.

Government functionaries are now blaming global inflation for the economic woes of ordinary Pakistanis. People are being advised to eat less, and the governor of the State Bank has even tried to cheer up overseas Pakistanis by advancing the novel argument that they stand to benefit the most from devaluation. “In exchange for the dollars you send to Pakistan, your loved ones will get more rupees”. This consolation however seems to be of no use due to the diminishing purchasing power of the rupee. What used to cost ten rupees is now available in fifteen rupees, so what is the use of getting twelve rupees instead of ten rupees? People living in Pakistan are complaining that, while consoling the five million overseas Pakistanis, the hearts of the 210.5 million living inside the country have been trampled upon.

Comparisons are also being made with the per capita income of other countries. Pakistan is lagging behind both India and Bangladesh. Our shrinking economy and growing population are causing a decline in the per capita income of every citizen. Bangladesh, which was more populous than Pakistan at the time of its creation, has been able to arrest the increase. We have surpassed their population by sixty to seventy million, and so our average per capita income has been decreasing constantly.

As a result of what is happening, whether the government stumbles, falls, or stays strong, no one is going to breathe a sigh of relief. Neither will inflation decline, nor the economy grow by taking to the streets, or chanting slogans, or holding sit-ins, or organising long marches. If political instability grows, the stock exchange will falter more, and the dollar will gain further in value. Foreign investment is already hard to come by and domestic investment also faces the prospect of vanishing. The result being: na-kami-e-ishq ya kamyabi/ donon kahasil khana kharabi

This couplet by Hafeez Jalandhari comes to mind on such occasions. When there is nothing novel in incidents and accidents then how can a different result be obtained? Pakistan, a nuclear power, has not yet been able to break the begging bowl. All the political parties that are in power or in the opposition, all those institutions that are sacred, or those elements that are devoid of sense, should open their eyes and see what is ahead of us. We are traveling on a highway and fast approaching a ravine. We seem rather desperate to land in a ditch. Is it not time to think about our predicament?

We are consumed with the desire to obliterate and the ambition to subjugate each other. We are ready to pull the sky from above each other's heads and the earth from under each other’s feet. The fire of selfishness and egomania that we are fueling together will scorch us all.

Be it the prime minister or the leaders of the opposition, or any others who are considered credible or hold positions of authority – they all need to carry out self-introspection and account for their own mistakes. Instead of holding others accountable or declaring them guilty, atone for your own sins. It’s about time to accept each other, sit together, ponder over the problems, and find a way forward for the sake of this country.

How many references should be given from Pakistani history? Ayub Khan’s example, or Yahya Khan’s and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s or of those who came after him, Pervez Musharraf or those who sided with him? The consequences of not making timely decisions have proven disastrous for all without exception. No party or element has veto in Pakistan. The margin between the votes of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its opponents is rather miniscule. Both sides should understand and accept the reality.

Whatever has been happening in the name of accountability for the last three years is now nearing its logical endend. Those undertaking this futile exercise have failed, and those facilitating them have not been successful either, to say the least. It is not possible to obliterate anyone. If closed roads are opened by mobs, the authority is left helpless. If immediate elections are the solution to the problem, then agree on them, decide their rules; and if patience is possible, then be patient for a while. We created this mess collectively and can only come out of this by working with each other. There is no other way.

Twitter: @mujibshami1