2019 was a year of turmoil, trouble and tension for the world as much as for Pakistan.
The year was a great disappointment for Pakistanis who looked forward to a positive turn in their economic fortunes. But their hopes were belied as the economy nosedived due to the government’s excessive taxation policy and faulty economic planning, leading to growing unemployment and an economic slowdown, caused by Pakistan’s latest loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) worth $6 billion.
A record devaluation of the Pakistan rupee in the past two years has fuelled inflation in the country, pushing prices of items of daily-use beyond the reach of the common household. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s attractive slogan of tabdeeli (change) has turned into a nightmare for the people. The economy is under IMF’s intensive care, and millions of people are being reduced to poverty as the economy shrinks. Figures show that each Pakistani is poorer today as compared to a few years ago.
The government’s unrelenting push of its anti-corruption agenda based on Imran Khan’s promise to target graft across all layers of society, notably Pakistan’s political class, has created an atmosphere of fear and doubt all around. It has especially affected the business class and intending investors, bringing the economy to a virtual halt.
Throughout 2019, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) dominated the headlines both in the print and electronic media. It pounced upon allegedly corrupt elements and arrested prominent politicians, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, former President Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, and former Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi, among others.
Kashmir remained the centre of attention throughout the year. The year began with escalating tensions with India, following a terrorist attack on paramilitary troops in India-occupied Kashmir. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Pakistan-based militants of carrying out the attack and ordered what New Delhi claimed an air-raid inside Pakistan on a supposed terrorist training camp.
Meanwhile, Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter plane and captured its pilot. Imran Khan’s decision to return the Indian pilot unharmed showed a mature handling of a potentially dangerous situation. Pakistan scored another diplomatic victory by opening the Kartarpura Corridor for Sikh pilgrims. During the year under review, Pakistan also successfully improved ties with the United States (US) as Washington sought to scale down its military commitment to Afghanistan.
But India’s unilateral decision to remove a special autonomous status for Jammu and Kashmir state in August in utter violation of the UN resolutions dealt a great blow to prospects of peace in South Asia. Even as the full negative impact of the decision had not sunk into the international psyche, Modi promulgated changes in India’s citizenship law which set the whole country on fire, bringing Hindus and Muslims together, instead of dividing them which was the BJP government’s hidden agenda.
Immediately afterwards, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) Chief Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman launched his Azadi march in Islamabad to bring down the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. But the move failed and the Maulana returned home empty handed. The last days of the year saw the apex court taking up the issue of extension in the service of the Army Chief and directing the government to pass legislation on the terms and conditions governing the Army Chief’s appointment. The month of December also witnessed a special court awarding the capital punishment to former President General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf in the lingering high treason case, a first in Pakistan’s history.
Throughout the year, the world remained in the grip of anti-status quo protests. The growing frustration and hunger for change led to large-scale public demonstrations in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Young people formed the backbone of these grass-roots movements for reforms to narrow the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.
Of the world’s 7.7 billion population, 4.2 billion (55 percent) live in cities, leading to overcrowding of urban spaces, crumbling civic services, corruption and unemployment. The protests have not been in vain, as many governments were forced to reconsider their decisions, such as the reversal of the extradition law in Hong Kong, and constitutional reforms in Chile. In some cases, incumbent leaders had to resign: Bolivian President Evo Morales, and the Lebanese and Iraqi Prime Ministers, Saad Hariri and Adil Abdul-Mahdi, had to step down.
The “great power” politics saw a resurgence in 2019. China is seeking dominance in the Indo-pacific region and global pre-eminence, while Russia is trying to end the Western domination in Eastern Europe, and deepen its ties with various states in Latin America and the Middle East. The US’s objective is to prevent both China and Russia from tilting the local balance of power in their favour.
The Christchurch mass shooting televised live on Facebook and subsequent Right Wing extremist attacks in the West signaled the emergence of far-right groups with a transnational network of like-minded organizations stretching from Australia to America.