As the prices of fuel, energy items along with staples and each and every consumer items have skyrocketed, with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led alliance miserably failing to stem the rot, the country is on the slippery slope. The ruling alliance, which claimed to have joined hands only to provide “relief” to the masses facing economic hardships, instead of providing any relief, has made the life of the masses extremely miserable. The ruling regime has increased the prices of fuel to an unprecedented level. More importantly, the increase in the prices of edible oil, with a Rs200 increase per litre within a few days of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government, suggests that the regime does not have any plan to put the economy on track which it has derailed.
Economic security is one of the key aspects of state-society security and cannot be seen in isolation. Therefore, in the last year’s new National Security Policy of the PTI, economic security has been made the cornerstone of overall security of the country. However, while looking at the economic governance of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s regime, it appears that economic security is of least concern, cosmetic measures notwithstanding. Instead, the 13-party ruling alliance is more interested in scotching financial corruption and abuse of power cases pending in different accountability courts and institutions. In other words, the rule of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is completely focused on serving the vested interest of the top leadership of the ruling alliance while also enjoying the perks and privileges of power. In this situation, there does not seem to be any light even at the end of the tunnel. In which direction the country would move or would remain in a state of inertia nobody really knows, again analysis notwithstanding. Even analysts are in a fix how to explain events and forecasts. However, one aspect of the current situation is quite clear that at least the ruling alliance does not have any panacea for the multiple ills that afflict Pakistan.
While the government does not have what it takes to address the key issues of economic downfall and political instability and governance, why is it clinging to power or the powers that be are keeping it in power? It is quite clear that the present regime of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is in the saddle with the full support of the country’s establishment. In fact, although the previous government of the PTI won a majority in the 2018 national elections but it could not rule singlehandedly and whatever coalition partners it got in the shape of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Mulism League-Quaid (PML-Q), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) to have a majority, at least a dozen seats in the National Assembly had also been managed by the establishment. While managing the ruling coalition from August 2018 to March 2022 did work to a certain extent but this had been due to the leadership skills and personal cult following of former Premier Imran Khan than any good strategy by the powers that be. In fact, by and large this model of managing the affairs of an elected government by the country’s establishment failed. Imran Khan has himself admitted that with more and less powerless status he should not have taken the reins of a weak government.
So the powers that be must understand that if the PTI coalition government could not be effectively managed, such a weak current regime cannot be kept afloat for long. Whereas, each day it spends in power would inflict economic losses of gargantuan proportions on the country. More importantly, the ruling alliance does not have any plan to address the issues of the country. Therefore, nothing could be expected from it and Pakistanis have become quite knowledgeable in this regard as the current couple of surveys by independent think tanks demonstrate that a majority of people believe that Shehbaz Sharif’s regime does not have a panacea for the country’s problems. Then why the 13-party ruling alliance, which is itself hanging with a thread as it has only a majority of one vote in the National Assembly, may be allowed to remain in power has two plausible answers. One is that the US, which by now is quite obvious to have wanted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to be shown the door by state institutions. The modus operandi was state institutions to support the opposition parties’ no-confidence vote against PM Imran Khan so as to affect a regime change. Therefore, as planned after the overthrowing of his government, the incoming 13-party ruling coalition must be kept in power for the remaining 16 months of the incumbent parliament. Otherwise, this would not be acceptable to the international establishment which successfully affected the regime change in Pakistan by manipulating Pakistan’s political system. However, the way the PTI and Imran Khan have presented the case of the ouster of their government by the US and the manner Pakistanis have responded to his rallying cry of “imported government unacceptable” has emerged as a very critical factor to throw a spanner in the works of the international establishment to bring down an elected government and replace it with the one of its choice. So the current regime has the support of powerful institutions of Pakistan and, therefore, it has taken draconian measures to torpedo the protest movement of the PTI and Imran Khan. Likewise, with support from the powers that be, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is taking every hard-hitting measure to increase prices for the general masses. But at the same time, the ruling alliance is taking every step to put an end to their corruption cases and rein in the National Accountability Bureau.
The second reason that the present regime despite messing up each and everything since coming to power has not been pressured by powerful quarters to go for a fresh mandate from Pakistanis is that it is feared that as soon as national elections are held, Imran Khan, with its narrative, would sweep polls provided they are fair and transparent. Coupled with this fear the powerful circles of Pakistan think that while controlling everything from behind the scene the world and Pakistanis must consider that the country is functioning in a democratic manner. For this the powerful institutions and their decision-makers must show to the world the continuity of the political system with the national parliament successfully completing its constitutional term. So the present parliament is also being allowed to complete its tenure. Since 2002, at least three elected regimes for the first time completed their respective five-year tenure. However, it is now crystal clear that the continuity of the political system is not the panacea for issues of Pakistanis. At least within this political system and not within the context of constitutional framework, the parliamentary political system needs to be supplanted by the presidential system and this could be the one way a strong executive authority in the country could be put in place to address the multiple ills of the country, society and economy and ensure good governance.