Post-budget shaky scenario

n Ikramullah Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, while unveiling the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2011-12, had forewarned a day before announcing the budget that all major targets had been missed and that the nation should be prepared for tough decisions ahead. The worst floods in the nations history, the war on terror, and a spurt in the international oil prices had pulled down the economy that grew by only 2.4 percent against a target of 4.5 percent in the last financial year 2010-11. The Afghan war cost rose to $17.8 billion, while external debts had snowballed a staggering amount of $59.5 billion. The budget, however, announced on Friday, did not provide any relief to the masses. The Finance Ministers claim that the proposed budget was growth oriented with more focus on key targets, including stabilising economy, employment generation, broadening tax base and relief to the common people, received cheers from the treasury benches, but was challenged by the opposition. Although the PML-N poses a serious challenge to the ruling alliance, yet the situation at present is in favour of the federal government because of the two-third support from the members from the PPP, PML-Q, MQM and ANP. The PML-N, JUI-F and some members, who belong to smaller parties cannot topple the government. As regards the anti-government agitation in the streets and the appeals for revolt so far made by Mian Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and religious political parties, as well as some tribal leaders from Balochistan and opposition groups in other provinces, have not so far succeeded in organising a political Tsunami to drown the ruling alliance. Why? Because the ruling elite holds the trump card that the country is in a state of war and any attempt to derail the government would derail democracy. Undoubtedly, this has sustained the ruling alliance for the past three years, and in spite of the grave political and economic crisis the government has managed to survive. So the PML-N leadership has to weigh all the options before them and then decide whether or not to launch a mass movement against the government. But major questions are: Would it be able to sustain such a mass movement for a longer period to bring the government down on its knees? And, moreover, if the law and order in the country collapses, will the PPP-led government declare a state of emergency and request the armed forces to assist it to control the situation? Another course, however, open to the PML-N is to resign from the National Assembly and the Senate. This is likely to result in the fall of the ruling party at the centre and the setting up of an interim government to arrange fresh elections within 90 days. In addition, the PML-Ns government in Punjab is not likely to survive in the middle of such a political storm engulfing the country. Nevertheless, its leadership will have to decide the political fallout of such a development in the present national and international scenario. Pakistan cannot weather such a storm in isolation. The global powers, and our brotherly Muslim states as well as China, all have a stake in the South Asian region, especially Pakistan, in the backdrop of the ongoing war on terror. And let us not forget that the military leadership stays in power during this state of turmoil because the armed forces cannot remain silent spectators, while national security and territorial integrity of the countrys borders remains their responsibility. The post-budget scenario, therefore, has many multi-dimensional factors to consider by the civil and military leadership, as they are directly related to the future of Pakistan. n The writer is the President of the Pakistan National Forum.

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