Pakistan is facing an economic, climate and political crisis. The policy changes that went into securing the recent IMF deal have skyrocketed the prices of food, fuel as well as essential items. The government has also brought in many new taxes and increased the existing prices.
Pakistan’s Political Crisis
The political crisis is perhaps the most important one. It affects both the climate as well as economic crisis. Ever since the coalition government ousted Imran Khan through a no-confidence motion, Pakistan’s politics is in turmoil. The incumbent prime minister Shahbaz Sharif and his ministers from the coalition of several parties have been doing everything to hold on to the power. Their main opponent is Imran Khan, who is becoming more and more popular out of power.
The government has booked Imran Khan under anti-terrorism charges. The charges brought against him are frivolous in nature. The government booked him for threatening police and the judiciary. Ever since the government banned the broadcasting of Imran Khan’s speeches. Khan faced arrest but the government has treaded with caution. There were huge rallies across Pakistan and around Khan’s residence, deterring the government from the arrest. A court later gave him anticipatory bail.
Stuck in a Mexican Stand-off
Even though Pakistan is right now facing a huge crisis in the form of floods, the politics between the ruling coalition and Imran Khan-led opposition has not stopped. They are stuck in a Mexican stand-off. The two sides have involved many state institutions in their fight. They have dragged Establishment or the Pakistani army into politics. Imran Khan and his party allege that the army conspired against him and supported his ouster. Khan’s adviser Shahbaz Gill is in jail for giving statements against the army. Further, the PTI has also dragged Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) into the controversy with Khan questioning its neutrality. The ECI has alleged that Khan-led PTI was involved in illegal foreign funding.
The incumbent government has launched a witch hunt against Imran Khan and his supporters. They want him in jail by hook or by crook.
Every day PTI and the current level have new allegations against each other. Mudslinging is the new norm of Pakistani politics. The incumbent government alleges that PTI is undermining the IMF deal. Audio leaks of a PTI leader are doing rounds on social media. The government has questioned the PTI leader’s stance on the IMF deal.
Also read: Pakistan’s March towards Democratic Reform
Pakistan’s Afghanistan Factor
The PTI allege that the current government has allowed the US to use Pakistan’s airspace for carrying out drone attacks in Afghanistan. Taliban has endorsed this point. They have called on Pakistan to stop the US from using their air space for carrying out attacks in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has disregarded Imran Khan’s “absolutely not”. Imran Khan had refused to cower under US pressure. He had made it explicit that Pakistan will not allow the US to use its airspace for carrying out any attacks on Afghan soil.
The new government needed help from the US. Securing an IMF deal was the priority. They seem to have allowed the US to use Pakistani air space in return for the IMF deal. This transactional diplomacy might help Pakistani in the short term, but it will create problems in the long run.
The use of Pakistani airspace against the Taliban will only complicate Pakistan’s geopolitics. Taliban have already taken a hostile stand against Pakistan. From their past experience, the Taliban know Pakistan cannot be trusted.
Pakistan must not leverage Afghanistan to score points with the US. Afghanistan is already facing an economic and food crisis. They should be left alone.
Pakistan’s Democracy in Danger?
If experience has taught Pakistan anything, it is that when there is an economic crisis, politicians are stuck in a Mexican stand-off and there is the issue of Afghanistan, they make perfect ingredients for the army to take over.
The incumbent government is already on shaky legs. It does not have popular support. Both the sides have questioned state institutions in a way that they might lose legitimacy. Even though people have also questioned army’s conduct but when they cross the red mark, the army will rescue itself and perhaps take over.
The army has already put itself in diplomacy. General Bajwa recently held discussions with the US over the IMF deal. The opposition questioned the motive of the General. The army should leave economics to the civilian government and economists.
Pakistani politicians need to move beyond the current approach. As observed in the past, when the incumbent as well as the opposition lose legitimacy, the army gets leverage over the people. When people are fed up with political parties, they defect their support to the army. In these circumstances, it becomes easy for the army to take over.
The coming days will be crucial for democracy in Pakistan.