The current chaotic politico-economic situation of Pakistan has not come about in a jiffy; it has had its moorings in the past few years; any attempt to stereotype the current situation may not be objective and needs a cool and incisive analysis. Statecraft is not about sentimental decision-making and populism; it requires an aptitude for the “art of governing.” The ultimate goal of statecraft depends on who is practicing it; for some it’s power and for others, it’s world peace. As discussed in one of our articles published in an English daily recently, Pakistan shares a challenging neighbourhood with giants and hot spots: China, the Russian Federation (through her influence in Central Asian Republics), India, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.
The carbonated geostrategic environment woven around Pakistan has not given her a sigh of relief; and adding the economic woes, political tribulations and exogenous shocks like massive floods and pandemics, Pakistan and her politico-military leadership have had their hands full. PTI rose to power in 2018 riding a wave of populism built around promises of a new Pakistan and accountability; however, its popularity and message got dented by five major factors; One, it failed to conduct transparent and across-the-board accountability by leaving some favourites and financial sponsors off the hook. Two, it failed to understand that sovereignty, autonomy, and prepotency in modern-day statecraft could only be attained through economic independence, which needed an all-inclusive foreign policy within the existing international system, for example, Imran Khan’s sojourn to meet Trump in Washington did not make him pro-American and his visit to Russia did not make him anti-American, there is always a fine line in diplomacy.
Three, handling of the economy remained short of the call of time, knee-jerk reactions and strategic decision-making in the economic sector marred Pakistan’s standing in the comity of the nation, the urge to break the begging bowl remained more of rhetoric and Pakistan kept sliding into Olduvai gorge of debt and dependence on International Financial Institutions hardly helped in economic autonomy. Four, domestic political discourse became more poisonous and damaging, although Imran Khan cannot be blamed for the whole of it, PTI’s media discourse brought out the worst in its activists and youth. Abuse, slurs, and mudslinging became an essential part of PTI’s strategic communications. Pakistan and her politico-military leadership have had their hands full. Post-truth politics in Pakistan has become poisonous, divisive, toxic, and internecine. While the state is busy in firefighting and erecting firewalls against the physical and informational assault on institutions, detractors and spin masters from within and foreign lands, especially India, have found an open playing field to proliferate divisive themes to hit Pakistan’s moorings and roots. Interestingly, Indian media is having a field day in bashing Pakistan by simply replicating what was being proliferated by PTI’s media outlets and activists. Five; PTI adopted a head-on collision course with state institutions, disregarding any sensitivities and red lines of national security; this is no populism but an assault on the state. Ian Bremmer’s recent piece in the prestigious Time magazine is suggestive, it states that in October, Khan insinuated that the army had killed a journalist, an uncharacteristically blunt frontal assault on Pakistan’s army, and the country’s head of military intelligence felt compelled to call an unprecedented public press conference to deny the charge. Officials in the current government, led by Shehbaz Sharif, accused Khan of terrorism, illegally receiving money from foreigners and other forms of financial fraud.
The news coming from London suggests that Imran Khan’s blunt figure pointing at the state institutions and intelligence agencies in orchestrating the murder of Arshad Sharif may have been premature and even misleading. Did Imran Khan and his party stalwarts bother to do some investigation into the possible motivation for the murder of Arshad Sharif, and, was it possible for a hostile intelligence agency or a political party to do that and blame it on the military or intelligence agencies to accentuate the existing chaos? PTI needs to reflect on these controversies and dichotomies.
With changes in military command, there is a silver lining for all stakeholders, not for their petty interests but for the sake of Pakistan and her people. With the military determined to stay out of politics, there is an open space available to all political parties to follow their political agendas. Pakistan needs to decontaminate the carbonated political environment and cool temperaments by focusing on real issues confronting the common man and bringing in some decency in political discourse. All stakeholders should sit back and appreciate the challenges faced by Pakistan, as enunciated above. The head honchos should put their heads together to chalk out a genuine course of action and strategy to put Pakistan’s slumping and drooping economy back on to a positive trajectory—a trajectory that gives hope to millions of energetic, enterprising but bewildered youth instead of making them fall prey to doomsday soothsayers. All political players must understand that Pakistan’s current political economy is not the result of mismanagement by one party; it has been a collective mess piled over the past few years and needs a collective effort to bring back some semblance of statecraft in governance.