FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 30

Need for grand national dialogue

What we are seeing in Pakistan today is an inexorable process of political and economic meltdown. With the PTI long march, flip-flop by the composite PDM government and a Punjab government on hold, political stability is nowhere in sight.

Imran Khan’s recent outburst against the security establishment shows which way the wind is blowing. During a recent interview, he lamented that the establishment did not do anything to thwart the “foreign conspiracy” against his government. He also warned that the country could “break up into three parts” if the establishment did not take the right decisions and Pakistan’s nuclear facilities may be in danger in the event of an economic collapse.

All this combustible stuff, indicating his desire to carry on with his political battle and challenge the present dispensation. On May 25, he tried to storm the capital to force the new government to call early elections. In his latest speeches, he has openly criticized the establishment, accusing it of being behind the current political mess in the country. He has also implied that the establishment has been part of what he describes as a foreign conspiracy of regime change.

What Imran Khan has said is nothing new. All civilian governments over the past three decades have blamed the security agencies for their ouster. It is no secret the establishment has over the years continued to cast its shadow over the country’s political landscape.

In some ways, Imran’s ouster was a blessing in disguise for him as it allowed him to get away from the mess his government had created. Moreover, the manner of his ouster allowed him to spin an attractive narrative of a “foreign conspiracy” which has become popular among large sections of the country’s population. However, while we blame the previous government for the economic mess which this government inherited, the latter cannot be absolved of its role in further exacerbating the situation. It cannot hide behind the charges of the PTI government’s mismanagement for long.

At present, the country looks like a house divided. The people are polarized as well as the provinces. The judiciary is also generally perceived as divided. Beyond the political polarization at the national level, parties themselves there are divisions. The PDM, a 13-member political combine, is in power but it is the PML-N that holds the reins of power, with the PPP a close second. The MQM, JUI-F and other parties have also got their share of crumbs.

But the PML-N is at sea. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is running from pillar to post to mend the economy and convince the people that he is in control. But people are skeptical. The noises on the mainstream media are getting shriller as prices all round are rising.

There is a need to cool down the situation but everyone seems to be in a frenzied state of mind. Imran Khan is used to employing harsh language to lambast his opponents. But the PML-N too is not doing the needful to bring down the political temperature. In this context, the use of excessive force, midnight raids, arrests and teargas shells against PTI leaders and workers on the eve of the long march was a blunder and did much to further embitter the political climate in the country.

The government is flailing around to find its feet. In his new role as Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif seems to be out of his depth. The economic crisis is adding to his woes. There is a lack of governance as prices are totally out of control, with the finance minister making a fool of himself all the time, talking mindlessly about fuel levies and charges.

The so-called experienced government is proving unequal to the task of governing. In the meantime, cracks have appeared in the ruling coalition. The MQM and PPP are trying hard to iron out their differences over spoils of power but have not yet succeeded. In Punjab after a court order, Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz faces the crucial test of a vote of confidence. In Balochistan, the Balochistan Awami Party and its government are in a state of perpetual crisis. The PPP as always is sitting pretty, with a government in Sindh and several federal ministries, including one for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

If the PTI government was ousted for its incompetence, the new PDM government is not doing any better either. It’s a double whammy for the nation – political instability and confrontation coupled with increasing economic woes. Such a situation calls for a bipartisan approach and application of the collective wisdom of the nation. The crying need of the hour is to hold a grand national dialogue and promote peace and reconciliation so that all political forces in the country, instead of fighting all the time, cooperate together to face the biggest challenge in the life of this nation.