Pakistan is about to end another dramatic year surrounded by a mix of challenges. And there is little hope for the country to turn things around any time soon.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, now in the second year of his maiden term as Pakistan’s leader, continues to pacify the rank and file over a promising future set to arrive in the not-too-distant future. But notwithstanding Imran’s bold words, the mood across Pakistan’s ordinary households remains lacklustre at best and despondent at worst.
The year about to end hasn’t been all without its moments of glory for Imran and his team, as Pakistan has battled one major issue after another. The year began with escalating tensions with India following a terrorist attack on paramilitary troops in India-administered Kashmir.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi first accused Pakistan-based militants of carrying out the attack and then ordered what New Delhi claimed as an air-raid inside Pakistan on a supposed terrorist training camp.
However, Pakistan scored substantive points on the foreign policy front when it shot down an Indian fighter plane and captured its pilot.
Imran has repeatedly promised to target graft across all layers of society, notably Pakistan’s political class. A wider fallout has been the resultant uncertainty surrounding some of Pakistan’s mainstream businesses, which has clearly created the impression that the government is determined to target affluent businessmen
Imran’s decision to eventually return the Indian pilot unharmed, brought recognition for a mature handling of the crisis. Other areas of foreign policy where Imran’s government successfully scored points included improving ties with the United States as Washington sought to scale down its military commitment to Afghanistan-an almost impossible outcome without Pakistan’s help.
But India’s decision to remove a special autonomous status for its Jammu and Kashmir state in August prompted Pakistan’s prompt diplomatic reaction built upon reaching out to major international forums in protest.
Though the full impact of Pakistan’s diplomacy is yet to unfold, recent turmoil within India over changes in its citizenship laws, by default, has given a moral high ground to Islamabad. At the very least, Imran and his government can divert part of the attention from domestic challenges towards the regression widely seen to be coming from Delhi.
Yet, time has proven that there was no substitute to meeting Pakistan’s domestic challenges. The country’s economic trends for the past year have unleashed worrying consequences. Anecdotal evidence suggests growing unemployment coinciding with an economic slowdown, following Pakistan’s latest loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund worth $6 billion signed in July this year.
Meanwhile, a record devaluation of the Rupee in the past two to three years has fuelled inflation across Pakistan. Its therefore not surprising that rising prices of items of daily use has become the single biggest sore point on the streets.
In tandem with these trends, Imran’s government continues to be surrounded with policy gaps in key areas, notably the agricultural sector that directly or indirectly caters to half of Pakistan’s population.
Notably this year, a profound failure to adequately assist farmers in Pakistan’s cotton belt following a locust attack ultimately led to widespread losses to cotton producers. Meanwhile, an underperformance of the rice crop and a failure by the government to adequately raise the price paid to farmers for the wheat crop, together widened the crisis surrounding Pakistan’s farm economy.
At the same time, the urban economy continued to reel under the impact of wider uncertainty caused by the government’s push with its anti- corruption agenda. Imran has repeatedly promised to target graft across all layers of society, notably Pakistan’s political class. A wider fallout has been the resultant uncertainty surrounding some of Pakistan’s mainstream businesses, which has clearly created the impression that the government is determined to target affluent businessmen.
In brief, while there was much bravado by way of initiating ‘tabdeeli’ or change under Imran’s government, Pakistan remains on the same trajectory as before. Across ordinary households, Pakistan’s present and future outlook reflects more of the country’s past. The disconnect between Imran’s ambitious promises and the broad reality of Pakistan as witnessed through the prism of everyday life is essentially where lies the challenge of reforming the country.
Amid this ‘more of the same’ type trend, Imran’s biggest challenge remains two-fold. On the one hand, he must turn a new page in reforming Pakistan where it matters the most — the average household.
On the other hand, it is also essential that Pakistan’s ruling structure sets aside its obsession with nailing down the country’s political opposition. In the ultimate analysis, Imran and the performance of his government will be judged by their ability to truly mark a new beginning for a country where the promise of change is still waiting to be translated in real life.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.