The crises facing Pakistan are not new. The economy is used to a major boom-bust cycle every 3-4 years; the politics pushes the country towards anarchy every 7-8 years; and there is, unfortunately, a mega climate disaster almost every 10 years. Only that this time around, the several crises have come a calling at the same time, with their intensity seemingly at unprecedented highs. Meanwhile, the deteriorating security situation across the country has added even more to the heightened uncertainty.
The precarious situation requires a unified political, institutional and bureaucratic response in the short-term and reformist commitment for the long-term. The moment calls for stepped-up governance by those who may actually possess the public’s mandate and be at the center of its hopes and dreams. The circumstances ask for remedies that are clearly communicated to and embraced by the people. Fairness, transparency and austerity are some of the things that need to be observed by all levers of the state.
None of that seems to be forthcoming, not anytime soon. Fearful of an electoral rout (as recent opinion polls suggest), the PML-N-led federal government seems intent on avoiding elections in Punjab. Presiding over an economic mess that is getting irredeemable by the day, the apparent political calculations to turn things around in a few months are not balanced by reality or forecasts. Half-hearted attempts to tame the PTI opposition into submission through law enforcement have become a daily joke.
The challenger Khan, meanwhile, is setting one bad example after another by defying the courts and allowing violence to take root among his young and diehard supporters. The strategy to respond to chaos with more chaos is unsustainable. The ex-PM’s refusal to sit down with the federal government – be it on matters of handling surging terrorism or staving off economic default – may be popular with his base, but it will only make his job even harder when (or if) the party sweeps to power in the next general elections.
Meanwhile, the institutions collectively refuse to acknowledge that when you’re in a hole, stop digging. The judiciary’s partisanship is once again out in full view, responding to popular sentiment instead of applying the law. The so-called establishment is not in the mood to dance again, but ignoring the jilted lover is not working either. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Looking down 30,000 feet, there are no clear answers, only confusion all around, with current incentives aligned for continuation of status quo.