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Pakistan cannot be left to its own fate

Short-term problems are known, what about long-term consequences?
12:00 AM Feb 13, 2024 IST | Arun Joshi
pakistan cannot be left to its own fate
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A flood of commentaries, post February 8 polls in Pakistan have predicted a doomsday scenario. That is the immediate assessment based on the way the electoral process was set in motion in the run up to the polling day and the manner in which the results were declared or not declared.

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If these commentators were expecting any miracles out of the 12th general elections, they should have looked at the basis on which they were making their predictions about the future of Pakistan. The political, ethnic and regional polarization have been part of Pakistani politics since 1947, a typical trend that made it to lose its eastern wing in 1947.

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Now there are new fault-lines deepening with each passing day. These fault lines are traced to restiveness in Baluchistan, mounting terror attacks by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and a feeling among the youth that their future has been taken hostage by the exploitative forces even before they could dream.

The current wave of unrest manifested in the fractured mandate, in which no party or bloc has got a clear majority to form the government.

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Two leaders who have made victory speeches, the jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, and his bête noire three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, did not have the majority numbers to support their claim to form the government.

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There is a possibility of a coalition government. It may be sewn by the army rather than as a result of the political negotiations. That is a tragedy of Pakistan, and it will be repeated again.

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The assessment that the coalition government will not survive is a given. The fate of the coalition governments in most parts of the world is a story of strife and strains, and collapse at the end of the day. Individual ambitions overwhelm the voiced concerns and the need to save the nation.

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So, it is not surprising that the “healing touch” theory of the army and Pakistan Muslim League (N) of Nawaz Sharif is more out of their compulsion than an act of shared responsibility to end an attempt to “move on from politics of anarchy and polarization.” Both Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Syed Asim Munir have spoken of healing touch. Is this healing touch all about keeping Imran Khan and his party – PTI, out of the landscape or to foster a real sense of unity of thought and action. If unity of ideas and work is the guiding factor, then army should stay out of the domestic politics and foreign policy issues.

But the establishment (read military), used to enjoying power, cannot be expected to give up so easily. Here is an irony, the February 8 polls were both victory and stunning defeat for the army. It has won because no political party could secure even simple majority leaving the room open for army Generals to fill the vacuum and dictate their wishes to the politicians willing to accept anything to have a share in running the country. It was a stunning defeat as well.

The electorate placed Nawaz Sharif led PML-N, at number two at the end of the counting, and this is not a hidden fact that the army was backing Nawaz Sharif this time. The youth might have been disillusioned with the dynastic politics and they rejected the party at the hustings.

Since PTI backed independents won highest number of seats in the elections, though nowhere close to simple majority, is also a verdict against the army. Imran Khan stood as a symbol of resistance against the army’s role in Pakistan’s politics and its interventionist tendencies in all affairs of Pakistan, ranging from internal politics to foreign policy. It is perhaps for the first time that Pakistan army is staring at its own losses, and must be thinking how to get rid of the fate that befell on it.

In the immediateness of the elections, there is bound to be some patchwork, to seal the deals, as the international community has viewed with huge concern the elections and the outcome. The community has not minced words in telling Pakistan and its army that the whole process was flawed to the extent that the real mandate has not been allowed to manifest itself.

These concerns have an expanse far beyond the suppression of the real election results, curbs on freedom, crackdown on the political parties, media: it is frightened at the possibilities of more trouble visiting the country, which sits at the core of the geo-strategic calculations of the world. Pakistan can neither be trusted as a responsible ally – the US and Afghanistan can vouch for this, nor can it be discarded altogether – again Washington and the European Union can tell that. There are perils in doing so.

Pakistan is a nuclear power, is an undeniable fact of the world history. Equally undeniable is that its landscape is littered with uncertainties, rise of terrorism, ever deepening economic disorder. There is a showdown between classes and groups at all levels. That is where it is, and these factors imperil it in the long-term.

It will have to be seen what direction Pakistan will take from now onwards. It is whirlpool of so many issues and troubles that it cannot adopt a particular direction that can give its own people and the world any hope that it can stabilize.

It is not having any credible institution that can guide its course to being a normal nation, and the current vacuum has added to the problems. The world is shy of extending full support to Islamabad as it knows that Pakistan is in an unchartered territory.

Its immediate and long-term challenges are weighed down by so many ifs and buts. The responsibility of Pakistan is to save itself from becoming a pariah state, and also that of the world that it doesn’t adrift further. Pakistan cannot be left to its fate of its own making. This is imperative, otherwise its long-term troubles can engulf a lot of geography around it.

Arun Joshi is author of " Eyewitness Kashmir- Teetering on Nuclear War" and writes on strategic affairs of South Asia

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