Can the new Pakistani Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif turn the crisis Pakistan is faced with today into an opportunity? In this article, I am going to look into issues Pakistan is facing and suggest some solutions, writes Dr Amjad Ayud Mirza
Imran Khan was finally booted out of power on the early morning hours of April 10. This is the first time in the political history of Pakistan that a sitting prime minister has been unseated through a vote of no confidence. This illustrates how deeply the Pakistani political and military establishment is divided. The fundamental cause for this division is two folds – one reason for the above mentioned division is the unstoppable downward spiral of Pakistan’s economy and the other is the denial of rights of oppressed nations living under the iron clad of the federation of Pakistan.
Can the new Pakistani Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif turn the crisis Pakistan is faced with today into an opportunity? In this article, I am going to look into issues Pakistan is facing and suggest some solutions.
Over the years Pakistan has become a debt dependent economy. In order to run the day to day expenses of the country and to pay for the interest on the loans, Pakistan has to get more loans creating a vicious debt cycle.
Secondly, Pakistan remains at the verge of social explosion. Perpetual decrease in the buying power of the population caused by inflation, continuous power failures due to energy crisis and breakdown of the health and social services sector due to lack of development funds are now translating into public anger in various forms and shapes.
One form of public dissent is being expressed through Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), while other include the creation of Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf.
The top brass of the military establishment is keenly divided between what I term the ‘Haqqani Generals’ led by the former DG ISI and the current Corps commander Peshawar, Lt General Faiz Hameed, and those who align themselves with the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Finally, the national question that revolves around the issue of political representation based on economic sovereignty remains dangerously unresolved. From Balochistan to Sindh and from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (PoGB), national liberation struggles are now a reality that might not resolve simply by issuing press statements and horse trading.
In a nut-shell, the federation of Pakistan that entered troubled waters due to economic mismanagement and plunder is now collapsing under the threat of multiple armed separatist movements.
In various parts of Pakistan, the ultimate authority of the federation seems to be broken-down beyond repair. The central authority of the state is being challenged with guns in Baluchistan and KPK. And the 1973 constitution of Pakistan appears to have decisively failed to keep the federation intact.
The economy of the country under discussion has gone under. With lack of a community based cottage industry that could become the foundation for small industry, which in turn could become a base for heavy industry, Pakistan cannot make her economy turn around.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is going to add more debt to the economy and it has become both economically and politically a dead project. The Baluch and the people of PoGB are not accepting the plunder of their natural resources in the name of “progress”.
Hence, if Pakistan is to survive as a geographical entity, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Army Chief General Bajwa have to reconsider the relation between the federation and the provinces and establish a confederation.
Forming a confederation between the provinces and the centre simply means that the ultimate authority of control over natural resources, taxes and trade lies with the individual units or states and not with the federal state. The centre then becomes a weak body which is formed by member states only to deal with matters relating to foreign policy and defence.
Therefore, Shehbaz Sharif will have to enter into negotiation with all the stakeholders and win a consensus. This would, firstly, remove the internal security threats to Pakistan and secondly, create a peaceful and stable environment for reshaping a self-reliant economic base.
Stable economic environment is the first step toward containing social unrest and relocate the protesting population from the streets into the agricultural and industrial sector.
And finally only by forming a confederation can Shehbaz Sharif guarantee an end to the political conflict that is currently being negotiated though the barrel of gun.
However, unless Shehbaz Sharif resolves the Kashmir issue by accepting PoJK and PoGB as illegally occupied territories and accelerates their peaceful return into the folds of the Republic of India, peace between India and Pakistan will remain a far-fetched dream.
The ousting of Imran Khan did not deter the looming threat of religious fascism in the region. Imran Khan was and remains the representative of a conservative middle class that has been crushed due to economic instability, the urban jobless lumpen elements and the generals who have supported Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The rise of the Haqqanis to power in Kabul was orchestrated by the ‘Haqqani generals’ of Pakistan military led by Lt general Faiz Hamid.
No wonder after being thrown out of power, Imran Khan’s first public rally and a show of street power was held in Peshawar where the former DG of ISI, Lt general Faiz Hameed serves as the Corps commander. The immediate threat of fascism staying in power might have been gotten rid of but the threat looms on the streets and among the top brass of military establishment of Pakistan.
A military coup led by mass support of the religious right could prove to be a detrimental to the region. Prime Minister Sharif has a mountainous task ahead of him with limited political space to maneuver, therefore, he is left with no choice but to crush the fascist goons on the streets and eliminate the ‘Haqqani generals’ while negotiating the transformation of the federation of Pakistan into a voluntary confederation of sovereign states.
(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK)