Spearhead Analysis – 23.06.2016
Enough has been written and said to drive home the point that Pakistan is facing issues that need to be addressed urgently. This action is necessary to dispel the impression that Pakistan is dysfunctional and incapable of resolving the threats it faces and is likely to face in the future. Even if policy makers disagree with these perceptions the fact is that a country with nuclear weapons simply cannot have an image that projects it as dysfunctional and beset with issues that can have far reaching implications. Most recently President Obama called Pakistan dysfunctional and since then there have been events that have been highlighted in the media mostly in negative terms. In spite of the gravity of the situation the leadership is being seen as mired in petty squabbles and trivial issues with hackneyed and insipid responses to significant events.
The Annual Budget — the fourth prepared by the present government — has come in for much criticism with no one from outside the government defending it. Prominent economists have called it an ‘election oriented budget’, a budget based on fudged statistics, a budget that meets the IMF’s deficit reducing requirement without addressing revenue generation and devoid of any future oriented structural reforms especially in the export and agricultural sectors that the government claims as its strong points. There is also serious concern over the magnitude of the debt that has been accumulated and its consequences. This confused situation cannot but send out a message of muddled thinking and priorities. This is happening despite an earlier perception of a stabilizing economy poised for growth — now there are serious questions being asked about the growth figures being claimed by the government. This issue needs to be resolved through some difficult discussions between the authors of the budget and those criticizing it and not through shouting matches in TV debates. There is a need for transparency in all economic and financial ventures.
Pakistan’s foreign policy has been the subject of much discussion with the perception veering towards some kind of failure. Mullah Mansours killing in Pakistan by a US drone strike rekindled the whole debate of the earlier Osama bin Laden presence and his killing by the US within Pakistan and whether security managers were making the right choices for allies and friends. The fact that the most vociferous public protests against the US action came from the militant hard line organizations that the US and India classify as terrorists and enemies did not help. India’s soft power driven foreign policy made gains in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Far East with Afghanistan suddenly developing a spine in its interaction with Pakistan. The rapid expansion and strengthening of the US-India relationship and their possible convergence in a contain China policy that includes undermining Pakistan covertly to subvert the CPEC and bringing it under pressure externally and internationally was again seen as the failure of Pakistan’s policies. The possibility that India, the US and Afghanistan were acting to further their own interests and that Pakistan needed to review and reset its policies in its own interest did not get much attention even though this is exactly what Pakistan needs to do. The recent stand-off with Afghanistan highlighted the need or resetting foreign policy taking new realities into account.
Decision making procedures, civil-military relations, management of trade, privatization and internal security policies all continued to be continuously criticized especially during the prolonged absence of the Prime Minister for health reasons and the mounting protests against the government. The perception was that the key federal ministers had to be summoned to General Headquarters by the military to drive home the urgency of the situation and for action on issues like the US supported Indian entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The general understanding was that besides ensuring internal security and warding off external threats it was the military that was overseeing policies and calling the shots on most matters. In spite of orchestrated rumors of an overbearing military most people saw the military as being patient and acting in the national interest when inaction could create critical situations. The recent killing of a popular performer and the kidnapping of the son of the Chief Justice of Sind High Court in broad daylight in Karachi has highlighted the dangers that lurk and how such a degradation of internal security can jeopardize the CPEC, reduce remittances and tax revenues, drive away for foreign direct investment and lead to a flight of capital. Such destabilization can have many sponsors even though the TTP has claimed the murderous attack and other elements in Afghanistan may be behind the kidnapping with local allies.
The sad part in this entire scenario is that just a few decisions to appoint the right people, change priorities, focus on governance and management, institutionalize decision and policy making and develop institutional capacity could start changing not just the image of the country but also put it on the correct strategic course for the future. Remaining adrift is no longer an option. Nor is it an option to tolerate those who are acting against the interests of the country.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)