Reasons to be cheerful and fearful in Pakistan in 2018
A major positive development of 2017 that will consolidate in Pakistan in 2018 is the strong realization that governance and the delivery of services to the common people are being undermined mainly because of corruption and the misuse of state resources in the higher echelons of government. There was a widely shared demand in 2017 for rooting out these corrupt practices by taking firm action against those involved. The issue was highlighted when the Panama Papers, which included the names of important Pakistani political and business leaders, were leaked in 2016. Supreme Court proceedings were initiated against the then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family and two leading opposition leaders, Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen, focusing attention on corruption in the corridors of power. Sharif lost his office as the Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption in July 2017.
Anti-corruption drive offers hope of a good year for democracy but challenges surrounding the economy and the fight against extremism mean it won’t all be plain sailing.
Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi
Another positive development from last year that will expand in the new year pertains to a widespread consensus among politically active circles regarding liberal constitutionalism, democracy and participatory governance. All political parties and major societal groups support the continuation of democracy. This trend is going to be reinforced in 2018 because new general elections are expected to take place in the summer.
One more positive trend of 2017 that will persist in the new year is the success of the law-enforcement agencies, especially the army, in controlling religious extremism and terrorism. Security operations in the tribal areas and Karachi, as well as the “information-based targeted operations” in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, weakened the extremist and terrorist groups. The province of Balochistan also reported an improved security situation due to the targeted operations there. There were fewer terrorist incidents in 2017 as compared to the situation in 2015-16 and this trend is likely to persist in the new year. However, the situation is far from seeing the complete eradication of extremism and terrorism. More efforts will have to be made in this respect.
Pakistan faces a host of challenges in 2018. The quality of democracy needs upgrading because the political leaders, especially those in power, often violate the spirit of constitutionalism and democracy. Attendances in parliament and the provincial assemblies are often poor. Even the prime minister, chief ministers and federal or provincial ministers do not attend sessions regularly.
The political conflict between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz Group (PMLN) and the major opposition parties, especially Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will continue to mar the political process and raise doubts about the long-term endurance of democracy. Other political groups, including the Islam-oriented parties, have become active in opposition to the PMLN government at the federal level and in the province of Punjab. The release of the Justice Baqir Najfi report on the killing of 14 loyalists of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in June 2014 has given an additional reason for the opposition to challenge the government. The year 2018 is going to be a stormy one for the PMLN, especially for the Sharif family.
The economy is giving mixed signs of showing a rise in Gross Domestic Product and of sustaining itself. The electricity power generation has improved. However, there are challenges that haunt the economy, with negative implications for foreign policy options and domestic political management. The disparities of income and wealth are increasing in Pakistan. There are sections of the population, especially those in power, big business and industry and certain categories of economic activity, where people have made a lot of money and affluence abounds. However, most people in the middle and lower strata of society are facing severe economic pressures.
Pakistan faces declining exports, a skewed balance of payments, a fall in the value of the rupee, growing external and internal debt, a widening current account deficit, and crises in agriculture and agriculture-based industries.
This year is going to be stormy for Pakistan, which will continue to face external pressures because of its internal political and economic difficulties and the troubled global and regional political outlook.
• Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi is a Pakistan-based political analyst.
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