Designing Pakistan’s future: 2019 to reign in risks?

Designing Pakistan’s future: 2019 to reign in risks?

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We owe a great deal to our leaders and forefathers who sacrificed their lives to help create Pakistan. In India, the anti-minority policies of their Hindu rulers have made Muslims and the other minorities within the country realize the significance and need for Quaid-e-Azam’s struggle all those years ago. Now, the new generation in Pakistan is also watching how minorities are treated in India, and they must realize the same, yet they might also ask the question whether we have truly achieved the basic idea behind our separate homeland?

The vision of our founding fathers was to see Pakistan as a sovereign Islamic and social welfare state, where every citizen could feel truly free and independent. Even though we managed to take control of the country in 1947, there is more to a state that just a piece of land. It also means ensuring the dignity of its people, and securing their basic human rights.

As a nation, it sometimes seems like we do not care for the vision of our forefathers, and there are many factors that contribute to this situation. Yet, I feel like it is more important to focus on the future, then to swell on the mistakes of our past. To envision a prosperous tomorrow for our country, we need to re-examine all of our outdated laws, bring about political stability, and ensure good governance, with a workable justice system in place.

Pakistan’s future is certainly bright, but not without its challenges. Some nefarious elements, both within and outside the country, are on a mission to propagate negativity in the masses and make people hopeless about the future, limiting their capabilities and desire for change. Such elements in the society know that when hope dies, everything dies. The primary onus lies on the shoulders of the government to identify such elements, effectively counter their narratives, and bring harmony among the people.

Imran Khan, a star athlete turned politician beloved by his countrymen, once languished on the periphery of Pakistani politics. No longer. On Saturday, Khan was sworn in as Pakistan’s newest prime minister, placing the outspoken and controversial figure at the center of political life in his country.

Khan ran a populist campaign focused on transforming Pakistan, a developing country whose citizens were tired of corruption and hungry for better governance. And while his status as an international cricket star cemented him firmly in the Pakistani elite, Khan successfully portrayed himself as an outsider and reformer because he was not a part of the two family-run parties that have dominated the country’s politics in recent history.

Now that Khan is in office, what’s next? Here are some questions about what lies ahead for Pakistan under its new leader.

Pakistan is still in the process of evolving in to a nation. We desperately need leaders in our politics, not politicians as leaders. Only true leadership, based on honesty, competence, bravery and determination, can put Pakistan on the right track, and ensure effective rule of law, based on the concepts of merit, accountability and justice. This is the only way to prevent the nation from falling prey to moral degradation, and Quaid’s famous adage of ‘Unity, Faith and Discipline’ can help guide the nation in to the future.

What does IK’s election victory mean for Pakistan’s democracy?

Khan’s victory marked Pakistan’s second-ever peaceful and democratic handover of power; so in a real way, the election was a success simply because it did not result in violence. In another positive sign, some of the most radical Islamic parties with connections to militants fared poorly.

Nevertheless, Khan’s was a tainted victory — at best. His election campaign was fraught with controversy and irregularities, chief among these the treatment of the opposition party PML-N, whose leader Nawaz Sharif was booted out of the prime minister-ship and barred from running due to a corruption case. Both of the major opposition parties, PML-N and the PPP, argued that the army exerted undue influence over the judiciary and the media in an attempt to favor Khan’s PTI party.

This leaves Pakistan’s democracy, yet again, in a precarious situation. Khan has spent the better part of the past decade protesting against and calling into question many of the institutions he will now lead. When he begins to govern, will he continue to undermine the credibility of these institutions or work to raise their effectiveness? If allegations surrounding Khan’s chumminess with the military prove legitimate, Pakistan’s institutions, which embody both the country’s democracy and its machinery of governance, will continue to be frail.

For his part, Khan isn’t exactly trying hard to dispel the image that he’s close to the military: His cabinet selections include a number of former officials who held senior positions during the reign of Pakistan’s last military leader, General Pervez Musharraf.

What will be IK’s biggest challenge?

