The national government

Is a national government the solution to the crisis

A political crisis is brewing. Woes are about to befall the state. Whereas there are efforts underway to dislodge the incumbent government, there are efforts to avoid taking the responsibility for running the next government. On 16 March, opposition leader in the National Assembly and President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahbaz Sharif demanded that, excluding the ruling party Pakistan Tehrek-e Insaf (PTI), a national government for the next five years be formed to work with dedication for Pakistan’s betterment and welfare. While being interviewed by a local television network, Sharif aired the demand as his personal idea, and not a policy statement of the PML(N).

Sharif has been trying to say that the challenges to run the country by putting it back on the track of normalcy are numerous. It would be infeasible for any one political party to get encumbered with trials, as the running of the state’s affairs might adversely affect the party’s popularity. Instead, it would be feasible to join hands with others instead of letting them sit on the opposition benches and launch withering attacks. Moreover, in the presence of the scathing media, the next government would not have smooth sailing. Sharif aired the idea of the formation of the national government as the coalition government espousing the win-win formula for political survival.

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The idea of forming a national government has emerged not from an abyss but from ground realities such as the state of economy, politics and foreign relations. No political party is ready to de-popularize itself.

On the domestic front, the eight months of Asad Umar as the Finance Minister were devastating for the economy. Pakistan is still struggling to come out of the harm inflicted by those months. COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa tried to rescue Umar by scraping up finances as loans from Pakistan’s friendly countries, but the overture backfired, catapulting Pakistan into further financial trouble. The unnecessary delay in contacting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to get a bailout package harmed Pakistan cripplingly. Devaluation did the rest of the invidious job. The flight of capital had already started in 2016 to countries in South Asia (such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) and South East Asia (such as Indonesia and Malaysia)  for establishing industries to run export-oriented businesses. The incumbent government acted against its own chances of success by overplaying the accountability card especially through the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

NAB might have recovered millions of rupees through its efforts, but it has lost credibility as a neutral dispassionate player especially in the past three years. Further, NAB has proved it consisted of prosecutors not trained for contesting cases in the courts. The induction method of using 100 marks, mostly an objective-type paper to employ a 17 grade officer, could not hire brilliant brains. The loads of files reduced its efficiency further.

No need to author a quiet tragedy that could haunt the future. By demanding a conjoined effort in the form of a national government, Sharif must be trying to save the PML(N) from the future hardships confronted in electoral politics. His statement specifies risk calculations that he has done preserve the party’s vote bank

NAB has earned more political notoriety for being biased and incompetent than it could earn social acceptance and political relevance. Even the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) kept working on a MacGuffin, using flimsy excuses for an action. The resultant deficit sapped not only the confidence of investors but also the motivation of the bureaucracy, which kept its performance cautious to evade internment and the resultant social ignominy.

Religious factors, if not parties, have got emboldened under one slogan or the other. They have learnt the art of swelling streets with protestors. Staging sit-ins, choking roads and resorting to hooliganism have become a norm, offering the hooligans a new weapon to get their demands met. Resultantly, the country stands shy of moonshot projects and is chary of buying empty promises. In fact, the country has been experiencing political involution.

On the international front, Pakistan has got itself isolated by announcing its own terms of engagement. After 2018, Pakistan tried to construct its foreign policy on entirely new lines. The foreign policy cannot be started de novo overlooking the past history of associations and arrangements. The burden of history is enormous, as Pakistan trudged through different phases of regional crises and international dilemmas. Pakistan remained allied to western English-speaking, democracy-oriented and capitalist-driven countries. The bent of society, especially the upper and middle class, remained accordingly.

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Now, an effort is being made to turn away from the conventional trajectory in the name of nationalism. Pakistan has started choosing between China and the USA. After 2018 Pakistan challenged and ridiculed the USA unnecessarily. The acrimony could have been avoided diplomatically.

In hindsight, Naseem Zahra could have been a better choice for the post of the national security advisor than the imported Moeed Yusuf. It is a tragedy that governments discard known local talent and hire consultants on the basis of their hyperbolic curriculum vitae. Pakistan’s not condemning the aggression of a revanchist Russia against Ukraine is a blunder, and a display of Pakistan’s compromise on its hyped foreign policy principles.

After 2018 Pakistan also carries the burden of its unpleasant past. The DAWN leaks (October 2016), which revealed a lingering disagreement between the then ruling PML(N) leadership and the military on the future of Islamic militant groups, saw Pakistan in June 2018 falling into the trap of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the grey list of which has been dictating Pakistan its terms.

Working alone, no political party finds perhaps the necessary will and know-how to reverse the tide of economic downturn, political instability, and social unrest. Blinkers need to be removed. Damage has been done.

No need to author a quiet tragedy that could haunt the future. By demanding a conjoined effort in the form of a national government, Sharif must be trying to save the PML(N) from the future hardships confronted in electoral politics. His statement specifies risk calculations that he has done preserve the party’s vote bank.

The point is simple: the experiment of making an artificial construct to run the country away from its natural evolved course has foundered on ground realities.

Dr Qaisar Rashid
Dr Qaisar Rashid
The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at [email protected]

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