The year 2018 was one rollercoaster driver filled with jubilation, awe, horror and anticipation. There haven’t been many like that in our history.
2018 was a year where Pakistan’s establishment seemed determined to break free of the mistakes of the past and offer a yet new purpose and direction to the, however instable, democracy.
Above all Pakistanis welcomed the new PTI government. The Kaptaan, as Imran Khan is famously dubbed, mesmerized the political scene for the last many years with his hardline approach against the corrupt, status quo governments. PTI managed to attract a majority of the young voters to the fore with their promises of Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) with social justice and equal opportunities. Whether they retain the attention of the young Pakistanis who need access to opportunities remains to be seen.
Accountability of the political party heads was a major headway in 2018. In an unprecedented manner the country saw that the powerful can also be held accountable and pay a price for their wrongdoings. The courts made sure that Sharif and Tareen could be barred from entering politics for their deceitful financial claims.
While PTI government was criticised for its tough financial budgetary steps, they were successful in raising some funds from Pakistan’s international allies. The government, though backtracked on the no-loan promise, tried to minimize loans from international monetary organisations.
It was a year of judicial activism and the Chief justice Squib Nisar took many initiatives on governance related issues and addressed the woes of the masses. Dam Fund was one such initiative that became popular. However, his attention on water mafia in Karachi remained short-lived.
The government’s initiative of making Kartarpur border operational was a strategic step.
Horrors that continued to haunt day-to-day life included the countrywide reception of Asia Bibi verdict in the false blasphemy case by fundamentalist groups. The TLP-led campaign disrupted life in the major cities and cost considerable public-private damage. The government, however, minimized the intensity of the protests by barring media from reporting the national crises. Much later government actions of keeping Khadim Hussain Rizvi and other actors of TLP under house arrest and keeping the party from participating in the polls in Karachi were some good steps but it remains to be seen if the government’s interest lies in eradicating such power wielders for good.
The words U-turns remained at the centre of the national discourse. Whether it is a bad sign; damaging for government’s resolve, or good; indicating flexibility of the government needs definition.
The fact that Asia Bibi was not allowed to leave the country because of the pressure from the religious factions, and the hesitation to award similarly hard punishments to the wrongful accusers of blasphemy were some weak stances taken by the PTI government.
The government stood down its decision, under pressure from the religious groups, to include Atif Mian, a prominent economist from Princeton University as an economic advisor disgruntled many thinking Pakistanis.
Austerity drive by the government also went lopsided despite the fact that the PM decided against using PM house for residential purposes, the government officials continued to travel lavishly. PM Khan also spent most of his energy on visiting international friends to garner economic support despite his vocal disdain for the travelling PM in the past.
The first six months of the government and PM’s public and parliamentary addresses were criticised by political analysts for its likeness to opposition leader’s rhetoric. Most Pakistanis are not sure that they buy into the positive U-turn philosophy and anticipate strong actions from the PTI leadership if Pakistan has to take a new position in the world.
Among the things the PTI government could concentrate on would be economic stability. The rising dollar prices may make Pakistani goods appear desirable in the foreign markets, but the losses incurred upon industry and exports and the financial ripple effect of petroleum and energy and household budget has crippled many consumers in the country whose earnings are under Rs 25,000 per month.
To gain credibility and respect the PTI government could work in earnest to ease the financial woes of the poor masses, make all powerful accountable, take a strong stance to ensure protection and emancipation for all religious minorities. Above all the government must allow the media practitioners to work freely without any pressures.