On New Year’s Eve, we saw security and administrative arrangements collapse completely, as people broke through security cordons to celebrate the night. It served as a reminder that it is difficult for the government to maintain its writ, which means that the Sharif-led government faces huge challenges in 2014.
The year 2013 proved to be yet another year of disappointments and hollow claims but as it is said every cloud has a silver lining, Pakistanis did show a resolve to beat heavy odds.
Forecasts from international agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have mostly been bleak but black money remains a blessing in disguise, being the dominant factor in providing the much-needed funds for the cash-strapped country. The government has now allowed free flow of foreign currency in the name of investments, which though detested by foreign donors, has become the official policy of the state.
An Oxford Analytica study says that transition in the military leadership, its unwillingness to seize power, and the emergence of a government with a decisive parliamentary mandate and its success in securing another IMF loan ($6.6 billion) has created unusual political stability in Pakistan since May. However, the IMF’s conditions are beginning to bite and the increased sectarian and terrorist violence against the state and civilians, and economic stagnation, remain main concerns. These challenges are likely to intensify in 2014 as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan. The presence of a conservative government in Islamabad and extensive provincial-level political polarization also bode ill for the domestic security outlook.
A little look at some of the economic studies from world financers show a dismal reading. The GDP remains static almost at 3.51 percent and although per capita income displayed a slight rise, confidence in government bonds and inflation rate being static at 10.65 percent, means little optimism for future.
A government taking over last June with a fanfare of promise has done little to formulate education, labor or industrial policies. It did just the opposite by pushing up electricity and petrol prices drastically and reduced the rupee’s purchasing power that added to peoples’ woes. Focus remained on mega projects, which hardly could ensure immediate solutions to peoples’ problems. The premier has now realized that steps taken by his ministers have been creating problems for his government and therefore has ruled out further rise in electricity charges.
But the most worrying factor will be Afghanistan where stability after the withdrawal of US troops in 2014, may even mean fighting among Taleban factions, and re-emergence of Al-Qaeda in an altogether different form. Turmoil in Kabul or other areas on western borders, will apply extra pressure on security agencies.
Conscious of that Sharif consulted his foreign affairs and military experts, and also had one-on-one meeting with the new army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif. They agreed to keep the options of peace negotiations with Taleban open, but use of force to crush them will become unavoidable should the first option fail to yield results. Without loss of time, Sharif tasked a religious scholar, Maulana Samiul Haq of Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) to discuss peace prospects with Taleban who have sworn to take revenge for the recent killing of some of their top leaders. The army and the civilian government luckily have been on the same page, which bodes well for the country, but the problem is extremely complicated and no easy solution is in sight.
With such pressures still on, the government can hardly devote time and resources for economic growth in true sense of the word. The year 2014, will, therefore probably be yet another time for trials and tribulations for the Pakistani leadership.