By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
Campaign for the upcoming general elections is characterised by violence, victimhood and rumours. Decision to go for elections in high militancy environment implied that pre-electoral violence would remain at a more than usual high pitch. The ongoing violence has two formats, electoral type and terrorist style. Former can be identified by low intensity explosions, and the latter by high potency bombing attacks. Going by the statistics, scene is dominated by the electoral type violence; though there is eagerness on the part of Taliban to claim ownership of all kind of militancy. Those handicapped by the incumbency baggage are invoking victimhood to justify their prospective slide down. Campaigning spree initially remained subdued but has, of late, picked up the usual pace; though it remains at a lack lustre level in the violence hit zones of Baluchistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Alongside electoral campaign, there have been a whole range of rumour mill and conspiracy theories about the likelihood of postponement of elections.
Assurance for timely elections came from the most appropriate person. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, while addressing a gathering on the eve of Yaum-e-Shuhda
(Martyrs’ Day) declared in unequivocal words: “General Elections would be held in the country on 11th of May. We must not harbour any suspicions or misgivings about it.” He further said, ‘it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship’. “If we succeed in rising above all ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases to vote solely on the basis of honesty, sincerity, merit and competence, there would be no reason to fear dictatorship or to grudge the inadequacies of our present democratic system.”
There is nation-wide fever for the elections; high turnout is likely, perhaps a record-breaker. Young first-time voters look motivated. Analysts expect a rise of ten percent or more as compared to the 44 percent mark during 2008 polls. Moreover, elections seem likely to be a fair, with minimal meddling. Hopefully, the single majority party would be able to bag around 110-120 seats, runners up may end up with about 60-70, alongside two entities between 20-40; remaining seats would go to smaller parties and independents. Hence, a hung parliament and a not-so-comfortable coalition appear the likely outcomes of the elections. There is a difference between a majority broad-based coalition government and a non-majority broad based coalition government. Of these, former has the luxury of deciding policy without being subjected to blackmail by its own coalition partners. A coalition government that is too dependent on its partners leads to the kind of impasse that was present during the past five years.
Besides political transition, this year would also witness transition of leadership in Army and Judiciary, as heads of these institutions are slated to step down. In all probability, there would be a new apolitical President as well. This would put the new Prime Minister in a comfortable position to implement his agenda. His immediate priorities would be rejuvenation of e economy, solution to energy crisis and wrapping up of so called war on terror through a robust political process within Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.
Consolidating the political gains in Baluchistan, through a viable strategy, to re-rail the province into national mainstream would be another high priority task for the Prime Minister. Keeping in view the complexities of the domestic dynamics and external interference, Baluchistan is likely to continue sounding alarms on and off. There is a need to work-out a long term strategy for a smooth transition from feudal-tribal structures to people centric democracy. Nationalist are a double edged sword, they are part of the problem as well as part of the solution, on as required basis. Working with them would not go beyond a marriage of convenience. There is a need to go beyond such patchy and shaky arrangement. Formulation of Baluchistan specific political structures could provide a durable solution.
Karachi is another problem area; unfortunately the city is under a perpetual grip of insecurity and fear. Almost all national level political parties have been bending backward to accommodate the majority party representing Karachi. Unfortunately, this party has been in power for the last four decades, without accepting corresponding responsibility. Numerous models have been tried for forming a responsible government in Sindh while keeping in view the peacefulness of Karachi. All have failed to yield the desired result. Wonderful metropolis of yesteryears is lost to political and criminal mafias. New political dispensations at provincial and federal tiers will have to act with prudence and mutual accommodation to reclaim the city from the jaws of lawlessness. Appropriate constitutional arrangements should be pondered over to overcome the impasse.
Economy shall be another area of Prime Minister’s concern. Indicators like stagnation of GDP growth around 3% and persistent 10-12% inflation are pointing towards another arrangement with the IMF. Global slowdown is likely to continue, with negative outfalls on the economies of developing countries. Pakistan’s agriculture sector provides a hedge against external economic pressures. There is a need to rejuvenate this sector to enhance its share in the overall GDP. A prudent combination of incentives and mechanization could give it a new direction. In the prevailing environment of global food insecurity, agriculture sector could become a major source of foreign exchange earner.
Industrial sector is likely to remain in doldrums until continuous supply of cheaper power is ensured to keep it competitive at international level. A typical major ready-to-launch cheap power generation project has 5-7 years gestation period. Therefore one does not foresee an immediate solution to our energy crisis. However, the new government would have done its duty if sets into motion a long term energy strategy to generate ample cheap electricity, say by 2030.
There is also a need to redefine the role, task and constitution of our Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC). This committee should have its own secretariat and requisite executive authority to implement, follow-up and revisit policy level issues. Without bogging down into the nomenclature related controversies, our Higher Defence Organization should be reconfigured for prompt response to spontaneously emerging contingencies.
Human Resource Development is another task for the upcoming government. Expanding youth bulge necessitates out of the box solutions for absorbing them into mainstream national economy. There is a need to give vocational bias to our education policy. Bridging the gap between Madrassah and mainstream curricula is also long overdue.
Speedy and affordable justice for a common man is another haunting task. A comprehensive strategy of strengthening investigation, prosecution and forensics, alongside regulating the fees charged by lawyers and reducing appellate tiers compatible to the gravity of the case should be essential constituents of legal reforms package. There is a need to invoke concepts like ‘Justice of Peace’ and strengthen the institutions of arbitration for handling trivial matters which do not really need to go through the arduous judicial process.
At the psycho-social pedestal, mass and rapid influx of Islam specific blasphemous material, through social media, has been a source of frequent disruptions of public routines. The new government should enter into agreements with service providers of social media like: Google;
You-Tube; Black Berry etc for installing protective soft-wares to overcome this issue. India and Bangladesh have already entered into such arrangements with some of the service provides.
Writer is Consultant, Policy & Strategic Response, IPRI.