Can 2009 be any better than 2008? (29-12-2008)

When the sun is setting on 2008, I am groping for some light through the dark clouds that hang over 2009. The trouble is each glimmer of hope, is defused by the harsh realities. I have asked a number of friends to give some redeeming points, which can help the wretched Pakistanis live through the gathering storm. It’s hard to find the redeeming points. And equally harder to dismiss the reality dampeners.

Redeeming point: When the developed world economic growth is expected to be minus 3%, most conservative estimate for Pakistan is plus 2.5%. The government is envisaging over 4% growth. Added with the parallel economic sector growth, we may arrive at a respectable figure.

Dampener: Almost all the major industrial sectors are reporting a drop in production, particularly led by the textile sector. The reliance for growth is on the agriculture and service sector. Now if the major cash crops fail because of water shortage, pest attacks and bad weather, the growth hopes would be dashed.

Redeeming point: So far the democratic system has faired well by developing consensus on the national security issues. It is for the first time all the parties discussed the national security issues in the parliament, they were briefed by the armed forces on the challenges and they decided to give a clear message to the militants that Pakistan’s territory cannot be used for interference in other countries.

Dampener: In spite of the politician’s resolve there is immense international pressure on the Pakistan government to implement the resolution. We are being blamed for harbouring militant organisations which planned and manned the terrorists who attacked Mumbai. Whether the allegation is true or not, the fact remains that we do have such organisations which are capable of such attacks.

Redeeming point: President of Pakistan in his speech at Ms. Bhutto’s death anniversary rightly admitted referring to terrorist organisations that Pakistan is aware of this “cancer.”

This shows that at least the civilian government is conscious that such organisations are liabilities and not assets, as perceived by the establishment. The President suggested that this cancer needs regional cooperation.

Dampener: There are doubts that the establishment and the civilian government fully agree on this issue. This would mean we will keep beating around the bush, and militants would continue to operate with impunity. As a consequence we would land ourselves in international nutcracker. Though belligerent Bush government would give way to change-oriented Obama government, there would be pressure on Pakistan to deliver Afghan Taliban either at the negotiating table or back the surge against them in 2009. Remember Obama has declared that Afghan war is just, while Iraq was the wrong war.

Redeeming point: Government’s Chief Justice is due to retire in March 2009. This is yet another opportunity for the government to redeem itself and appoint CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry. If the PPP government would rise to the situation, they will help their party in regaining the lost respect in the civil society.

Dampener: The chances of rising to this occasion are not bright. There are also rumours that the government would not even appoint the senior most judge of the Supreme Court, as CJP, after Justice Dogar’s retirement. This would damage the credibility of the government and the already mauled judiciary.

Redeeming point: The coalition government would manage to get two-third majority in the Senate in 2009 March. This should give them courage to move with some important laws and strike down some of the toxic clauses introduced in the constitution through the 17th Amendment. It would also be an opportunity to amend the laws which are a bone of contention between the federal and provincial governments.

Dampener: The coalition party some insiders say would like to use it to further strengthen its grip instead of making the much awaited laws. President Zardari it seems has learnt from the most recent history of Pakistan, as he has adopted Musharraf’s ruling style, which means transgressing the constitutional power envisaged by the party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In Bhutto’s constitution the President’s role was that of Chaudhry Fazal Elahi, not that of over-whelming Musharraf.

Redeeming point: So far PPP has followed the “Reconciliation Policy’ of Ms Bhutto. The government’s tone towards opposition parties is reconciliatory. Though PML (N) is opposing PPP-led coalition government everyday, their unhappy marriage in Punjab can still be saved.

Dampener: Chances are that PPP’s alliance with PML (N) in Punjab is not seeing through 2009. This would not augur well for the democratic process of the country.

Sadly, it seems that 2009 for Pakistan is not going to be much different from 2008 – politically turbulent, economically stressed, externally pressurized and law & order wise bloody. Oh! How I wish my redeeming points list was longer with no dampeners. Last year I hoped my forecast about 2008 is proven wrong. Alas! it didn’t. But then ‘Hope is the only balm for bleeding wounds.’

(ayazbabar@gmail.com Blog: babarayaz.wordpress.com )

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