A year of crisis and challenges ahead for Pakistan
It has not been the best of times. It has been a year of turmoil and uncertainty. While the deadly pandemic took its toll on peoples’ lives it also had a devastating affect on Pakistan’s already fragile economy. The government struggled to maintain the right balance between measures to save lives and to save livelihoods.
While the pandemic increased pressures on the public health system, the economic costs of the shutdowns have also been massive. For an already troubled economy, the impact has been severe. It worsened the unemployment situation-- thus increasing pressure on the Imran Khan government.
But the domestic political situation has remained the main source of instability in the country. Prime minister Imran Khan faces the most serious political challenge yet with a united opposition alliance out on the streets vowing to oust his government half way through its term.
The alliance gathered under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has given a deadline of 31st January next year for the prime minister to resign or be prepared for a storming of the capital. It certainly does not bode well for the country with the advent of a new year.
The opposition campaign has a serious destabilizing effect for a struggling administration. Almost all the opposition parties are arrayed against the prime minister. Surely there is no indication yet of a swelling of anti-government sentiments that could bring the masses out on the streets in large numbers or present a serious threat to the government. But it will also not be easy for the government to deal with the situation.
In the midst of the political power game, the country is hit by a second wave of coronavirus, more severe than the first. The number of COVID-19 fatalities has increased significantly and in major cities the strain on the hospitals is evident. With no possibility of the vaccine available in Pakistan soon, the prospects of the country coming out of this crisis seems bleak.
It is not just about the pandemic but also about the future of democracy in the country. More than the opposition campaign, the government’s own governance issues has made it more vulnerable.
The escalating political battle has also affected the battle against the rampaging contagion. No effective nationwide strategy is in place to deal with the resurgence of the deadly infection that is going to deal a blow to the country’s economic recovery efforts. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who claims credit for effectively containing the first wave of the pandemic and at the same time keeping the economy afloat, seems too busy fighting the opposition to focus on this more serious issue.
The pandemic could change the whole political scenario and take the country towards an uncharted path. It’s a ruthless power game that is taking the country to the precipice. It is not just about the pandemic but also about the future of democracy in the country. More than the opposition campaign, the government’s own governance issues has made it more vulnerable.
The balance sheet of the Imran Khan government halfway through his five-year term has certainly not been encouraging. The government has failed to develop the capability to take rational decisions on critical domestic and foreign policy issues. The government’s increasing dependence on the security establishment for survival has further undermined its ability to improve and course correct.
Consequently, the security establishment’s extending shadow can be discerned in all dimensions of the state. It seems that the perpetual state of confrontation among political forces has allowed the establishment to play arbiter of political power in the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government may survive in power, but the real issue is the continuing political instability in the country. The situation is not very promising for the country in the coming year.
The country also faces myriad challenges on the external front; fast-changing regional geopolitics had a direct bearing on the country’s national security. The escalating tension with India remains a major security concern. A series of recent militant attacks is a sign of escalating proxy war in the region.
Most of those attacks have been carried out by Baloch separatist groups, sending a grim reminder that India will do its best to take advantage of Pakistan’s vulnerabilities in the strategically located Balochistan province. There has been a marked escalation in the group’s operations with the heightening of tensions between India and Pakistan.
In the last few years, Pakistan’s security forces contained the insurgency to some extent, but the latest spike in attacks indicates that secessionist groups are gaining strength once more.
Pakistan faces daunting internal and external challenges in the new year.
- Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholar, USA, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam (Columbia university press) and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan (Simon and Schuster, NY). Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ.