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Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place, What Is Pakistan’s Way Out Of Crisis?

Imran Khan Asif Ali Zardari Nawaz Sharif Accountability

Barrister Awais Babar in this article says that the government is focused on accountability but what will happen after all the opposition leaders have been sent behind the bars. Do they have a plan beyond the ‘end corruption’ mantra?

The old proverb, “If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm”, is extremely relevant in the context of modern nation states. The internal battles that are presently being fought in Pakistan revolve around fickle egos and blame-game, thus steering us towards an ultimate political, economic and social fiasco. From the outside, the country is surrounded by divergent forces in the shape of hefty debts that we owe to the sole superpower in the world, our utmost dedication to China and its pitfalls and the more recent catastrophe in Kashmir that has once again endangered the sensitive balance of power in South Asia.

The conundrum that Pakistan currently finds itself in gives rise to a necessary question: For how long will we keep looking to the world to solve our problems? We have not yet been able to eradicate polio from our country, what to talk of sending a man to the moon in 2022.

Our prime minister is emotionally blackmailing the world to do something about Kashmir, all the while ignoring the fact that emotions do not hold much sway in international diplomacy and country-to-country alliances. So far, the international community has not shown explicit support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, thus indicating that international relations know no sentiments.

But why should the world help us? And what do we have to offer in return for international help? The world of international politics abides by one principle which is known as reciprocity. In simple terms, in order for the world to help us we must have something significant to offer in return, it is only then that we would be able to strengthen ourselves and India would not dare commit a blatant act of aggression like it just did in Indian occupied Kashmir.

Investments like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), providing services to the United States (US) in return for dollars and hoping for everlasting remittances from overseas Pakistanis, all these endeavours are unlikely to yield a firm international footing for a state of 200 million people. This is how we have been sustaining ourselves since our birth as a nation.

In addition, we have not yet evolved from the idea of settling our own scores rather than thinking about the interests of Pakistan. It is a boring exercise to repeat the same old story of being unable to form a constitution immediately after partition, then losing a large chunk of the country in the shape of the biggest province through intense bloodshed, war on terror, the power struggle between the civil and the military setup and other similar issues.

With such an unpredictable history, we as a nation need to pull up our socks. The affairs of the country cannot be run the same way things are being run by the present regime, but it is up to the incumbent government to reset its priorities and set the state affairs in order.

After coming into power one year ago, the present regime has singularly focused on annihilating the opposition and this practice has become its hobby horse. It is nothing more than wasting energy on short-sighted agendas, which should otherwise be diverted towards enhancing the more important affairs of the state. Unfortunately, this regime lacks the will to take important decisions and does not possess the expertise to manoeuvre the country out of the current crisis.

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In the meantime, the public and other stakeholders are patiently waiting for the day when the government would take full responsibility for all its actions and inaction too. In some cases, some observers also believe that the current government handles many national issues irresponsibly.

All the things that it wants to do is eventually going to do no good but bad, more likely worse.

How rich do the incumbent government think Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari are? Perhaps as rich as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet? Suppose all of their wealth, wherever it may be, is confiscated and auctioned, it would only make as much difference as it did when the government vehicles were auctioned in the name of austerity in the first few months of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.

The problem is that when any author or intellectual ventures to uncover the factors which could possibly help us understand the anti-corruption mantra of the PTI government and its inefficiency on many fronts, one is harshly accused of being a supporter of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. What will be the course of action of the present regime once Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari are politically neutralised? This is a relevant question that one should certainly ask the present regime.

The international image of Pakistan is that of an unstable country. The effects of the 2013 Nanga Parbat massacre, 16 December 2014 carnage at Army Public School Peshawar and the martyrdom of brave army and police officers will always haunt us as a nation. It does not matter who was behind these attacks, not at all. The fact that these events happened on our soil is enough to dissuade the world into believing that the country is not a safe place to visit or invest in.

For how long will we be used as cannon and fodder in the great games of the powerful Western nations?

Jim Rohn, famous American celebrity and motivational speaker, said it all when he said, “If you do what is easy, your life will be hard. But if you do what is hard, your life will be easy”. In Pakistan, our lives are hard because we want everything the easy way. When would we do things the hard way so that we do not have to beg for economic and political bailouts anymore?

Once the present regime puts all politicians behind bars who it deems unpatriotic, corrupt and unyielding, what would be its plans after that? What about the many journalists that the PTI government considers repugnant and what would become of the state when not even a single honest judge would be free to give a fair verdict? Most importantly, when all allegations have been laid to rest and all the games have been played, what then?

