Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

With each passing day, post elections political landscape, at the national level, is becoming more and more predictable. It is now time to evolve a near consensus based national manifesto which post elections’ government should be able to pursue, irrespective of its composition. Hopefully, elections would be fair and credible; and the law and order situation would remain manageable during the electoral campaigns.

It is likely that around 60-70% of the outgoing parliamentarians would be able to make a comeback, thanks to their individual standing in respective constituencies. Party positions would alter, though not drastically. Hence, there would be continuity in the collective mindset and working culture of the upcoming parliament. Most likely, it would be another hung parliament, throwing up a shaky coalitions and a weak government. Keeping in view the post 18th Constitutional Amendment limits on the cabinet size, it would be difficult for the government to woo, glue and maintain the coalitions.  To stay in power, single majority party will have to walk a tight rope and make compromises. Therefore, any meaningful corrective reforms or even bold course corrections may not be possible in a single package format.

Yet, there would be ample political space to carryout incremental yet meaningful course corrections. Manifestoes launched by various political parties, promise a bright future and cover most of areas of public interest. Manifestoes of the major contesting political parties are quite similar in substance and only very symbolically and rhetorically. Indeed these resemble over-blown advertisements of a mediocre brand. Nevertheless, common ground in the manifestoes of major political parties provide adequate tactical spaces for a wide range of possibilities for coalition forming by agreeing on minimum common agenda for reform, development and forward movement. Parties aspiring to lead the post elections’ government should evolve a near consensus based national agenda in the context of global, regional and domestic scenarios; it is a difficult but not an impossible task.

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Challenges facing the country are: war (on terror) fatigue, weak economy; disdainful law and order situation; poor governance; gross negligence in the areas of social security, Human Resource Development; low quality services etc. Contributing factors are: energy crisis; spill over effects of foreign occupation of Afghanistan; rampant financial corruption; dysfunctional lower judiciary, political appointments against professional slots etc.

Undoubtedly, terrorism is a threat, which has to be tackled in a prudent manner; focusing upon its causes and not merely its manifestations. It is indeed a political problem and there can be no military solution to a political problem. So called war on terror has exacted a huge toll on our nationhood, both in tangible and intangible ways. It has seriously eroded public confidence in the ruling classes. A large number of people think that their leadership is not making decisions on the basis of national interest. Pakistan needs to extricate itself from this unfortunate situation through a consensus based multidimensional strategy. It is a task easier said than done. Deterioration of law and order is directly related to our involvement in this futile and open ended war.

Extremely bad governance, wrought with corruption and compromises, in the name of continuity of democracy, have driven the country to an unenviable reputation. This has given rise to several crises having long-term implications like: erosion of our sovereignty, downslide in economic growth, unhealthy wrangling between state institutions, and haziness in our identity as a nation. There is a need for robust governance reforms covering domains like right sizing, transparency of information and merit based recruitment etc.

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Moreover, there are serious public level apprehensions, some real some imaginary, about the role of intelligence agencies in civil, political and regional affairs. Detractors have been able to portray a sustained negative image of the armed forces in the context of Baluchistan, especially on the issue of missing persons. Hence, trust deficit between the military and the people has increased over the years. Civil-Military relationship have survived numerous jerks over the past five years, however, it does not mean that these do not need a structural review. Our Higher Defence Organization is based on a dated model; it certainly needs a major revamping/reworking.

Executive-Judiciary tussle for turfs has occupied the centre stage of public focus since General Musharraf days. Judicial activism became necessary because of the failure of Executive to function within the acceptable norms and traditions. This certainly contributed towards strengthening the rule of law. However, most of the judiciary’s landmark decision remained unimplemented at least in their true spirit. Elusive and cunnings executive was able to outmanoeuvre the judicial verdicts. Especially the anti-climax of Swiss accounts case has not gone down well with the public. Moreover, structural and other limitations of the lower judiciary continue to haunt the provision of speedy justice to common man. There is a need to take a fresh look at the judicial structures and make it accessible, affordable and time bound.

Global financial crisis is likely to continue for an indefinite period. Pakistan needs to build necessary firewalls to contain the impact. Broadening of tax base, transparency and meaningful austerity measures could provide some protection against the negative fallouts emanating out of global crisis. There is a need to reorient our economic strategy to benefit from emerging economic giants like China, Japan, Brazil, and Turkey. The volume of domestic and international debt has increased from Rs 6 trillion in 2008 to over Rs 15 trillion in 2012. Debt servicing has become the largest consumer of national budget. There is need to cap the domestic and international borrowing commensurate with our debt servicing capacity. Principles of fiscal responsibility need to be strengthened through structural economic reforms.

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Energy crisis has virtually disrupted the economy and has adversely impacted the living conditions. Ironically, as of today electricity generation capacity far exceeds the peak summer demand. Core issue is that consumers cannot pay for the actual generation cost and government does not have the financial capacity to foot the cost of requisite subsidy. There is a need to look for ways and means for generating electricity through cheaper means.

Province-local government level relationship is another sore area which has effectively blocked the grass root level devolution of democracy. It goes to the discredit of national political leadership that no civilian government has ever conducted local bodies’ elections. As a result, municipal services have degenerated over the years. Sustainable resurrection of this tier of democracy is long overdue.

Freedom of media is essential for flourishing of free thinking and intellectual honesty. Unfortunately the pendulum has swung to the other extreme —unlimited freedom. Our media has become excessively corporatized, whereby even core national interests take a second priority. An effective non-government Media regulator is now a necessity.

Those who finally qualify to form the next government would essentially have to face daunting challenges. Their homework should be solid, precise and professional, churning out practicable and sustainable remedies to these challenges.