By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
Congratulation! People have reposed trust in you, for the third time. Welcome to the political wonderland— “Pakistan 2013”, it is far different from what it was in the late nineties. Kindly remember your manifesto; those who voted for you have certainly committed it to memory. During this era of media and judicial activism, days of short public memory are over. Hopefully, you would strive to implement at least a small portion of your manifesto.
For the leader of single majority party, it is a herculean task to cobble together a durable coalition. One has to be mindful of political vultures; they erode majority party’s capacity and capability to implement its manifesto. Typically, these are some of the small parties, always in power, carving for themselves larger than life size role—king maker. They shamelessly convey their price tag: disproportionately high number of ministries, headship of lucrative public service entities, lease of prime land at laughable rent, quota of high profit commodities, right off of loans, non-pursuing of pending civil and criminal suits and so on. Should the “would be prime Minister” scum, this turns out to be just the down payment, they ask for additional and special installments every time their nod is required at critical time and on core public interest issues.
Even perpetual extortion does not stop the vultures from conspiring against the government, nor would they be ashamed to ditch it when they feel the air of change. They any way quit the government before the next election after dumping heaps of political drag; and incumbency baggage becomes solely the baby of outgoing majority party, vultures innocently anchor around powerlessness and victimhood.
You should preferably, look for a larger party for coalition forming. And if that is not possible, then turn to reliable smaller parties, while keeping away from opportunist retailers. Make a meaningful coalition that should last till the next elections. Otherwise you would be bogged down in day to day political fire fighting and consumed by routines. If it happens so, you will hardly be left with adequate steam for stirring imaginative thought process, constructive work and long term planning for public service.
You are lucky to have a treasure to fall back upon— the unwavering resolve of the people of Pakistan in the democratic political process. Despite the tumultuous decades, they still, and rightly so, sustain their conviction in strong and prosperous Pakistan, respected by the comity of nations. Irrespective of whom they voted for, you can count on their firm support in whatever you do in good faith for the country at large, and for public service in particular. These wonderful people defied all threats, attended political rallies during the election campaign and voted you into power. They certainly deserve a generous pay back in the form of their well being, safety, fair play and prosperity. Be kind towards national institutions, some of them may not be to your liking; yet, co-habitat and influence their behaviour; where necessary, reform them through consensus based professional inputs.
Some of the chores needing your immediate attention are: de-yoking the country from drone attacks, extrication from so called war on terror, stabilizing Pakistan-India relations, teaming up with Afghanistan for a sustainable peace process, diversification of our critical dependencies— all these are easier said than done. These are no ordinary challenges; hence there is a need for extra ordinary resolve and imaginative measures. Certainly, these would be taxing on faculties; and your leadership qualities shall be stressed to limits.
India–Pakistan relations are perpetually on the edge, trust deficit, knee-jerk and tit-for tat have become a rule rather than an exception. Sarabjit-Sanaullah episode symbolises the societal mindset. Crisis stability mechanism is dysfunctional; when there is an urgent need to talk, even the ongoing negotiations get disrupted. Public sentiment is on the driving seat and state policy is high-jacked by demagogues. Both sides need to peg the bilateral policy around sanity and pragmatism. Negotiations on Strategic Restraint Regime and enhancement of people to people contact would quickly improve the bilateral environment wherein other issues could be discussed. There is a need to institute appropriate fire-walls before operationalizing the MFN status. Certainly, Kashmir and water are core issues on which piecemeal appeasement is not a solution nor would it go down well amongst the people. While distancing from Kargil, do recall that once upon a time there was a Siachin too!
Pakistan has a crucial role in bringing durable peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan cannot sit on the fence and wait, if it does so, other would fill the void. There is a need to initiate a multi-pronged regional process involving six immediate neighbours of Afghanistan; somewhat a variant of Uzbekistan’s 6+2 concept of the nineties. All neighbours should agree to a post 2014 code of conduct focusing on cross border movement management, hands off from proxies and commitment for the stability of post 2014 Afghan government. Pakistan is in a unique position to narrow down the perceptional gap between the occupation forces and Afghan political resistance groups; it should do its bit.
Pakistan needs to strengthen its regional moorings and find new ones as well. Change of leadership in China and elections in Malaysia have already taken place. Election shall shortly be held in Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India; hence throwing up new opportunities for a fresh start on stalemated sticky issues. Pakistan should be part of all major regional initiatives leading towards collective well-being of the people. There will be a need to work with the post elections government of Bangladesh to normalize relations by putting behind the historic baggage. Afghanistan situation is complex involving a number of variables and actors who are at cross purposes. Pakistan should carefully postulate the post 2014 political scenarios in Afghanistan and workout compatible response for each; we should not be taken by surprise. Most tricky issue with Iran is IP gas pipeline. Pakistan should balance off external pressures and go ahead with the project. In case of India, Pakistan should be prepared for Modi or Rahul led weak coalitions, both shall play to the public gallery and are likely to remain hostage to populist anti-Pakistan sentiment; in short to medium timeframe, Pakistan should not expect any meaningful initiative from either of two.
Nevertheless, Pakistan should play effective role in all regional organizations like SAARC, SCO, ECO etc, to offset various bilateral pressures. On larger canvas, there is a need for enhancing engagements with the D-8, OIC and the UN. Pakistan should seek the membership of D-20 and observer status in emerging groupings in East Asia region.
Our domestics are messed-up comprehensively; most of the woes emanate from poor governance, disregard of merit and politicization of professional and technical matters. Arrest and reversal of these trends would provide enough space to revamp the services sector.
Wish-list may appear longish; it is so because of inaction by your predecessors. You have inherited it; so it’s you baggage, got to navigate the way forward with all the handicaps. Mr Prime Minister, certainly it’s not poised to be an easy ride; Good luck, May Allah help you!