FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 29

Dialogue is the only way out of the current political crisis

Pakistan is facing a dual crisis: continuing political turmoil on top of an economy in the ICU. The stark fact is that the two crises are interlinked and need to be tackled simultaneously.  While the government is seeking an economic bailout from the IMF, the state of political confrontation in the country continues to be a source of concern for all Pakistanis.

There is no need to emphasise that as long as the country remains in the grip of political uncertainty, the economy cannot come out of the woods. For, in a country where political parties are all the time fighting for turf, no foreign investor will risk his neck. From various quarters a voice has been raised that the political parties should resolve their disputes and develop a national consensus on political and economic issues in the larger national interest. But the idea has not yet caught on.

Last week an Islamabad-based think-tank underscored the need for a national reconciliation to put the nation on an even keel. Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) in its report titled ‘Mapping the Policy Agenda 2024 – 2029’ identified political instability as the foremost challenge facing the country and suggested that addressing this critical issue will pave the way for the much needed economic reforms and attract foreign investment.

The think-tank pointed out that the process should be all inclusive and positive with the objective of balancing the interests of all stakeholders. Such a process should recognise and address the concerns of all parties so that a common ground making for a constructive engagement and dialogue could be found.

In recent months, PTI leaders have expressed their willingness to hold dialogue with the military establishment but the latter has refused to engage in any such exercise. In this context, the report has suggested that while the dialogue should be largely between the political parties, it should be owned and backed by the military. This is a good suggestion because the military’s backing will not only diminish mutual distrust and lend legitimacy to the process but also make for broader acceptance among the public and political entities.

The fact of the matter is that the military is a major stakeholder in the country’s existing political and governance structure. It has historically played a critical role in the country’s politics and intervened repeatedly in times of civil disorder and political deadlock. As such, it will have a positive influence on any reconciliation efforts undertaken by squabbling politicians.

The Islamabad think tank report has made a special mention of the positive effect of reconciliation politics on the economy of the country. It has advocated that to tackle the economic crisis, the government should push for a comprehensive debt restructuring plan that would relieve financial pressure and spare scarce resources for rapid economic growth. To quote the report,

“Without decisive action, the risk of following in the footsteps of countries that have suffered under the weight of unsustainable debt is all too real. Restructuring offers a viable alternative, one that requires courage, strategic foresight, and a steadfast commitment to the nation’s long-term economic health and sovereignty.”

The report has also recommended reforming the subsidy programmes by eliminating regressive handouts that benefit the affluent and focusing on targeted cash transfers for the vulnerable section of the population. Needless to say, an expansion of the tax base must be accompanied by efforts to bolster public trust in government spending, thus creating a more equitable and efficient tax system.

Dialogue and compromise is the essence of democracy. There is a consensus of opinion in the country that dialogue and reconciliation is the only pathway to extricate Pakistan from the quagmire it is trapped in at present. But how to do it? Naturally the first step should be taken by the party in power which should offer an olive branch to the opposition parties, mainly PTI and JUI both of whom are aggrieved over the wrongs they claim have been committed against them. The list of their grievances is long, but the main complaint relates to doctoring of the election results and stealing of the electoral mandate given to them by the voters. It is futile to deny that there were no irregularities in the elections. Not only PTI and JUI-F but the parties in power – PML-N and PPP – have also hurled allegations of electoral manipulations.

It has long been suggested that a truth and reconciliation commission should be set up before which everyone should come clean and vow to begin a new chapter in the country’s political history. All stakeholders should accept that mistakes were made by them and they should step back a little to accommodate the viewpoint of others.

It is not difficult to understand the hard position taken by the PTI which has faced immense pressure during the last two years. It feels victimised. Thus it is for the ruling party to show flexibility and provide some space to the opposition to make it feel that an honest effort is being made to open a new chapter in political relations.

Some time back there was a meeting between the KP chief minister and the Premier and other government leaders which raised hopes of a breakthrough. Gandapur later described his interaction with Shehbaz as positive. The process needs to be taken forward through backdoor channels to further develop mutual trust and agreement on basic issues.  If the process has to bear fruit, both sides will have to show maximum flexibility in the larger national interest.