Critical Issues: from center to peripheries

Spearhead Analysis – 20.05.2013

By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan

General Elections 2013This election was perhaps Pakistan’s biggest achievement as a democracy so far. With the first democratic government having completed its tenure, in almost seven decades this does not seem to be a huge milestone to boast. Free and fair, or not, the Election Commission of Pakistan is looking into the problematic constituencies at the demand of protestors and parties. FAFEN, an independent and neutral body had declared the election free and fair for the most part, but ‘so far’ is not a good enough precedence.

For us to celebrate this victory while rectifying the shortcomings is not enough. Nor is it reasonable to run after theoretic ideals. A middle ground needs to be reached, and a way forward needs to be sought. Given Pakistan’s complex problems, economic, Security, economy and energy are three departments that need unconditional dedication. What we need for now in the center and provinces is an ‘effective’ government. In the center whether not PML-N brings forward the best policies, is a debatable matter. However the ability to implement, with a clear majority is a critical issue.

Thirdly, ownership is an important factor. With a clear majority in the center, and the country at its lowest point economically, and security wise, the center has seen one party fall to dust due to failure to perform. If the PML-N wants to live on it will have to take mature steps to tackle with major concerns of the nation.

Centre

With a clear majority in the center, and independents joining the Sharif bandwagon, sooner than later Nawaz Sharif will be sworn in as Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the third time. Nawaz Sharif’s governments in the past have not enjoyed a smooth relationship with the army that is going to play vital role in Pakistan’s national security strategy and implementation. Secondly, while the PPP has been sent back to Sindh, the PTI as mentioned earlier has evolved as a major party of the country, with the second largest number of votes, and the third largest members in the national assembly. Even more so, the PTI with a strong social media presence and influential members has a voice that can be heard loud and clear. Nawaz Sharif will therefore have to tread with precision, and take the PPP, PTI, and Balochistan forward with grace, set precedence for a successful democratic government, something Pakistan has yet to experience.

Politically, the PML-N does not need to form an alliance with any major party to form a clear majority; therefore we can project what the next five years should look like based on the party’s manifesto.

Economically Pakistan has been tied down in a mesh of IMF loan payments, burgeoning fiscal deficit, dangerously low level of tax to GDP ratio (less than 9%), GDP growth at our lowest ever 3.6%. The public debt has grown to an amount of Rs 14,561billion in 2012 (by more than 100%).

The Energy Crisis is one issue that demands immediate attention. With load shedding ranging between six and twenty hours daily, Punjab especially has suffered the most. With load shedding protests throughout the summer and shortage of exports as Pakistani manufactured goods become less competitive, the businessman, working middle class, lower middle class, all were frustrated by the government’s incompetence. Growing circular debt, increasing energy demand, and with the government as the biggest defaulter, the PML-N will have to take charge and perform immediately, bearing the brunt of the mistakes and colossal corruption of its predecessors.

In the center the PML-N will have to take up a lot of damage control. With OBL assassination, Salala attack, Malala’s attack (and international criticism) relations with the US need serious mending. Secondly Sarabjit’s death followed by Sanaullah’s have tested India and Pakistan ties that need to be fixed for Pakistan’s own interest. The PML-N so far is moving in a positive direction with the neighboring countries. While energy projects like the IPP might suffer for more pro-Saudi alternatives, the center seems better postured to invest in solutions than create problems.

KPK

Disturbed by the war in Afghanistan, terrorism and extremism, the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seem to have responded well to Imran Khan’s call for change. Religious as well as secular parties were both shunned, and came forward PTI with its firm stance against the war on terrorism and the drones. With 34 seats in hand the PTI is all set to form a government in alliance with Jamaat-i-Islami and Qaumi Watan Party. For the center this allocation of duties can either serve well, or cause nuisance.

The immediate challenge Khan faces is that of Security. The PTI has a firm stance against the drone, and propagates ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban.

Policies of appeasement are good on paper, but analysts have argued that solutions to the complex issues in KPK and FATA would prove to be far from the lofty ideals of governance that the party upholds so far. Khan’s current drone policy, of ‘shooting down the drones’ may not be taken too well by either Kayani or the center. As the provincial government does not have any formal authority to decide a national security policy or deal with the tribal areas, Khan could face a tricky situation implementing his political agenda.

Side by side the security priority, the PTI’s radical and revolutionary stance on education, corruption, and health will be tested by the party itself. Since these ministries come under the provinces it would be reasonable to judge the party’s potential based on these ministries. All in all so far the PTI is having a hard time dividing responsibilities with JI. Sensibly picking the ministries and effective governance on the provincial level can become Khan’s biggest asset.

