The year 2010 was a mixed bag for Pakistan. There were some positive aspects, but mostly the year was one of sorrow and pain. Pakistan faced political turmoil, economic woes and terrorism. The positives of 2010 included the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award, both of which empowered the provinces. The passage of the 19th Amendment with consensus averted an executive-judiciary clash. Renowned human rights activist Asma Jahangir’s victory in the SCBA presidential elections raised hopes that the judiciary will maintain its independence but will not destabilise the democratic process. It remains to be seen what 2011 has in store for the country, but a recap of events in 2010 might shed some light on the shape of things to come.
It is quite interesting to note that on the first day of last year, this paper carried a headline: “‘N’ not a friendly opposition: Zardari” (Daily Times, January 1, 2010) and on December 31, 2010, the headline read: ‘PML-N won’t support PPP govt: Nawaz’. Coming full circle, are we? The coalition government led by the PPP is facing some trouble after the JUI-F decided to call it quits. On top of that, the MQM opted to give up its ministries in the federal cabinet but will continue to sit on the treasury benches and remain part of the coalition government in Sindh for the time being. Efforts are underway by President Zardari to save the coalition. Right now he is in Karachi to discuss matters with the MQM and address their grievances. Meanwhile, the PPP is also trying to woo the JUI-F back into the coalition but Maulana Fazlur Rehman is proving to be a tough nut to crack this time round. Critics are now describing the PPP’s policy of reconciliation as ‘appeasement’. Instead of giving them short shrift, the PPP seems to be inclined to contemplate giving in to even some unjustified demands of its coalition partners. This shows the level of insecurity the PPP is feeling right now. President Zardari apprised PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif about the current political imbroglio and has asked for his help in assisting the government to pull the country out from its crises. Though Mian sahib has said that his party will not support the PPP government, he does not want the military to come back to power either. So far, the PML-N is honouring this part at least of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) as far as civil-military relations are concerned. Mr Sharif seems to have learnt his lesson and is now one of the most vocal voices against military dictatorship. With the exception of the MQM, whose chief Altaf Hussain called for “patriotic generals” to save Pakistan, all political parties are on the same page vis-à-vis martial law. Even the MQM had to backtrack on its call as it did not fly well.
WikiLeaks recently revealed the ‘strange’ civil-military relations that were discussed in the US embassy cables. The cables hinted at the backdoor political moves by army chief General Kayani. Despite that, a three-year extension was granted to General Kayani. With all the misgivings about the resentment within the military and the bad precedent that it sets for people who do not retire when the time comes, our security situation demanded sticking to General Kayani. General Kayani publicly has been supporting the democratic government and the system.
Apart from the political situation, the economy seems to be facing a downward spiral and inflation has increased at an alarming pace. It has become difficult for the masses to survive under the circumstances. The IMF may have given us a lease of life by extending their Standby Arrangement for another nine months but unless the government is able to create consensus on the RGST, the government’s revenues will take a hit. The government should set its own house in order by exercising belt-tightening and not go on merrily as before. This would create credibility for the government and may assist in creating a consensus on the RGST. The government also needs to sort out the state-owned enterprises with better management and tackle the energy crisis that is causing misery for the people at large.
The economy was hit hard by the worst ever floods in our history, due to which more than 20 million people were affected. The flood affectees are still waiting for rehabilitation because of donor fatigue and corruption charges against the government. The people of Pakistan must not forget their fellow citizens who are in need of utmost help.
The situation in Balochistan is going from bad to worse, what with the number of missing persons increasing and targeted killings of the Baloch continuing. The sad truth is that the elected politicians are not in control in the province and the FC is running a parallel government there. The Baloch insurgents are fighting for their just rights unlike the terrorists in other parts of Pakistan. The Baloch imbroglio is basically a political issue and can only be tackled through a political settlement, not the use of military might.
The terrorists wreaked havoc last year. Not only did they attack the security forces, markets and processions, many Sufi shrines were also attacked. Most notably, the attacks at Data Darbar in Lahore, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar’s shrine in Pakpattan, and Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine in Karachi not only killed dozens of people but also sent a message that the terrorists considered the people’s Sufi traditions as an obstacle in the imposition of their extremist agenda. On May 28, 2010, two Ahmedi worship places were attacked by the religious zealots in Lahore. Though the attacks against a minority were condemned all across the nation, the mullahs showed their usual apathy when it comes to the Ahmedis. It was a shameful day in our history because we were unable to protect an already persecuted community.
The only silver lining is that the PPP has been able to form a political consensus in favour of the war on terror. Apart from the religious parties, all others are on board and oppose the Taliban. We saw an increase in the number of drone attacks last year. WikiLeaks confirmed the ruling elite’s complicity in the drone attacks despite their public disapproval. Now the task ahead is to launch a military operation in North Waziristan. But if recent reports are correct that the militants are being shifted to Kurram Agency, the North Waziristan operation, if and when mounted, is unlikely to yield the expected results.
The case of Aasia Bibi once again brought into the limelight the Blasphemy Law, a flawed law open to abuse, which should not be retained on our statute books. The mullahs have shown their strength by putting the government on the back foot through pressure tactics, but if the extremist religious right continues to be appeased, our minorities and citizens generally will continue to fear for their lives. It is time to repeal or at the very least amend this law.
Our political class may have matured to a certain extent but there is no room for complacency. Far more needs to be done for the consolidation and progress of democracy. The sorry history of military dictatorships needs to be done away with and democracy, despite its flaws and warts, must be allowed to flourish. Our survival depends on it.