One of the bloodiest elections is over. Unfortunately all my apprehensions that wanton violence may take many lives this time in the run up to elections have come true. It pains to see such forecasts proving right.
Now that it is behind us, what lies ahead for the forthcoming government is a rough ride. They will have to face political, economic, internal security and foreign policy challenges of no ordinary nature. Will they come up to the expectations of the wretched nation and steer them out of crises? I dread even to look at the negative reply.
First political challenge before the political parties would be whether to accept the election results or go in for a movement against the rigging. I think if the results are not too far off of the predictions made by independent surveys and journalists, the political parties will accept even though under protest.
Second challenge is how to cobble a coalition to the satisfaction of all the partners. The good sign is that PPP, which is the favourite bet of the political pundits, is talking about a national reconciliation government. It is a right approach set by Ms Bhutto, who had the vision and sagacity to understand Pakistan’s serious internal and external problems. This is no time for one party to take a heavy burden of solving the problems single-handedly. We have seen that President’s efforts to do it alone have failed. A national consensus is imperative, there is no other alternative.
Third challenge is how to strike a balanced relation with President Musharraf. If one would go by the tattered rule book, called Constitution, there should be no problem. But after having run the country almost like a Presidential form of government for 8 years, it is unlikely that the President will accept to limit himself to the constitutional role only. The parliamentary constitution of Pakistan leaves all policy making and management to the Parliament and the Prime Minister. What is feared is that the new government would run into a conflict with the President in the near future over the issue of political space. It would be at that stage that once again it would become important on whose side the army is. If it decides to keep itself detached from politics keeping in line with the present thrust, the country would pass this hurdle. Otherwise we would be in for another unstable period. And the blood of all the martyrs of democracy would go wasted.
Fourth challenge is how to handle the issue of restoring the judiciary to its rightful place. Independent judiciary is one of the three pillars of state. The President may oppose the restoration of judges who were ousted by him. But the new government would not be able to sacrifice this issue for the sake of better relations with him. If it would take this opportunist course it will have to face the lawyers and civil society movement at the very outset. Nobody likes to start the inning on the wrong foot and with a hostile audience.
Fifth challenge would be how to manage the economic difficulties such as high priced food items, inflation and energy crisis. Much of these problems are imported as the prices of oil and food items have risen drastically internationally. While the people have become somewhat understanding about the linkage of local fuel prices with international market, they are not willing to accept the food prices hike on these grounds. As far as the energy shortage is concerned it is mainly mismanagement by the government, which failed to remove the bureaucratic red tapism. However, if the PPP power policy which was very successful in the nineties is brought back we may see quicker resolution of this problem. On the whole the Musharraf government can take credit to pass on the economy in a better shape to the new dispensation, than what it inherited.
Sixth challenge is regarding the most serious issue of internal security which is also directly related with our foreign policy. Here again it seems that the President may like to keep all important decisions between him and the GHQ. Historically all important foreign policy issues related to India, Afghanistan, Iran and the USA are decided by the GHQ. Political governments have tried to claim their rightful place, but we have seen that they were shown the door whenever they were out of step with the establishment.
But now the country has come to a foreign policy impasse. Without the broad support of the political forces it would not be possible to tackle the pressing issue of Afghanistan and US policy. The need is to take the people of Pakistan along with the policy that the country cannot afford to interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan. And to do that the covert and overt official and unofficial support to Afghan Taliban has to be stopped. We have to take a neutral position and tell the American’s; sorry you deal with this issue directly with Kabul.
Agreed it is easier said then done. Pakistan is badly entangled in this mess. The issue is now closely linked with the issue of Jihadists turned local Taliban. This brings us to the seventh challenge. Sixty years of nurturing Jihadists to achieve the misperceived Pakistan foreign & defence policy objectives has to be called off. We have seen that half-hearted attempts in this direction have turned these Jihadists against the people of Pakistan. Last year over 3500 people lost their lives in terrorists’ activities by these people, including the country’s ablest leader Ms. Benazir Bhutto. There were over 60 suicide attacks in the country. To put this dangerous genie back in the bottle is no small challenge. And this cannot be achieved without the help of all major political parties who believe in democracy and peace.
Eighth challenge is relations with India. President Musharraf can once again take the credit to break away from the traditional policy. His initiatives have been bold and though slow but relations have moved towards normalisation. The big issue can be sorted out with the Indian government by the national government with the support of the military.
And the ninth challenge is deciding the issue of provincial autonomy for good. In spite of having dictatorial powers President Musharraf’s government has not been able to solve this issue. As a matter of fact Balochistan displeasure with the federation became worst, National Finance Commission Award and Water Distribution Accord could not be finalized by his government and these burning issues were postponed.
All these are serious challenges. No government can solve these problems overnight. But a beginning has to be made and people should be informed that patients and national consensus is necessary. And above all the President should give new dispensation their constitutional space. (firstname.lastname@example.org)