Punjab

While the PTI has been unable to secure a significant victory in the Punjab Assembly, it was the runner up party for most seats that the PML-N won, in the province and nationally. So while we acknowledge the PTI as a significant opposition in the center, we must also realize that their popularity poses a direct threat to the Nawaz League that has led the polls so far.

Punjab therefore must address the concerns brought forward by this vocal opposition and position itself according to the issues that are highlighted in the media.

The biggest issue that Punjab’s government needs to tackle is Energy Crisis. Also Punjab’s industry, mentioned earlier, needs quick repair. While the party does not have a very strong stance on the Kalabagh dam, and believes in national consensus (that cannot be reached), critics argue that such politicization of national matters must be avoided. Again, pointing to the thin ice the party cannot avoid treading on.

Security in Punjab is relatively under control, and with stable and functional governance compared to the other provinces, it seems like PML-N will have to be more receptive to the concerns of her opposition in order to fare well in the coming election.

Sindh

The national party for the past five years, the PPP, has been reduced to the province it originated from. While the PPP has secured interior Sindh, and majority of the provincial seats, with Karachis’s volatile situation it is imperative that they form an alliance carefully. NA250 in this election has become the most controversial and disputed constituency. The PPP might have Sindh, but the real deal is Karachi that has caused much racket in the election. Teen Talwar has become the mini warzone. Thousands have taken to the streets, with clashes between the two leading parties, the MQM and the emerging PTI. Arif Alvi from Karachi has won the re-election (19 May) that was boycotted by the MQM. ANP seems completely wiped out from the scene, while the tug of war between the MQM and PTI will need to be addressed delicately by the center.

The challenges ahead for the Nawaz Shairf government in bringing these opposing players on the negotiation table will determine his expertise, and may win his party another five years. But unfortunately, it not in the best interests of Karachi’s conventional ‘ruling party’ to allow the democratic transition the protestors want.

The provincial and central government’s ability to tackle Karachi’s security dilemma will be paramount in gauging their success/ failure.

Balochistan

Security failure, ongoing ‘war’, Transparency International and hypothetical American intervention, army presence, missing persons cases, the Hazara killings, and much more: Balochistan has added most to the never-ending saga of security turmoil.

The PML-N in this election has secured 9 seats in the Balochistan provincial assembly, making it the largest party there. The sense of ownership and critical attention that Balochistan needs at the moment needs to come with better governance, better security at the borders, and toning down of ‘separatist’ narrative that was unfortunately played up after the 2008 operation in the province, by local leaders.

Economic progress is pivotal to countering secessionist sentiment that has been fueled by Baloch Nationalist parties. Steps need to be taken to inculcate a sense of patriotism and inclusiveness. Currently a few promising projects are in the pipeline. China is in the process of developing Gwadar while Canada’s Tethyan copper company left the Reko diq project, due to security concerns. The provincial government has allocated Rs. 1400 million to the project, which seems a reasonable investment to reap reserves worth $ 400 billion (Dr Samar Mubarakmand).

Balochistan is also in dire need of better accountability. The Raisani government is believed to have lorded over massive funds in five years – from 45 billion in 2008 to 172 billion earmarked during 2012-13 from the central pool. Where did the quadrupled amount of funds go? With the lowest voter turnout in the country, and on-going woes, serious questions can be raised about the legitimacy of the winner. Quick recovery and repair with the local parties on board are vital for smooth governance.

Conclusion:

The new government will have to craft its strategy quite carefully. Keeping in mind the PML-N’s national and provincial track record, its recent election manifesto and the statements made by its leaders, it is most likely that the new government will evolve a defensive approach.
The security policy in Punjab during the last five years was a risky one, seen by many as refraining away from condemning the culprits openly.

A good working relationship with the Sindh government, especially the controversial MQM, will be paramount to a smooth economic recovery that all provinces are in dire need of. Elimination of terrorists and mafias in the larger cities would be a difficult task however.

Balochistan will have to be one of the top priorities where the new government will have space to establish its goodwill. A broad-based provincial government, including the Baloch nationalist parties, with a development agenda can provide some relief to the province. Karachi will remain a critical issue even for the incoming government.

The militants in the tribal belt continue to pose a threat to internal stability with their vast network that has spread to even urban centers in the country. As a first step to face this issue head-on, a relatively modest orientation can be taken with reforms that enable a political solution of the problem. The threat from TTP and Al Qaeda affiliates in the mainland could be opposed through engaging their partners such as the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba etc.

The new government’s defensive approach can assist in reducing the number of terrorist incidents. But it is tricky to predict whether it will provide persisting solutions in the long run. Firstly, a master narrative that resonates well and can be used to counter fanatic ideologies, is missing; secondly, as strategic interest tend to gain greater preference, the economic structure becomes irrelevant and futile.

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