In political crises that pass for politics in the land of the pure, the feeling of deja vu is hard to avoid. We seem to be stuck in Groundhog Day where parties are handed over to power and vacated seamlessly; where one angry leader is still on the streets, assuming the powers that be while the other is in the seat of power, paralyzed or confused or both; and the establishment seems to be playing rock, paper, scissors to decide on its latest protege.
It’s not just the game of musical chairs that seems to go on forever, but much more besides. The economy is still in the infirmary – the ICU and the ventilator are a more recent phenomenon – and foreign policy is still cause for twist.
Now that I’ve successfully used a lot of metaphors together, let me get to the point. Despite this old hackneyed scenario that has been playing out for a long time before us, political events point to some shifts that hold out promise to break the cycle of events in which we are caught.
The first and most obvious is open criticism of the military. Part of it started with the speeches of the PDM and Nawaz Sharif, which were aimed at the powers that be, much to the chagrin of many. Today, Imran Khan and the PTI have gone further. Despite their deliberate efforts to keep their attacks slightly vague, the target seems more shaken. This may be because the criticism has now become more widespread than just political leaders and has enveloped the public. It should be considered that whichever of the two parties (which dominate Punjab) is in power, the other may be forced to continue this rhetoric. And since 2018, this criticism has also found fertile ground.
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Despite the old scenario that has played out before us, political events point to some changes.
For the moment, it is destabilizing, especially since no institution is seen today above the political fray, but it also gives hope that in the long term, this can lead to a culture politics where overt interference, even arbitration, perceived as legitimate for the moment, is frowned upon. This opportunistic critique must evolve into a position of principle – for it does not take long to realize that intervention only works to the advantage of one actor or the other, and therefore, the only long-term solution. is true neutrality. If nothing else, at least we took a step forward.
Secondly, related to this, there is another positive aspect of the current crisis – the question of why the PTI was not allowed to maintain its majority in parliament as the PML-N and the PPP did. Although we unfortunately didn’t let prime ministers finish their terms, after 2008 at least the same parties appointed new prime ministers and governments, which was an improvement from the 1990s. Now we seem to have rewound in the past. But over the past few weeks, it’s not just journalists – kudos to Mazhar Abbas who keeps talking about it – but also ordinary citizens who have asked why governments aren’t allowed to complete their terms. This is a change from a time when no one rarely questioned the brutal dismissal of governments.
This awareness of the importance of transitions and the unwritten rules of politics is necessary to remedy the dysfunction of our politics. One can only hope that political actors learn to value this for their own good as well as the stability of the system.
Third, the critical economic situation. Since 2018, the growing weight of our debt, the IMF program, the FATF and the conditionalities linked to the latter two have been the subject of daily discussions. Such discussions and debates were rare in 2008 and 2013. This is not only because of political polarization but also deteriorating economic conditions, forcing us all to pay attention to issues such as taxes, the current account, the growth of unproductive sectors and structural reforms. .
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Economists and businessmen have become familiar faces on television, and likely and outgoing finance ministers are just as important as those who speak out on their party’s politics. Indeed, past and present finance ministers receive more criticism than even former prime ministers in political commentary. It’s not just about wider awareness, but also about pressure on the political elite to make the right decision, rather than the easiest decision, politically.
It’s unusual and not something seen earlier. Hopefully this will now push our parties and others (the others are pretty big here) in the right direction, as far as the economy is concerned. Although it is true that the PTI and the PML-N have been trying to prove otherwise since March!
The fourth point is related to the third, but it is an issue that has so far not received the attention it deserves. In fact, he continues to be stuck in the Groundhog Day phenomenon. We really need to be more honest about our foreign policy, which is to get foreign loans for our geopolitical position. But in the recent past (and briefly in the 1990s) this geopolitical position is now losing its relevance and lending seems to be drying up.
Coupled with the dire economic situation, there is now constant whining about who and what government or institution has led to our isolation from the world. But this lament is less about isolation than about the financial windfall to come, which allows us to continue our habits of debauchery. Therefore, it is time we recognized that the problem is not “isolation” as we see it, but easy money. And that the way out is to focus on the economy and not try to work foreign policy “miracles” in the form of windfalls (why else would recognition of Israel continue to be supported because some see it as another godsend?). Only when we are ready to accept this can we ensure that the changes highlighted here take us in the right direction, rather than further chaos. But all of this involves difficult choices, for those who govern and those who are governed.
The writer is a journalist.
Posted in Dawn, May 17, 2022