Monday July 04, 2022

The big picture

May 17, 2022

A position of tumult and strife is familiar territory. The economy is under severe stress, and many are beginning to fear a Sri Lanka like situation. While Pakistan is not there yet, it is getting very close.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made a good decision banning sugar exports in order to stabilize prices. Pakistan is an agricultural country that produces sugarcane and should be able to meet domestic consumption. Difficult decisions have to be taken for the economy to bounce back. As Margaret Thatcher once said when referring to Britain’s economy: “The medicine is harsh, but the patient needs it in order to live.”

At this stage, the prime minister should worry about the money Pakistan owed to Chinese Independent Power Producers (IPPs). Chinese companies working on CPEC projects met with the planning minister early last week, where they expressed their concern about Pakistan’s delayed payments.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is in desperate need to meet its urgent debt servicing commitments. As of now, its total external debt stands at approximately 35 per cent of GDP. The plan of action should be smart debt rescheduling and reviving the current IMF programme. Once the economy stabilizes, Pakistan needs to devise long-term structural measures that ensure self-sufficiency and create depth in their human resource.

Sadly, it is not just the economy that is waning. The weakness and confusion of Pakistan’s political system makes it near impossible to progress. As many have already mentioned when Imran Khan was ousted, not a single democratically elected government completed its five-year term. When we ask ourselves why, we conjure up conspiracy theories, or foreign interference. Even if there is some merit to these arguments, there is a much deeper issue at play. This sordid system of governance that we follow is naturally undemocratic. The democratic process is constantly halted primarily because the system is weak and yields itself to manipulation.

In order to understand why the system is inherently flawed, we have to go back to 1971, when the tragic separation between East and West Pakistan took place. In short, the war happened because West Pakistan was unable to stomach the legitimacy of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s victory in the 1971 election. The culmination of that heartbreaking war produced the 1973 constitution which is loaded with contradictions and ambiguity.

It is ironic that we talk of democracy, while our constitution was conceived in sin and born as a consequence of dictatorship. If Pakistan does not address the root cause of its problems, it will never be able to progress. Constitutional reform must be at the forefront of its agenda. With a clapped-out system, Pakistan will always lag behind the modern world.

At present, former prime minister Imran Khan’s popularity is growing by the day. However, he will have to keep this momentum going till the general elections are held, which will not be easy. The government will do everything in its power to delay the election, knowing that Imran Khan has massive public support.

Imran Khan’s critics fail to recognize that his popularity goes beyond his rhetoric and natural charisma. It is also because he was dislodged by a group of opportunists, many still on bail, who have governed Pakistan before and left it in tatters. It is also important to highlight that Imran Khan spent much of his three years in government focusing on healthcare initiatives for the poor, which certainly increased his public admiration.

Stability must be at the top of the agenda. While conflict and chaos make for interesting viewing, at this stage it is like feeding chicken bones to a dog. Pakistan is in an extremely vulnerable position and can ill-afford calamity. The situation could very well become violent, and that must be avoided at all costs.

To address the fundamental issues mentioned above, it is imperative that the people of Pakistan make a concerted effort to quash this toxic divineness that is brewing in all quarters. While we have differing views regarding political personalities and parties, there are some issues where the public has to remain united. We can all agree that the political system needs to be rectified. Its outdated nature has held back progress, created intolerance, and stifled ingenuity. Yes, it is natural and often healthy to have disagreements – but we must not get bogged down by them and lose sight of the big picture.

The writer is a veteran journalist, political analyst and author. He can be reached at: