The Road Traveled and the Road Ahead

Spearhead Analysis-23rd September 2019

Pakistan has come a long way since terror stalked the land and sponsored criminal mafias extorted money and carried out assassinations on urban streets. One has to hark back to the attack on Karachi airport, the attacks on police and military facilities, the violence against a visiting cricket team and the horrific never to be forgotten attack on the children of the Army Public School in Peshawar to remember where we were and understand where we are now. The military, the police, the intelligence agencies and the nation all paid a heavy price to rescue, recapture and make the country safe internally. In the process the designs of external forces were unmasked and their covert activities thwarted. Securing the internal environment of Pakistan has been an achievement that very few countries have managed successfully. It has been conclusively proved that the armed forces supported by the nation stand ready to pay any price –no matter –how high to safeguard the country and its people.

The last general elections were a milestone in the history of the country. A third political force emerged to wrest power from the monopoly of two political parties. Much is being made of the military’s role in the elections and there is talk of a Prime Minister having been selected and not elected though it is evident that a selection if any was made by the people on the basis of past performance and then they voted to elect Imran Khan. “To believe that it was the military which brought Imran to power and it is the military which is regretting his selection is over simplification of Pakistan’s highly complex political framework.” The result is that that “there is no reporting tussle between the IB and the ISI; no fight over funds required by the military and the finance ministry saying sorry; and no contradictory policy statements coming from the civilian and military information departments. No one can deny that after a long time the civil and military leadership are seeing things with the same angle. There is also no doubt that for now the military is completely focused on what it is paid to do – defending the territorial integrity of Pakistan especially in the current potentially explosive situation.” There is also no doubt that as the government finds its feet and starts delivering it will gain credibility and will have the full support of all institutions—this may take time given the massive problems that face the country.

The media and the large number of analysts fielded by the media are doing a splendid job of highlighting governance shortfalls and there are many. Credit must, however, be given for what has been achieved so far. The Foreign Ministry is up and running under a competent foreign minister after a long period in limb. So are the Ministries of Finance and Interior.  The Central Bank is under professional management. The current account deficit is down almost 30% and trade deficit 14%. A default in the balance of payment situation has been averted and the IMF brought on board. There is an accountability drive in full swing and if nothing else it will impact on future activities. There is a resolve to end or at least minimize the large scale unchecked money laundering of the past. State lands are being retrieved from illegal owners. There is a move to improve the energy situation prevent power and gas theft and streamline distribution. FATA is getting long overdue attention and special develop. The Ehsas program under a very competent person will provide social safety nets to alleviate poverty as it links with Sustainable Development Goals and the Benazir Income Support Fund. Perhaps the 800-pound gorilla of overpopulation that no one is looking at seriously needs to be dovetailed into the Ehsaas Program. The Government –Military Combine handled the Balakot episode very well and is now tackling the Kashmir crisis. There are plans for the housing shortage and health cards have been issued. Steps are being taken to revive tourism and upgrade airports and other facilities. Climate change and the water issue are getting attention—perhaps not enough. This quote from an article explains the exports situation. “The news on exports is equally good, but mathematically distorted.  If Pakistan was selling a million shirts at 160 rupees per shirt, under the old exchange rate that would be 1.6 million dollars in exports.  With the devaluation the same quantity of exports earns only 1 million dollars.  To keep export earnings even, export volume would have to increase to 1.6 million shirts.  This is what is happening.  In rupee terms, and in volume terms, exports are surging.  In dollar terms, that surge is hidden by the devaluation.  Going forward though, we will see a rise in exports in dollar terms over the next several years as long as the exchange rate is managed correctly.

Much more needs to be done. Governance has to shift into high gear to secure children from predators—-again the linkage with overpopulation should not be ignored. The economy needs balancing and the nation needs to be taken into confidence because activity is at a standstill—the auto sector is an example. Financial and banking institutions need to improve drastically.  Police capability needs serious attention. Pakistan needs friends not enemies and this can happen only if our internal environment is strong and our narrative based on trade and bilateral relations gains traction so that our diplomats have something to work with. There should be no space for militants, non-state actors, radicals and others who combined to give the image it is still fighting to erase. The road traveled is behind us and the road ahead stretches before us.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)