Pakistan is hurtling towards a balance-of-payments crisis that will certainly be Khan’s first major test as prime minister. Pakistan’s foreign reserves have been significantly depleted over the past two years as a result of high oil prices and increased imports in an unstable global economy — the country’s central bank has had to devalue the rupee four times since last December. Low on cash and heavily reliant on imports, Pakistan will struggle to sustain economic growth. In recent years, its trade deficit has also ballooned: According to Bloomberg, the current account deficit rose 42 percent in the first half of 2018 alone.

Some economic analysts predict that Pakistan will have to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout, which it has already done 12 times since the 1980s. Under this scenario, the IMF would loan money to Pakistan so that it can resolve its immediate credit crunch. However, the loan would come with demands for major structural reforms, which, while beneficial to Pakistan’s economy in the medium and long term, might be painful to Pakistanis in the short term by causing cuts in public services and slower growth. A significant tightening in fiscal policy would also prevent Khan from delivering on some of his signature promises, including a pledge to help the country’s poor through an Islamic welfare program and the creation of 10 million jobs. If these promises don’t materialize, Khan’s political skills will be tested like never before, as he sells what will be very bitter medicine to a population whom he promised a “new Pakistan.” Little wonder that in his first speech as prime minister, Khan warned the nation of upcoming austerity measures.

Can IK improve Pakistan’s relations with India?

In his victory speech, Khan struck a conciliatory note toward India, saying, “if India takes one step, we will take two” to improve relations. The problem is that Khan doesn’t control the legs of the Pakistani state — at least not when it comes to foreign policy. Both of his civilian predecessors tried to improve ties with India, only to find that the Pakistani army has a vice grip on most critical national security issues, including relations with New Delhi. The Pakistani military genuinely sees India as a grave threat — if also a convenient cudgel that allows the military to maintain its preeminence in Pakistani politics. Unless the Pakistani military alters its strategic calculus about India or its own place within the Pakistani state, the world shouldn’t hold its breath that Pakistan will be taking one step — much less two — under Khan.

This is why the Indian security and foreign policy establishments reacted to Khan’s election with a collective shrug. Real dialogue in the near future, especially with India approaching its own elections next year and Khan facing far more pressing challenges at home, is unlikely. Pakistan’s economic crisis could also force Khan to increase Islamabad’s dependence on China, which would only complicate already tense ties with New Delhi.

If one is desperately searching for a glimmer of hope, it may lie in the fact that Khan has had a lot of exposure to India and its people from his days as an international cricket star. If he realizes that India isn’t the existential threat it’s made out to be in Pakistani politics, perhaps he is being genuine when he says he wants improved ties. While he may not be able to deliver, it is possible that he will at least not go out of his way to damage relations further.

How will U.S.-Pakistan relations fare under IK?

As with India, Khan will likely have to cede a degree of control over Pakistan’s relationship with the  U.S. to the Pakistani army. He will be limited by the immense skepticism with which much of the Washington D.C. policy elite views him. Khan’s consistent condemnation of the United States and its drone and counterterrorism policies, as well as what is viewed as his insufficient criticism of militancy in the region, has alienated policymakers in the U.S. — where confidence in Pakistan is already dismal.

The Trump administration decision to cut military aid to Pakistan was a signal that the U.S. is finally ready to take more punitive action in response to Pakistan’s support of militancy in Afghanistan. If Khan continues to demonize Washington and dismiss U.S. concerns about terrorism, it’s possible the United States could take further action. If he visits the United States as prime minister for the first time this fall, Khan has an opportunity to charm his guests and start building some trust. To do so, he will have to veer off his usual anti-Western script. His public statements during that visit might signal his intentions better than anything we have seen or heard thus far.

An important cog in this process

The new generation deserves a peaceful, sovereign, and welfare based Islamic republic. One way to achieve this could be by always keeping in mind our past ideology, history, Islamic teachings, culture and the ideals of our forefathers, as we make progress by integrating new world ideas in to our vision for the future. Great nations never forget their past, celebrate their independence day, never compromise on their culture and dignity, design their own systems and face challenges together. China is a great example of just such a nation.

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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