Misplaced priorities

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (October 26, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Rumours about the fall of the government are galore. Not a single day passes when a section of the media does not come up with new deadline about the ouster of the government. These media-led speculations about the government emanate from the ongoing legal battles in the Supreme Court where the government is in the dock for its lack of willingness to implement the verdicts of the Apex court especially the one related to so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). The Opposition is also hiding behind the smokescreen of judicial battle and waiting for the entire script to play out there. The government on its part is contributing no less to this political melodrama by increasing the chances of confrontation with the Supreme Court over the non-implementation of its NRO verdict. There appears to be a manifest disconnect between what the leaders of the government say with regard to the judicial challenges and what they actually are doing to make sure that the situation reaches a ‘boiling point’.

The government does not seem to have a handle on the issues facing Pakistan and is clearly bereft of any vision or long-term strategy to cope with them to steer the country out of its never-ending crises. The opposition political parties are also not playing any constructive role either to help defuse the explosive situation. They are more interested in getting into power than contributing to the maturity and evolution of the nascent democratic order. The entire political class is adrift and unwilling to rise above its petty interests. The extent of apathy of political class can be measured from the magnitude of national crises. There was and is a clear need of forming national consensus to resolve these crises on a war-footing basis. In the absence of a clear vision, general discontent and disenchantment with the so-called democracy is on the rise forcing people to rethink their preference for the oft-tested political brigade. The following is instructive in this regard:

The devastating floods have left behind agonizing tales of death and destruction. More than 20 million people including a large number of women and children are in acute need of support from the government. It requires undivided policy focus and long-term commitment of the political forces to battle with the challenges in the aftermath of the floods. The rehabilitation and reconstruction phase can be completed to the satisfaction of the flood victims if the government involves all stakeholders in spelling out a national vision through consultation and consensus. The rehabilitation phase is a battle for hearts and minds. If those at the helm of affairs fail to respond to the enormity of the challenge, they would hit hard at the national unity and cohesion, for the consequences of this criminal negligence would be too grave to think. Can the reconstruction and rehabilitation tasks be undertaken while instability holds sway with the government and opposition dissipating its time and energies on non-issues?

The second major challenge before the political class is the revival of national economy. The damage done to infrastructure, livestock, agriculture, energy and communication sectors runs into billions of dollars. The government is having to slash Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) to meet the needs of rehabilitation. Our national economy, which was already hugely impacted by the energy shortages, law and order situation and global recession, has been crippled due to these unprecedented floods in the country’s history. Our oversized public sector eats into precious national resources, while the country’s tax to GDP ratio falls below 10% with very inequitable and limited tax structure. Pakistan cannot cope with the economic challenge without bringing about structural reforms. These reforms are not possible without forming a political consensus on the fundamentals of economy, which include widening the tax net, raising tax to GDP ratio, improving agricultural productivity, cutting non-development expenditure, increasing exports and decreasing imports and fetching international investment. A privileged political class divided against itself is a major hindrance in the way of revival of economy.

The third most formidable challenge is that of terrorism and extremism. Despite military action in the Malakand Division and tribal areas of the country, terrorism does not seem to go away anywhere. Every now and then we are reminded of its lethality when a suicide bomber strikes. A sustained anti-terror national effort informed by consensus across the political divide is the key to fighting this evil menace. Militancy and terrorism thrive in conditions of political instability and varying approaches to battle it. As long as the issue of terrorism and extremism is not tackled once and for all, our national economy would not be able to stand on its feet.

The above-mentioned challenges constitute a daunting national agenda. All political forces are expected to form consensus and a clear strategy to cope with them. Nothing should distract their attention at this critical juncture. The signs on the ground seem to suggest that the misplaced priorities are consuming the national will and focus much to our detriment. The danger to democracy does not come outside. Rather it comes from insides, from the actions and attitude of the political elite. People at large would safeguard democracy if they also happen to be the beneficiary from this system. As long as our politicians do not learn this important lesson, democracy would remain vulnerable in the country.