190914 karachi
A flooded street in Karachi. The handling of the flooding offered a glaring example of the malaise afflicting the administration. Image Credit: AFP

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday yet again warned against a continuing crackdown in Indian-administered Kashmir, inevitably fuelling Muslim terrorism worldwide as he sought global attention to the issue.

In a repeat of an ongoing exercise to demonstrate national unity on Kashmir every Friday, Imran this time travelled to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir to deliver his message. The standoff between India and Pakistan is a dangerous flashpoint with consequences for regional and international security, particularly since the two nuclear-armed countries are neighbours.

Turning to domestic politics, Imran’s message came a day after Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) protested over reports that the government is preparing to seize control of Karachi, the southern port city and the provincial capital of the PPP’s government in Sindh. Bilawal predicted that Pakistan will be divided into more states, emulating the 1971 secession of former East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh through India’s military intervention if the federal government tightens control over Karachi and Sindh.

Imran and his government appear set to continue ruling over Pakistan, unchallenged by Bilawal or the PPP, as the opposition continues to fail in offering any hope for a promising future.

- Farhan Bokhari, Pakistan commentator

The two leaders presented drastically different views of present-day trends across the country. Irrespective of how the Kashmir dispute will eventually conclude, Imran is right in seeking to unite Pakistanis on a common front. Indeed, a greater sense of national unity will set the pace for a future where Pakistanis could learn to come together on an entire range of national issues.

Areas in urgent need of attention across the country are far too many to be discussed. The country’s economy not only suffers from challenges in visible areas such as the effects of a swollen national debt, dangerously sluggish investment trends and economic growth standing almost at par with the annual population growth.

The effects of these trends are much too visible to be ignored across Pakistan’s households, notably homes of the country’s poorest of the poor. Leaders including Imran have noted the alarmingly visible and powerful reality of underaged kids suffering from stunted growth. This is due to widespread malnutrition in poverty-stricken parts of Pakistan.

Share prosperity

To overcome such challenges, the crisis of governance that prevails across the country has to be tackled. Although recent statistics such as overall economic growth were more promising, the divide between Pakistan’s rich and poor will remain unchanged. Ultimately, a sound and progressive economic framework must be based on at least part of the income prosperity being shared by a wider community of the population.

When recent monsoon rains caused flooding in parts of Karachi, the city’s government, as well as the provincial government of Sindh, failed miserably in tackling the situation. Water-borne ailments started to appear in low-income areas of Karachi where water stagnated. The stench from blocked sewage drains added to the growing health scares, and traffic disruption continued for several days.

Meanwhile, Bilawal’s warning must be taken with a huge pinch of salt. He has spent much time and energy targeting the top national anti-corruption body, the National Accountability Bureau. The bureau is investigating charges of chronic corruption against his father, former president Asif Ali Zardari and his aunt Faryal Talpur.

Similar investigations also targeted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Mariam, both of whom are in jail. Opposition leaders like Bilawal continue to agitate for shackling an institution like the bureau, rather than pursuing the creation of an alternative mechanism.

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It was therefore hardly surprising that Bilawal opted to use the outlandish possibility of Pakistan coming apart, to attack the government. Notwithstanding the country’s history surrounding Bangladesh, the case in the early 1970s clearly stands far apart from trends surrounding present-day Pakistan.

It is hard to imagine separatists in parts of Pakistan successfully mobilising centrifugal forces to create new independent states. In Sindh which is the supposed to be Zardari's home turf, nationalists who would press for a separate state have clearly weakened over time. In Balochistan, the southwestern province used by Bilawal as another example of an area going its own way, the separatists are no longer a force.

Over the next decade or so, Balochistan will likely see prosperity emanating from projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor in the province. It will inevitably lift the quality of life in one of the most deprived regions. And the impetus fuelling present-day divisive forces will die out.

Meanwhile, Bilawal and his PPP need to focus more on vital national issues. In recent weeks during his tour of the country, Bilawal’s central message was on the investigations against his family members.

Even if Imran’s handling of key national issues may have no takers, the opposition is hardly an alternative. Going forward, Imran and his government appear set to continue ruling over Pakistan, unchallenged by Bilawal or the PPP, as the opposition continues to fail in offering any hope for a promising future.

— Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.