Some aspects of Pakistan’s dire economic situation can be blamed on the economic downtown in the world because of the Russian-Ukraine war and some on motivated perception. While the tax collection doubled under the Imran Khan regime, we remained far short of meeting our expenditures; the current account deficit is growing. Our foreign exchange remittances have increased manifold, but our foreign exchange reserves have depleted substantially mainly because every city like Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, etc has imported non-essential items like butter, milk and even water, etc on the shelves.
With increasing fuel prices worldwide, why are we still allowing non-taxpayers to purchase imported second-hand and luxury cars? With farmers getting a good price for their produce, why is there a vast price difference between the farm and the market? Because we cannot jail hoarders; the middlemen are taking a country that can feed and clothe itself towards an acute food shortage. We have windfall profits in every sector in the country, be it banking, textiles, cement, construction, etc. so why the “bad” economic situation? Let’s put it bluntly, Pakistan’s economy is a victim of the virulently hostile opposition (and the media) that having sowed the wind is now reaping the whirlwind.
Whoever is in power must take tough decisions for maintaining a good economy, but for a potpourri like the present coalition parties facing elections, that is a no-no. One may bring down a regime by hook or crook, but is it possible to govern like this? Higher prices and cumulative stress factors on the poor and more vulnerable part of society will make the masses vote with their feet. Will we print notes to pay salaries to our soldiers? Why is the growth rate nearly 6% instead of the 4% predicted by IMF?
Despite the litany of lies being spouted, Imran Khan left the economy, even if slightly, in better shape than it had been when he took over. Hard decisions to finally widen the tax net, cut tax exemptions and reform agricultural production will have to be taken to be able to serve and feed the growing population, otherwise, the country might face a meltdown. What about incarcerating those indulging in money-laundering, funding terrorism and raising its ugly head?
To quote my article, Why do martial laws fail, “uniformed personnel have no business running the government, their job must be to support the honest and capable in ensuring good governance.” Or they will not only get compromised, but their reputation will take a hit as is happening now, mostly on social media. And that too orchestrated by the corrupt and evil, those who excel in fabricating fake news, some of whom were sacked for anti-army malfeasance in 2016 are again part of the government.
Undermining the unity of command blemishes the whole institution in the eyes of a public that overwhelmingly adores them. Whatever one’s reservations about what has happened, the vilification of General Qamar Bajwa must stop immediately. Why are we intent on disparaging the individual that represents the institution we all love? There is a fail-safe line that cannot be crossed under any circumstances. With governance now becoming a farce, the role of the army as a guarantor of internal security and stability is being existentially important, hence we cannot undermine its command structure.
Can the Army itself avoid its prime responsibility to confront any development endangering national security by remaining aloof from politics? The so-called “Bangladesh model” created by the then Bangladesh COAS Gen Moyeenuddin Ahmad on June 11, 2007, was totally modeled on General Waheed Kakar’s 1993 model where not one single soldier went into civilian administration. Rescuing the political process from sliding the country into anarchy kept the army out of politics and the civil administration.
Our totally biased Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must be sent home as it happened in Bangladesh in 2007. However, instead of completing the process in about 6 months or so like General Kakar did, by elongating his stay, Gen Moyeen became controversial. His relations (as most relations are apt to) also let him down by engaging in corruption.
In July 1993, the then COAS Pakistan Army General Waheed Kakar calmly and peacefully saw off both the President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif who both were endangering national security by creating conditions that could have led to civil war. Instead of taking over power himself, the then COAS moved the Chairman Senate Waseem Sajjad constitutionally upwards to be the interim President and formed an interim government of capable technocrats, retired bureaucrats, and ex-servicemen to successfully govern and oversee free and fair elections.
While the “Kakar Model” went beyond what the 90 days the Constitution allows, no one ever challenged this move, because it was done in good faith. Such was the respect for General Kakar and the Pakistan Army. It was not a surprising coincidence that in both the possibly “Bajwa Model” and the “Kakar Model” of nearly 20 years ago, Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister. He can never get over his mindset that the Army must function only as a police force.
In campaigning vociferously for early elections and drawing massive crowds, being ousted was the best thing that has happened to Imran Khan (and the country). Among the “lessons learned, he has discovered how traitorous electables and (some) allies can be. Maybe he could learn more lessons and home truths about the choice of good governance managers during this period of political limbo; Buzdar as CM Punjab is a bizarre example. Using his mass popularity like the sword of Damocles, a march to Islamabad could lead to civil war. To add to its inherently unstable decision-making process, this makeshift government coalition has a tendency to “gallop off in all directions” (with apologies to Professor Stephen Leacock).
How can a country function by remote control as seen in the London meet-up between Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif and his senior PML-N colleagues? With the recent Supreme Court (SC) judgment about not applying Article 63-A as it is meant to be applied, we have turned a judicial corner for the better. Chief Justice Omar Bandial correctly remarked that not applying 63-A would make “a political party into a tea party”. Can the Hamza Sharif government in Punjab avoid sudden death?
The election is the only way out of the impasse, a “course correction” is desperately needed for Pakistan. Thomas Paine said that when the public does not fear its government it is called “liberty” and when the public fears the government it is called “tyranny”. Looking at the current scenario, we can easily add that when both the government and public fear each other it becomes “anarchy”.
Imran Khan will get a comfortable majority, but he may not be able to sweep PML-N and PPP completely in their respective strongholds. While providing good governance requires not relying on the blackmail of allies, a vibrant democracy needs a strong opposition. With the country needing national unity, these decisions have to be taken quickly. The three months period for the elections can be extended until October, in any case before the term of the current COAS expires. We must trust General Qamar Bajwa to do the right thing. For a win-win situation for Pakistan, all misperceptions and misunderstandings must be removed between the two most popular forces in the country, the Army and Imran Khan.
The writer is a defense and security analyst
This article first appeared on Bol News. Click here to go to the original.