22 Jan 2018/Monday.   

Pakistan is jocularly supposed to be governed by three ‘As’. Army, Allah and America. Now with President Trump ditching its old friend only two ‘As’ are remaining. Army only calls the shot. The civil governance in Pakistan was never too much to talk about but now with promotion of hitherto unknown Mr Shahid Khaqan Abbassi the voice of civil governance has almost vanished from the federal structure of Pakistan.

Apart from winning parliamentary elections six times, Mr Abbasi’s only political achievement has been to go to prison for his political patron, Mr Nawaz Sharif. He spent two years behind bars after a 1999 coup, in which Mr Sharif was overthrown by Gen Pervez Musharraf. Mr Abbasi at the time was pressured by the military to testify against Mr Sharif, but he refused and was jailed. He was later acquitted. His loyalty to Mr Sharif was later rewarded with a high-profile position – Prime Minister. It is assumed that Mr Abbasi is holding the office until Mr Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab Province, wins a seat in Parliament in a coming by-election and can become prime minister. Till then Mr Abbasi is silently paddling the boat and waiting for next general elections. This vacuum in the leadership is going to cost Pakistan dearly. At this crucial time a strong political leadership is required to bail Pakistan out of its economic potholes: budget deficits, fiscal deficits, trade deficits, recurring deficits in the railways and PIA. Add now a trust deficit between the legislature, the judiciary and the armed forces.

Taking advantage of current vacuum, former president-general Musharraf’s announcement that he proposes to cobble together ‘a grand alliance’ of 23 political parties to contest the next elections has made the political scene in Pakistan murkier. It has reinforced the suspicion that khaki remains an indelible smudge in our nation’s politics, the third colour in Pak’s national flag. Should Musharraf’s grand alliance be feared? How will it help a beleaguered Pakistan, only time will tell.

In an interesting posturing move, now, even before the PML-N has formulated its manifesto for the 2018 general elections, it finds it necessary to announce that it is laying out “a policy of non-confrontation with state institutions, such as the army or the judiciary”. It is an all too obvious admission that the boundaries between the political parties and other organs of the state have become blurred and need, like constituencies, to be redefined.

Before a more ineffective government come to power in the face of formidable challenges faced by Pakistan; but whichever party comes to power should brace itself for difficult times in office. It will need clever fiscal management and deep pockets to meet repayments of the onerous CPEC loans and also strong nerves to resist pressure from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to join a Saudi-US funded coalition against Iran. It should be courageous enough to seek a permanent solution to Jammu & Kashmir problem with India. And finally, it should be prepared to deal with an ever-hostile US.