Fortunes of countries can only be changed by a strong and sincere administration at the helm of affairs. There used to be a time when even in this corrupt system an officer would make his mark by working earnestly, day in and day out. But now, countless government officials and their families have suffered at the hands of the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) draconian rules. Even the case of Brigadier Asad Munir did not jolt officers in the bureaucracy and business continued as usual.

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The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) took suo-moto notice of the case to dig out the facts. When the story unfolded it was known that whatever happened was legal and absolutely legitimate as per the law. The law permits NAB to do what it did to the late brigadier and his family and which it does to so many others.

Many government officers feel incapacitated due to the unfettered power that NAB possesses. The power that at any time, day or night, whether you are having dinner with your family or sleeping with your wife, you can be arrested as long as the NAB chairman ‘thinks’ that you ‘may’ be involved in corruption or corrupt practices; this is exactly what the law says.

Atif Mian, the renowned economist and a professor at Princeton University wrote in an article written in Dawn newspaper last year suggested to the incumbent government to prioritise its actions with regard to economy in three areas. His first suggestion for Pakistan was to strengthen its financial and regulatory authorities. But rather than strengthening the financial institutions we resorted to hand over its reins to foreign technocrats.

His second suggestion was for Pakistan to shift its focus from failed import-led strategies towards strengthening domestic productivity growth and exports. Whatever we had left of the domestic productivity growth is dwindling due to the inexperience of the incumbent government. Lastly, his final suggestion was to modernise the financial system in order to reduce tax evasion and money laundering.

One does not need to be an economist to understand the importance of the above suggestion by a renowned economist. But more than anything we need peace, not just from occasional deaths due to terrorist attacks, but we also need at least a semblance of peace in the political arena. There never has been peace in that arena anyway, though the re-entry of Imran Khan into politics through backdoor channels a decade ago has drastically changed the dynamics of politics. Ever since the four months sponsored sit-in of PTI in Islamabad, the economy and political arena have been squeezed further.

In an attempt to keep itself perpetually in power, the government is taking dangerous steps that can very well lead us on the path of Zimbabwe one day. In such a situation, neither our strong army nor our nuclear arsenal will be able to save us from the doom and international isolation.

Another thing which needs immediate revision is our obsession with India; irrespective of the Kashmir issue. Our whole rivalry with India in reality is nothing more than a cock and bull story. Almost all of our foreign engagements are pre-occupied with what India is doing. For instance, we are very much worried about India’s influence in Afghanistan. This should be the least of our worries as we have bigger things to think about right now. Until and unless we are strong internally we will never be able to deliver anything substantial externally. Our continued obsession with India will only lead us in the direction of becoming a state like North Korea and not a progressive country like Japan.

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Our government and army waste no opportunity to stress that they are on the same page. So what? What good is that going to do for the country in the long run needs further clarity. If one casts a brief eye on our political history, it will become clear that every government tries its best to be on the same page with the military until the former are kicked out of power through conspiracies.

During the days when Asad Umar was sacked and was replaced with Hafeez Sheikh and the governor of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) was imported, someone learned pointed out that there are two entities which if contracted, are bound to fall; army and economy. Meaning that you cannot just ask somebody else to do these two things for you, it will never work.

After all, a contractor is a contractor who will keep looking for new contracts when the old one expires. There is no doubt that our army is very patriotic but playing with the political setup/civilian supremacy and disrupting the democratic process under the guise of national security is a dangerous game to play in these stark times.

Nevertheless, when it comes to economy, we have completely contracted it out and that is where we need to fear the real damage whenever it shows up. We also need to realise that no army in the whole world can survive without a strong economy.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Dr. Reza Baqir, Finance Advisor to the Prime Minister Mr. Hafeez Sheikh and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Shabbar Zaidi are three highly accomplished individuals in their own fields. But that is all they are; accomplished individuals.

A nation’s fortune is not changed by hiring accomplished individuals. If that were the case we would have long ago hired them and fixed our issues. If that were the case there would be no instability in any state of the world and each of them would have merely hired guys like the aforementioned and it would have been a done deal.

The only thing that can lift a nation is a new start, the kind of start which Mandela gave to his people to pull South Africa out of its crisis.

Unfortunately, the start which our current premier has given us is highly divisive and the circumstances are speeding up the disintegration of the nation with each passing day. Though the premier and his close associates have failed in important tests in their first year in power but they can still manage to correct course if they wake up to the realities of a fast changing world. Our political leadership needs to understand that the clock is ticking and radical changes should be made soon in order to avert a bigger crisis in the near future.

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Barrister Awais Babar

The author is a barrister practicing law in Peshawar and Islamabad and has graduated from Cardiff University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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