The current political, economic, and security situation has reached alarming and perilous levels. The military’s persistent efforts to combat the ongoing economic decline are showing some signs of improvement. However, our nation once again awaits the frequently reiterated promises of both external and internal investments that may eventually materialise. Immediate returns in sectors like agriculture, mining, and IT are unlikely, and the impatient society, under immense economic stress, may reach a breaking point before witnessing the fruition of these efforts. Clashes between terrorists and law enforcement agencies have become nearly a daily occurrence, and crime rates are evidently rising. Political animosity remains unabated, and a heavy-handed approach towards a particular political group shows no signs of diminishing.
The Interim Government’s expected neutrality appears to waver with each passing day. The only somewhat reassuring news has been the announcement by the Election Commission regarding the expected date of the upcoming National Elections. However, this is met with suspicion as indicators do not bode well for fair and transparent elections. The objective of presenting an assessment of how the future may unfold is to caution and provide input to decision-makers based on historical facts and well-established politico-economic principles. Instead of criticism, it should be viewed as a sincere contribution to reviewing the current course of action and making corrections if necessary.
One lesson from our history is that interference by non-political entities may offer immediate economic relief, but it is seldom sustainable. Similarly, political engineering in the past has resulted in short-lived, artificial democratic systems that failed to establish a permanent political presence. Importantly, in previous instances, at least one major political party remained supportive of the establishment, which may not be the case in the current environment. Covert or overt foreign support, which has characterised past artificial regimes, may not work as effectively due to international political constraints. In the face of media censorship and limited authentic surveys, attempts at self-serving image building may temporarily mask the strong political undercurrents that may not be visible to all. However, such circular movements have consistently led to a return to square one.
Therefore, decision-makers must ask themselves a crucial question: What different measures do they plan to implement this time to avoid the same fate that has befallen the country at least three to four times before? I have a few options in mind
One: Ensure a fair and transparent electoral process, granting all political parties an equal opportunity to participate in general elections. Transfer power to a duly elected National Assembly and Senate. Avoid any form of political manipulation and prevent misconduct by any entity. This approach is vital for political stability, which, in turn, will facilitate economic recovery and enhance Pakistan’s security. Furthermore, it will bolster the nation’s image. The precise definition of a ‘level playing field’ is omitted for brevity but must include ending political persecution and media censorship. Either pardon all convicts or enforce the law consistently.
Two: Consider postponing the elections due to the current societal bitterness stemming from political discord, economic challenges, high inflation, and security threats. Transition the Interim Setup, with specific adjustments, into a more neutral body supported by technocrats and the Establishment. However, this can only work if positive indicators emerge from present efforts by January/February 2024. It remains a temporary solution because political forces, deprived of power, will unite against the establishment and its supported setup. Widespread protests may receive internal and external support, particularly from lawyers and the higher judiciary. For this option to succeed, it requires the backing of a significant political group, a portion of the judiciary, and the media, which is unlikely. The unease will persist, leading to internal and external opposition, and eventually, a system collapse. Confusion, crisis, and uncertainty will reign once more, rendering all efforts futile.
Three: Consider manipulating both the pre-election and post-election processes, sidelining or eliminating certain significant political groups and engineering victories for favoured candidates in different provinces. This approach would result in various parties holding power in different provinces and an artificially constructed alliance at the center, enabling strict control over political dissidents. However, this course is challenging, as election results may not align with initial predictions, leading to continued instability, societal division, and bitterness. It is an unsustainable path that could prompt extreme measures by the establishment, likely backfiring and plunging the nation into prolonged civil strife.
Regardless of the chosen option or any combination thereof, it is essential to meet certain prerequisites to establish a reasonable platform to launch. These steps are listed without delving into the methodologies and strategies:Establish a Truth, Reconciliation, and Replacement Commission led by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), including representatives from key stakeholders.Prohibit politicians over seventy-five years of age or those with at least three government tenures from active politics. Keep business owners and media moguls away from politics due to potential conflicts of interest. Ensure internal elections within political parties under the supervision of a new, impartial Election Commission (EC).Have all institutions, under media scrutiny, reaffirm their commitment to stay within their designated roles and resist encroachment.Cease lateral entries into the judiciary and develop a competent judicial cadre.Hold media accountable for the accuracy and truthfulness of their reports without imposing censorship.Consider dividing the country into smaller, more manageable administrative units. Lastly, require local governments to be in place before deeming elections complete.
Regardless of the chosen path, decision-makers must first establish a conducive environment and build trust. They should then proceed with the steps mentioned above or any other viable actions through Presidential Ordinance or alternative means. Immediate release of political detainees held under the MPO or under false pretenses is imperative. Cease the practice of apprehending dissident political figures, causing their disappearance, destroying their livelihoods, and coercing them into making scripted statements on media. Prioritise the improvement of relations with neighbouring countries, realign foreign policy based on past experiences and national interests, and apply rigorous international relations principles to distinguish allies from adversaries. Swiftly address emerging disturbances in specific regions, including AJK, through political and economic measures.