Tough times ahead | Pakistan Today

Tough times ahead

Need for consensual politics

The post poll 2018 scenario is a royal mess. More than 10 days have elapsed the front-runner Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) — the largest party in the national assembly — is struggling to reach the magic number of 137 MNAs to form a government.

His point man Jahangir Tareen is running helter skelter all over the country on a leased jet wooing independents trying to cobble together a workable majority. Hopefully with MQM-P and PML-Q on board soon the party will be in a position to form a government.

Balochistan assembly where no party was able to secure a clear majority is in disarray. The externally minted Balochistan Awami party (BAP) wants to be left alone in order to form a government without interference from Islamabad.

The Khan has secured an absolute majority in the KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) where the PTI had ruled during the past five years. But even here after the incumbent Pervez Khattak being black balled for the coveted post of chief minister, the final decision is yet to announced.

The sole exception is the PPP that has nominated Murad Ali Shah as the chief minister of Sindh. In the meanwhile, the opposition without wasting any more time has been able to get its act together.

On the one side it has unanimously rejected the results of the recent elections being flawed and heavily rigged. While on the other it has decided to take its struggle inside and outside the parliament as well.

It seemed almost surreal watching the PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and his cohorts rubbing shoulders with the PPP stalwarts that he has loathed all along from the core of his heart. Ominously Zardari and Bilawal despite ostensibly being the host absented themselves from the recently held APC (All Parties Conference). Perhaps they are still keeping all their options open? Given the number of players and the many anomalies associated within this grand alliance it may not last very long.

Theoretically the PTI should have joined hands with one major party within the fractured parliament in order to govern effectively. But going by his oft-repeated narrative of plague on both houses the Khan has decided to slog it alone.

The battle lines are now clearly drawn. As the presumptive Prime Minister Imran Khan will have to face a united parliamentary opposition — perhaps one of the largest in the country’s history — with all its appended consequences.

His point man Jahangir Tareen is running helter skelter all over the country on a leased jet wooing independents trying to cobble together a workable majority

Unless the PTI as the ruling party decides to take the opposition on board on major issues, it is going to be a very rough sailing ahead. Any kind of meaningful legislation in order to be passed by the parliament would need consensual politics.

Some sort of Modus vivendi will have to be evolved especially at the committees’ level within the parliament. The Khan during the past five years in the opposition has been vociferous in his criticism of both the PML-N and PPP claiming that he would prefer to sit in the opposition rather than having any truck with them. Now by dint of circumstances the PTI will be forced to change its belligerent tactics.

To make matters worse for him the PTI does not command a majority in the Senate. The concord reached with the PPP to bring in Sadiq Sanjarani as the chairman earlier in the year, might no longer hold.

In this context replacement of the chairman and bringing a PPP/PML-N nominee in his place cannot be entirely ruled out. But more importantly it will be virtually impossible to get any meaningful legislation passed from he upper house without cooperation of the opposition.

For the PTI in order to implement its rather ambitious agenda of building a new Pakistan from the rubble of he old will be a tall order under the present circumstances. The first litmus test will be the economy itself.

While the rest of the cabinet is yet to be decided, Asad Umar has already assumed the mantle of the presumptive finance minister. As it is, an endemic resource crunch is the perennial hallmark of the Pakistani economy.

But presently with foreign currency reserves down to $17.07 billion — barely able to cover less than two months of imports — the country is virtually bankrupt. Current account and fiscal deficit are burgeoning as well. Thankfully Umar is well aware of the gravity of the situation.

According to him all options including negotiating a massive IMF (International Monetary Fund) loan are on the cards. It was but to be expected that negotiations with the IMF will be tough for perhaps the largest bailout package in the country’s history.

However, the Trump administration throwing a spanner in the works even before a new government was sworn in was surprising to say the least. The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo thinks that Pakistan will use American tax dollars to retire what it owes to China for the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor). But according to former finance minister Miftah Ismail most of the loan arrangements with China have a 30-year loan repayment period.

Notwithstanding the number crunching, Islamabad’s present resource shortage severely curtails its capacity to fulfill its international obligations including what is owed to the Chinese companies that completed power projects in record time. Pakistan is proposing to negotiate a $ 13 billion IMF bailout more than double that was negotiated in 2013 and successfully completed by the PML-N government.

Austerity measures dictated by the IMF will be a tough call for the new government. This would include privatization of loss making state enterprises like the national airline PIA and the steel mills. The international lending agency will also demand incrementally more direct taxation that previous governments without exception have failed to implement.

The IMF will also demand lessening if not altogether removal of subsidies. This is going to be a difficult decision for the Khan who has promised the moon to the dispossessed. How to reconcile his election promises with ground realities will be a problem for him!

The Khan’s corruption mantra sounds good on the airwaves. But bringing in billions of US dollars of corruption money from Swiss banks is more a myth than a reality

On the other hand, the political opposition within and outside he parliament is baying for blood. The widespread rejection of the elections results has already made them controversial, somewhat encroaching upon the legitimacy of the new government.

The Khan’s corruption mantra sounds good on the airwaves. But bringing in billions of US dollars of corruption money from Swiss banks is more a myth than a reality.

Last time general Musharraf soon after he took over in a coup de tat in 1999 tried his hands by locking up most top businessmen in Sarwar Road Lahore Thana. His efforts came to naught and eventually ended up co-opting the same business tycoons who were incarcerated on his orders.

It is axiomatic that the present dire straits we are in demands politics of accommodation rather than confrontation. But the pitch is so queered that it will be virtually impossible to come back from the brink.

The noose around the PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif is also being tightened. He is being implicated in various cases and with the relevant incarcerated bureaucrats expected to become approvers, his goose too is going to be cooked soon. Thus further exacerbating an already tenuous situation