PAKISTAN faces stiff challenges on all fronts, be it economic, political, law and order or foreign policy. On the economic front, Pakistan is trying to continue the International Monetary Fund (IMF) package with all its strict conditionalities. Pakistan has been IMF’s premier client since 1972. Though we fulfill the conditions half-heartedly, we deviate off the path once we receive a tranche.

Now the government has withdrawn subsidies on fuel and electricity and has raised the prices of both, resulting in hyperinflation. Though it is good that Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have cut fuel quota to their ministers by 40 per cent and 35pc, respectively, it requires more commitment to give meaningful support to the national economy.

Before withdrawing further subsidies, the government should withdraw facilities, such as free petrol to government officials, various elite classes, including the judiciary. On the political front, the leaders of all parties must understand they have already done considerable damage to society through their harsh, divisive political narratives. This political polarisation has resulted in divisions in society and intolerance among the masses.

The leaders must initiate a substantial dialogue to resolve issues, because these divisions in society are a stumbling block to national integration. Pakistan cannot afford a divided society as it is already struggling with the challenge of national integration in Balochistan.

The external forces are already active in subversive activities in that province with the aim of destabilising the country. On the other hand, political polarisation and fragmented society give an opportunity to non-state actors for further mischief.

Further, this political polarisation and blame game result in creating a law and order situation. Pakistan is already struggling on the eastern front with its hostile neighbour. On the western front, Pakistan is engaged with the Afghan Taliban to keep that border secure from the threat of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other non-state actors.

There have been a number of terrorist attacks on the Chinese. Besides, Pakistani security forces in Balochistan and North Waziristan have also come under attack. Recently, Pakistan held talks with the TTP in Afghanistan. Though both parties have agreed to a ceasefire, the TTP has also put some absurd demands for a permanent ceasefire. The demands include release of their leaders, reversing the merger of erstwhile Fata, withdrawal of forces from the region, implementation of Shariah laws and having Dr Aafia Siddiqui released from the custody of the United States.

Though ceasefire is vital, it must not be on TTP’s conditions. Pakistan must prosecute those who carried out terrorist acts. We should not forget the bloodshed at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar.

To make matters worse, since the ouster, the opposition has decided to cause destabilisation on the streets even though it was removed through a vote of no-confidence, which is totally a democratic process. Citing example of India’s independent foreign policy does no good to anyone as that country happens to be a much bigger market and Western countries have their own specific interests aligned with India. But Pakistan has not engaged the West in economic or political terms and now has become irrelevant for the US after the latter’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It is time Washington was engaged on common grounds, like trade, combating terrorism, human trafficking and anti-money laundering efforts. It must be understood that in diplomatic norms and international politics, emotions and anger are kept aside. Pakistan must bring its own house in order if it wants to be respected in the international arena.

All the stakeholders should sit together to pull Pakistan out of the quagmire. We cannot afford any further political polarisation in society. Only nations having a strong economy can have their say in international politics.

Pakistan should use the full potential of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and engage the international community and all major powers for common good. Pakistan should nurture democracy in the real sense because democracy is a culture; not a process. Pakistan must bring electoral and economic reforms with consensus and all political leaders should understand that dialogue is the best way to combat all challenges.

Ahmad Kamal
Lahore

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2022

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