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Agenda for a new Pakistan

The foremost task before the newly elected government is to ensure political stability in the country

Agenda for a new Pakistan

Less than 24 hours after the polling ended on July 25, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan appeared on tv to pronounce, “We will run Pakistan like it’s never been run before”.

In about 30 minutes, Khan painted the picture of Naya Pakistan, which will be as just as the Islamic State of Madina during Prophet (pbuh) time. He would uplift Pakistan’s poor and help the country’s labourers and eliminate corruption just like China. Importantly, he said, there will be no political victimization, dialogue with India and finally that he was ready to accept opposition’s demands on investigating rigging.

As the new bright era of Imran Khan beckons, Pakistan is in dire need of political stability — to meet the growing internal and external future challenges. The elections 2018 has raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the polls in a fragile democracy. We are once again heading towards chaos. Other than Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), no political party has accepted the election results — perhaps, because, “The Selection Commission of Pakistan has named the team for 2018-2013, leaving out many deserving players,” says a veteran politician.

The collapse of Result Transmission System (RTS) was no surprise. The political parties had expressed doubts about the system and the possibility of delays in announcing results to the ECP even before July 25.

In the coming days, as Imran Khan assumes the office of the new prime minister of Pakistan, the political crisis may sharpen. For, when the mainstream political parties — PML-N, PPP, MMA and MQM-P — will cry foul over alleged rigging, much will depend on Khan: how he controls his temper and aggression and how his party tackles the post-election chaos.

He may be in the driving seat for now but the road ahead is bumpy.

Perhaps it would be safe to say that Khan was more powerful in 2013 than now. Five years ago, he was not surrounded by as many electables (call them lotas); today, he depends on them. In 2013, he questioned the legitimacy of the elections; in 2018, the mainstream parties are questioning the legitimacy of the elections. Even parties like Pak Sarzameen Party and Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan are accusing the ECP of a controversial role.

The gargantuan challenge facing Imran Khan is to manage this situation, even before addressing the core issues and implementing his own agenda for the new Pakistan.

Khan has travelled a long way from a party of merely 15 to 20 people, out of whom only Naeem ul Haq is still with him, to the country’s largest party, with absolute majority in the parliament. It’s like a dream come true for Imran Khan. He is the only cricketer in the world to become the leader of a country.

From his electoral debut in 1997 to his first election to win a seat in 2002 to a leading opposition party in National Assembly, his party has been on the roll. On Wednesday, his party secured 116 seats to the lower house, marginally short of forming the government in the Centre. He is the government. He is the man on the radar of his supporters and critics alike. This is certainly the Naya Pakistan.

Five years ago, he was not surrounded by as many electables (call them lotas); today, he depends on them. In 2013, he questioned the legitimacy of the elections; in 2018, the mainstream parties are questioning the legitimacy of the elections.

But the activities that followed voting on July 25 were a grim reminder of old (purana) Pakistan, where elections are managed and democracy controlled by undemocratic people. Thus, as a leader of the majority party, Khan will need to talk to the PPP, PML-N, MMA and MQM for cooperation. For the time being at least, he has promised to fulfill all their election-related grievances. He must defuse political tension as these parties may be down but certainly not out, and establish the credibility and legitimacy of elections.

July 25 is the ultimate outcome of ‘engineering’ that started from Karachi and ended in Balochistan. In previous elections, the MQM was accused of rigging and thappa on gunpoint. This election the party got slaughtered in Karachi in a bid to divide the city into several quarters.

For the PTI government to take off smoothly, Khan must offer the opposition a high-powered judicial commission to address their grievances. Without ensuring political stability, the new government will not be able to execute its plan.

Second, Khan’s government is likely to face stiff opposition from Senate presently controlled by his opposition. He must therefore mend his differences with them.

Pakistan is certainly on the path to democracy. This will be the third consecutive elected government — 2008, 2013 and 2018. The resolved shown by the people is unmatched. In 2013, the election turnout was over 50 per cent, despite threat from the TTP. This election the turnout has remained more or less the same, again, despite a series of suicide attacks that killed roughly 200 people, including three candidates.

Pakistan has come a long way in ensuring that democracy takes root by fighting several civil and military hindrances, family legacies, feudal and sardari system. Therefore, Pakistan cannot afford any more instability and this is by far the biggest challenge for the new government in the long run. The policies of the new PM and his government will determined how things take shape in future. Political stability depends on the leader’s ability to take along all the stakeholders.

Stability always comes with confidence building measures developed by the new government and the elected prime minister. Post-2008, the relationship between the centre and provinces was on the edge. The new government must remain mindful of powers of the provinces after the 18th amendment, and any attempt to amend or repeal it will mean disaster. However, building consensus to improve it will surely be welcome.

While one can disagree with the PML-N on many issues, especially on how it tackled the political situation between 2014 to 2016, one must give credit to Nawaz Sharif for not preventing the PTI to form government in KP, allowing a Baloch nationalist party leader, Dr Abdul Malik to form government in Balochistan, and not interfering in the affairs of the PPP in Sindh. However, Sharif fell victim to his own follies — the confrontational path he adopted first with PTI and later with PPP.

Political stability is possible only through institution building and by establishing the writ of the state. The new PM and his government must take all parties along both at the centre and provinces and call the meeting of Council of Common Interest (CCI) to lay down the basic policies and harmony between the centre and provinces. They must also call the meeting of National Finance Commission (NFC). These are constitutional obligations through which the future government will be able to set the paradigm for the next five years. And finally, the bureaucracy must be depoliticised.

There is a strong perception in the country that the civilian government always develops problems with the establishment on foreign policy and national security. Right or wrong, this is how we are known internationally too. Through National Security Council and the Parliament’s Defence Committee, the elected government may address this issue and work out a comprehensive formula.

Read also: All estimates prove wrong in KP 

Corruption is indeed one of the most serious challenges. Where Pakistan needs to strengthen NAB, it must not use it for political purposes or victimisation. Though the sitting PM, ministers and advisers faced accountability, disqualification and conviction, such actions are possible only in a civilian setup.

Political stability requires multiple steps and one can only hope that the new era of democracy and elected government will restore people’s confidence and strengthen the system.

Mazhar Abbas

mazhar abbas
The author is a senior journalist and former secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

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