The crisis and divisions deepen

Published May 22, 2022
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

GIVE it to Imran Khan for being Pakistan’s Donald Trump and the most divisive influence on the country’s politics for at least half a century, with the voting public, key arch-rivals, media and even state institutions showing signs of a tense division.

Donald Trump won the presidential race and stormed into the White House by dividing the US right down the middle. Outvoted in the next election, Mr Trump was not prepared to leave office quietly. But despite his violent supporters’ endeavours, he had to exit eventually, as the law prevailed.

He has to now wait for the next election and the fight to win the Republican nomination before that to stage a comeback. Pakistan’s nascent democracy presents a different story, one that is far more complicated and difficult to understand, let alone explain.

Outnumbered in a vote of no-confidence, Mr Khan tried every trick in the book, including some blatantly extra-constitutional antics, to hang on to office but he had to leave as he lost the support of his all-powerful backers who had propelled him into office. The state of the economy was a major concern.

There is pressure on Shehbaz Sharif as his cabinet have started to say they’d rather not take the responsibility of clearing the past government’s mess.

The backers’ change of heart was termed ‘neutrality’ by the media and turning ‘apolitical’ by their own spokesperson. But our blighted land’s political engineers, with their steely will, started to dither when the ousted premier began to attack their ‘neutrality’, so that now a fresh election is apparently being pushed as a panacea.

Funnily enough, like the rest of the country there seems to be a division in key institutions on the matter of new elections too. If in one it was represented by a 3-2 verdict, in another it is said to be 6-14. Despite divisions and disagreement within key state institutions, the vote and will of the chief is decisive. For a different view to prevail, wait for another day and another chief.

While Pakistan negotiates with the IMF to ward off a default-like catastrophe, even the prime minister’s own party seems divided over the future course. So far, Shehbaz Sharif has given the impression he wants to continue.

Wary of the rather dubious role played in the past by state institutions at key junctures, it is not a surprise that an influential chunk of the PML-N led by Maryam Nawaz Sharif is counselling the government to leave the handling of the mess to those whose engineering created it in the first place.

There is obvious pressure on Shehbaz Sharif as his cabinet members have now started to say they’d rather not take the responsibility of clearing the past government’s mess by taking tough decisions and incurring popular wrath if the current parliamentary term is to be cut short. Politically, it would be suicidal to head to the polls a few weeks after asking the hard-pressed masses to bear more pain.

What is still sustaining the government in office in addition to the prime minister’s own desire is the insistence of his coalition allies from the PPP and MQM to the JUI-F and others to go for the ‘fight’ instead of the ‘flight’ option. It is clear that without institutional neutrality that won’t be viable.

That this why, perhaps, prominent media figures seen as privy to the thinking of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter are advising the government to go for fresh elections. This is where we stand at this weekend with negotiations with the IMF slated to conclude in less than a week.

The IMF is asking Pakistan to deliver on the pledge of removing the fuel and power subsidies that are estimated to cost around Rs100 billion a month. The PTI, which rolled out the Rs2.5bn a day fuel subsidy in anticipation of the no-confidence move, said at the time it could fund it.

Little wonder this week, a crisis meeting in GHQ Rawalpindi, in which Hafeez Shaikh, Shaukat Tarin and Reza Baqir are said to have taken part, reportedly saw a hot exchange between the two former finance ministers. Wish I were a fly on the wall and learned why the two argued thus. Could it be that Mr Tarin was asked how on earth he was planning to fund the subsidy till the budget as he claimed he could?

In any case, the IMF is not having any of that. It wants the subsidy removed and also other drastic measures to reduce the yawning budget as well as the current account deficits. Perhaps, the only reprieve for the government could come in a mix of a partial softening of the IMF position and/or a dramatically out-of-the-box plan developed by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail’s team that satisfies the visiting interlocutors in Doha.

Even this possibility seems remote as Nawaz Sharif’s trusted finance man Ishaq Dar has refused to endorse Mr Ismail. If anything Mr Dar has undermined the incumbent by retweeting an article in a little-known paper that hails the former’s credentials and calls the latter a ‘factory owner’ with little economic expertise. Dr Ismail is a PhD in public finance from Wharton!

This is the backdrop against which Imran Khan continues to call for fresh elections. And he is not being asked why he didn’t go for a dissolution of assemblies when he knew for several weeks a no-confidence move was coming.

It seems that the state institutions, divided as they may be, the opposition and a large chunk of the PML-N all favour a fresh election. All this seems to be doing is putting off for tomorrow what should have been urgently addressed today.

Also, what nobody is saying is how a new election at this time of extreme polarisation and economic meltdown will deliver a better future for the endless millions of dispossessed, those steeped in abject poverty who live in perpetual brutal want. Won’t even talk of bridging the divisions in society.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

More ‘prior actions’
Updated 30 Jun, 2022

More ‘prior actions’

It is crucial that the IMF reconsiders its stance and releases the funds at the earliest to calm uneasy markets.
Growing power crisis
30 Jun, 2022

Growing power crisis

THE country’s escalating power crisis risks exacerbating the law-and-order situation as people take to the streets...
Attack on polio team
30 Jun, 2022

Attack on polio team

THE threat of deadly violence never seems to diminish for health workers and police officials involved in...
System imbalance
Updated 29 Jun, 2022

System imbalance

Sagging under the weight of internal weaknesses, the political system once again seems to be wobbling towards disequilibrium.
BRICS exclusion
29 Jun, 2022

BRICS exclusion

FOR Pakistan’s sustained economic progress, it is essential for the country to maintain strong linkages with...
Covid resurgence
29 Jun, 2022

Covid resurgence

PAKISTAN is facing yet another wave of Covid-19 infections, with health experts predicting a surge in...