The challenges that await the next government

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By Ayesha Rana

The first ever political government completes its much trumpeted five years and the political parties are preparing for next general elections scheduled on May 11, 2013. During these five years, the ruling coalition had complete freedom to make policies and run the government. Yet, their achievements remain mundane at best. Most of the legislations that were hurriedly passed by the elected representatives were aimed at bolstering political image rather than creating lasting impact on the well being of Pakistani people. Similarly, various development works and schemes, barring a few, essentially focused on drawing political mileage. No sincere efforts were made at the national level to address the grave challenges faced by the country and alleviate the misery of common man. A review would be essential to highlight challenges that the next government would inherit.

The recent terrorist attack on the Shia community in the Abbas town, Karachi, has again reminded us of the painful agony that the innocent people of Pakistan continue to face. It is continuation of the recent spate of anti-state terrorist activities to further the gulf in the society by instigating Shia-Sunni divide. The ongoing killing of the Hazaras in Balochistan and the targeting of Shia population in Karachi is a case in point. As if this suffering wasn’t enough, burning down the houses of Christian community in Lahore compounded the misery and sense of insecurity amongst religious minorities. There has been no letup in the targeted killings and lawlessness in Karachi and Balochistan. Since the time we decided to side with America’s (Global War on Terror) over the last decade, the country has been gripped by violence unleashed by terrorists which has been cashed by the criminal elements. Despite the resilient and brave fight by the Pakistan Army deployed in FATA and Waziristan, especially the major reversal in Swat, the terrorists continue to operate and target with virtual impunity in major cities.

The unabated wave of terrorism has further dented the already damaged societal fiber of social harmony on religious and ethnic lines. While there may be foreign influences involved in these perpetual acts of terrorism, acute poverty, illiteracy and a general sense of insecurity add to the deterioration matrix. Resultantly, Pakistan is being portrayed as a lawless country which is a safe haven for terrorists. Understanding the gravity of the situation is most vividly needed. Preserving our unity is a major task to successfully navigate through this quagmire. While our ancestors got us independence against heavy odds, we are morally bound to preserve our ideology, sovereignty and national integrity. It seems that a scripted narrative is at play to weaken the very foundations on which Pakistan stands. On the other hand, opportunists amongst our leaders are embroiled in their competition for power and influence. The state has thus been at the mercy of individuals, whose only objective is to cling to power, whatever it takes. The deepening differences among the provinces and sub nationalities tend to decimate our notion of nationhood. The viciousness of the situation has divided and scarred our people. One cannot help recalling the dismemberment of Pakistan’s eastern wing in 1971 that caused a serious blow to our integrity. While because of our nuclear capability a full-scale conventional war would be inherently risky, sub-conventional warfare is being perpetrated by our adversaries. We must express and sustain our resolve – never again.

To implement such a resolve, the absence of a true and visionary leadership remains a vital challenge. We are besieged with plethora of complex challenges that starkly stare us in the face. Successive martial laws that put military dictators in power, have failed badly. Besides highly fragile economy, major challenges include an acute disunity as a nation, confusion of identity, sectarian disharmony and a huge ethnic divide that cuts across the nation. Due to colossal mismanagement of economy, rampant corruption, exorbitant increase in proportion of foreign loans, huge debt servicing, shortage of electricity and gas etc have made the country vulnerable to further manipulation by foreign powers and international financial institutions. To add to the complexity, the dysfunctional institutions heralded by politicized or disillusioned bureaucracy, less than perfect judiciary, rampant corruption and incompetence of our leaders impedes formulation of just and fair national policies, judicious allocation of resources and above all the implementation snags.

Despite our large natural reserves of gas, copper and coal, huge human resource, vast coastline, weather, diversity in terrain and an advantageous geostrategic location, we have never fully capitalized on our advantages. We must learn to stand on our own and capitalize upon our strengths, before the windows of opportunity start to close. This nation and its armed forces have weathered many calamites. Only a resilient nation can survive what we have passed through the last few years. The prevailing situation merits very serious endeavors for developing cohesion within the country and to put it on the path of prosperity.

A number of steps can be taken to achieve these objectives. We should hold the resolve that led to the creation of Pakistan. We must endure this tough test of time with strong will and determination. We direly need sincere leadership chances of which are bleak at best. But it has rightly been said that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, our choices will make the difference. We must vote for change because drawing room talks and criticism will not change anything. The political and military leaders must jointly evolve a comprehensive strategy to counter the menace of terrorism and religious intolerance in the society. The political leadership should endeavor to embed our ethnic and linguistic identities of Punjabi, Pakhtun, Sindhi, Muhajirs or Balochi merge under a national banner. Print and electronic media can be used as effective tools for promoting the national harmony. Recalibration of foreign policy with the US, India and Afghanistan will be an important undertaking for the next government. Post-May 2013 elections, huge challenges await the next government. Pakistani people have placed very high hopes in the future leaders.

(The writer is a Ph.D candidate at Quaid-i-Azam University. She can be reached at ayesharana1972@hotmail.com)