By Najam Sethi
Aug 03, 2012
Fractious politics is triggering disaster
ALTAF Hussain, the MQM leader in self- imposed exile, has warned that Pakistan faces internal and external national security threats that warrant an All Parties Conference to cobble a national consensus on how to tackle them. He has alluded to Pakistan’s running tensions with the United States and the “hot war” between the government and judiciary. But he has not had much success in convincing anyone of his fears.
Indeed, the MQM’s initiative has provoked the usual conspiracy- theory suspects to suggest that a sinister plan by President Asif Zardari may have been hatched in cahoots with his alliance partners in general, and the MQM in particular, to conjure up some extraordinary matrix of national security threats, impose a state of Emergency in the country and try and postpone the forthcoming elections for a year at least, so that he can get the current parliament to elect him president of Pakistan for another five- year term.
The idea of a postponement of the elections at the behest of the current coalition government is absurd. Even if there were cause for a genuine state of emergency in the country Zardari would probably become the fall- guy for it rather than benefit from it. The opposition led by Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan would spill out into the streets in protest, the Supreme Court would strike it down immediately and help the opposition nudge Zardari to make way for someone with greater credibility, public support and institutional backing to tackle the crisis.
But the notion of an extraordinary, multidimensional national crisis in the making that requires a national consensus to tackle it should not be taken lightly. Consider.
Objectively, the US is Pakistan’s biggest economic and military benefactor. In the last ten years it has coughed up over $ 22 billion in financial assistance. But subjectively it is viewed as Pakistan’s biggest “enemy”.
OVER 70 per cent of Pakistanis see it as a bigger enemy than even India and believe it poses the biggest threat to Pakistan.
The problem is that a rupture between Pakistan and the US over the end- game strategy in Afghanistan would likely precipitate a chain of economic and military consequences that would isolate Pakistan in the region, alienate it from the inter-national community and propel it headlong into state failure.
Such a rupture could emanate from specific anti- American actions by non- state Afghan actors in Waziristan and lead to both specific and general anti- Pakistan actions by the US in desperation, ranging from hot pursuit operations in Pakistani territory to economic and political sanctions as a “state sponsor of terrorism”. That is why we desperately need a national consensus over Pakistan’s strategy vis a vis America. No elected civilian government on its own, least of all a weak and blundering coalition government, can fashion a realistic and pragmatic strategy as we have seen in the case of the confusion in parliament and dithering in government regarding the NATO pipeline and drone strikes.
Much the same sort of confusion exists in the mind of the public and state organs regarding the status of the Taliban.
The Pakistani army and government see the Pakistani Taliban as the “enemy” and the Afghan Taliban as potential, if not current, allies. But the Pakistani public is clueless about the existential threat to their state from the Taliban as a generic category.
Indeed, less than 20% see the Taliban as a serious threat to Pakistan, despite the fact that over 40,000 Pakistanis have died at Taliban hands, including over 3000 security personnel, in the last five years; more than the total fatalities in all the wars with India to date. Without a national political consensus on how to treat both types of the Taliban, we run the risk of plunging headlong into conflict with both America and the Taliban.
The lack of a national consensus on how to revive the economy is no less alarming. The military and government want to double the tax- to- GDP ratio so that Pakistan is less dependent on aid handouts from the international community, able to balance its budgets and resist political pressure from donors.
VARIOUS measures are proposed for such a national strategy, ranging from the imposition of a value- added tax or GST on goods and services to the withdrawal of subsidies worth hundreds of billions of rupees annually to sick public sector and protected private sector enterprises, and summary punitive measures to stop theft of tax and energy. Unfortunately, no elected government or opposition can bring itself to impose belt- tightening measures that will have a severe adverse impact on lay people. But the longer these measures are delayed, the more intractable Pakistan’s woes will become and the more dependent we will become on handouts from the very countries (like the US) and institutions (like the IMF) that we love to hate and abhor.
Another round of general elections is expected to lead to an even more fragile coalition government system that the one today. Therefore there is a dire and urgent need to hammer out a national consensus on the pressing issues facing Pakistan today.
Najam Sethi is editor of The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today