Monday December 11, 2023

End the confrontation

August 12, 2022

After the inauguration of Pervaiz Elahi as chief minister of Punjab, it was widely expected that the country would have a modicum of political stability. But political tensions between various stakeholders suggest that Pakistan is still being haunted by the dark shadows of political uncertainty.

The country is going through a confused political situation. PTI Chairperson Imran Khan seems determined to press the incumbent government for early elections, but it is not clear if Elahi is also in a hurry to take part in such polls.

It is unclear what the PTI – the ‘party of change’ – wants. Its parliamentarians resigned from the National Assembly months ago, but they are still not interested in coming forward to verify that they did abandon their seats willingly. These parliamentarians continue to enjoy all perks and privileges despite offering their resignations. The party, on the one hand, insists that it does not want to sit in an assembly stuffed with ‘imported government representatives’, but, on the other hand, it has expressed its willingness to contest elections for the nine vacant seats of the National Assembly.

The situation is not rosy for the PML-N either, which has been giving confusing signals ever since it formed the federal government. Some party leaders believe that they have been duped into clearing the mess created by the Imran Khan government. These leaders, who are considered close to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, believe that the party should quit power and let the country’s powerful quarters deal with economic devastation.

They assert that the longer the party remains in power, the more damage it will cause to its credibility and popularity. They are of the opinion that, given the precarious economic situation, the federal government cannot come up with any plan aimed at extending help to the people.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif seems to be in no mood to abandon the prime ministerial seat. However, ever since he took charge, he has done nothing except adding to the woes of 220 million people by unleashing the genie of inflation and burdening ordinary people with unbearable taxes.

He is optimistic and assumes that financial aid from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the US and China can stabilize the economy in the long run, ignoring that such financial assistance will only add to the pile of debt, wreaking havoc with the economy. The prime minister is hopeful that with these dollars pouring into the country, foreign investors will start pumping money as well – creating jobs and setting up industries. But he has failed to give one reason why investors will invest in a country which offers one of the most expensive energy prices in the region besides high interest rates and unskilled labour.

While sections of the PML-N want early elections, its major ally, the PPP, does not wish to see them anytime soon. It wants to complete its term, wishing to carry out a few development projects to lure people into voting for them again. The party is certain that it will win a substantial number of seats in Sindh, which has been under its rule since 2008 and which has no strong political alternative.

Amidst this political wrangling, Pakistanis continue to suffer. Despite its tall claims, the federal government has not come up with any relief packages for the people. But it is increasing the prices of essential commodities besides levying taxes. The only positive step that the federal government had taken by banning the import of luxury goods has been taken back amidst pressure from the rich. This will cause the waste of precious foreign reserves that include the remittance sent by strenuous Pakistani labourers toiling in the Middle East.

Political parties need to realize that people are fed up with all these political gimmicks. They want access to education, health, pure drinking water and decent housing and want their leaders to pay attention to the plight of ordinary people. They do not want to see federal ministers holding the PTI government responsible for various problems. They are equally uninterested in watching the faces of PTI leaders, lambasting the PDM.

The PTI has governments in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of resorting to any hyper-nationalistic rhetoric, it should come up with plans to serve the people of these areas. It should pay attention to the growing threat of the TTP – some members of the TTP have reportedly returned to some parts of KP.

The PTI should also pay attention to the exorbitant debts taken by the KP government and must reflect upon the absence of basic amenities in several parts of the province. Improving law and order, carrying out more development projects and addressing people’s grievances should be the party’s agenda. It should go to the next elections under the umbrella of its strong performance, instead of threatening to march towards Islamabad.

Similarly, in Punjab the PTI still has an opportunity to prove that it is better than the PML-N. If the latter failed in putting millions of out-of-school students back in schools during its tenure, the PTI should do so. If Nawaz Sharif’s party miserably failed in improving sanitation and health infrastructure in the province, the party of the Kaptaan should ensure that it will try to improve the situation within the next 11 months or a year.

Political confrontation has already cost a lot to the country. Its effects were recently seen in the stock market, which usually responds in panic to such uncertainty. It is clear that powerful quarters do not want elections this year as economic stability will take some time. Therefore, it is important that the PTI mends its ways, avoiding the politics of confrontation, agitation and protests.

The federal government should also avoid triggering tensions that are usually a result of harsh tactics used against the PTI. The two major stakeholders should ponder over the ways that can alleviate the suffering of the people.

Instead of inciting political tensions, they should suggest ways to industrialize the country, create jobs, prevent crimes, protect the environment, provide speedy justice and deal with terrorism. The two major political actors should also come up with a mechanism to counter the insurgency in Balochistan, which has been smoldering for over a decade now. Political reconciliation is the only way forward.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: