By Guest Writer
Pakistan appears to be rotting from within.
The Pakistani economy is in a tailspin. Unemployment rates are soaring. The rupee has depreciated by more than a third over the last year and is now hovering around 160 to a dollar. The condition of the country is now so bad that milk and petrol are selling at the same price! Parents have to decide whether to drive their children to school or to feed them. Polio, a deadly disease which was eradicated from the rest of the world, has, like terrorists, found a safe refuge in Pakistan. Both wreak havoc upon ordinary Pakistanis. In fact, with the export of goods and services plummeting, polio and terrorism have now emerged as Pakistan’s key exports.
Going back to the IMF for the umpteenth time has not helped either. The treasury coffers remain empty and the current account deficit is at an all-time high. Imploring “friends” to bail out an economy tail spinning into chaos not only did not help restore normalcy but also devalued Pakistan as a strategic partner. A country going around begging with cap in hand does not inspire confidence among regional and world powers! But all of this seems a little too difficult for Imran Khan to comprehend.
Naya Pakistan is on life support because of his lacklustre leadership and the indifference of the Pakistan Army.
Imran Khan has proven to be a damp squib in foreign affairs too. His bid to curry favour with President Trump on aid and Kashmir has failed miserably. No major international organisation or country has accepted his narrative on Kashmir. Even ‘all-weather friend’, China has publicly advocated for bilateral talks with India on Kashmir, while the Islamic fraternity has looked the other way. He has failed to achieve detente with Afghanistan, actively aiding and abetting several groups in Afghanistan including the Taliban to gain elusive leverage vis-à-vis the United States.
It is not just that the economy and foreign affairs are a total shambles. Things are not looking much better in domestic politics either. Balochistan, Sindh and south Punjab are up in arms against the PTI for excessive repression and ill-conceived efforts at homogenisation. The Baloch groups have united to mount effective operations against the Pakistani army, the attack on Chinese in Gwadar and killing of naval personnel being the initial consequences of this partnership. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which is fighting for justice for the displaced Pashtuns, has proven to be resilient in face of overwhelming odds due to fearless and articulate young leaders including Manzoor Pashteen and his colleagues who have effortlessly filled the vacuum left behind by the arrest of its prominent leaders.
Most mainstream politicians are behind bars in prison after having been hounded by the NAB, and the rest have vowed to humiliate Imran Khan both in and outside the Parliament. They are being led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
When Imran Khan or ‘Niazi’ as he is now known, was ushered in as the prime minister by the military, it was with the recognition that the military could not directly rule the country.
General Qamar Bajwa, whose ‘Bajwa doctrine’ was meant to be a panacea for Pakistan’s ills, felt that Imran would make an ideal Manchurian candidate. He was a novice in handling government affairs, always having been on the other side of the fence. He was a well-known cricketer and had dabbled with the Taliban in his early days as a politician. His popularity with the masses and inexperience in politics are what got him selected in the rigged elections of 2018.
However, his policy failures and adamant stand against continuing CPEC projects have put him on a collision course with the Army. Gen Bajwa is in no mood to put up with any politician who derails his Bajwa doctrine. This doctrine, which was supposed to make him the statesman of the country, conjures up an imaginary Pakistan which is not a nuisance to any of its neighbours, for a change! The doctrine also calls for a balance while dealing with world powers and focuses on correcting the economic mismanagement within the country. However, Gen Bajwa rejects the Eighteenth Amendment which grants considerable autonomy to its provinces and is keen on mainstreaming of selected jihadis. Imran Khan’s impulsive policies have made a mockery out of the Bajwa doctrine. To protect his legacy, Bajwa has taken the first step by granting himself an extension of three years. This passed public muster due to heightened tensions with arch-enemy India. However, the next step of changing the premiership will have to be more gradual.
Winds of change are already blowing in Islamabad. Imran Khan just might be on his way out. It’s now a question of when rather than if! Imran is his own enemy and his impulsive approach to policymaking has left behind a trail of wreckage that is more than sufficient to ease him out. But perhaps his September 27 address to the UN General Assembly will seal his fate. His speech is unlikely to rescue Pakistan’s fast sinking equity in Kashmir and that in itself would most likely justify his removal. Since his exit is just a matter of time, people have already begun to wonder, who next?
Some prominent names in the offing are Sheikh Rashid, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhary and Fazl ur Rehman. Sheikh Rashid and Fawad Chaudhary have already soiled their reputations in public by resorting to below-the-belt remarks against their political opponents. Their belligerent nuclear sabre-rattling has not gone down well with the army, wary of riling their larger neighbour to the east. Fazl ur Rehman would have been a better choice had he not publicly humiliated the Pakistan Army and reminded them of the 1971 surrender. Also, he is too much of a fundamentalist for the Pakistan Army to consider propping him up. It would be bad optics in the international arena.
That leaves behind Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi has a personality more suited for the premiership of the nation. He hails from a distinguished family of sajjada nasheens, administering the Bahauddin Zakariya shrine, one of the largest in south Punjab. He is a Punjabi Muslim, as opposed to Imran Khan’s Pashtun roots. His father was the governor of Punjab during Gen Zia ul Haq’s time, making him much more acceptable to the army. His family claims descent from the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet (PBUH) which makes him a strong contender for the top post in Pakistan’s Islamic society. He has done stints with both the PML-N and PPP and seems to be the only leader capable of taking the entire political spectrum along with him on a number of difficult political challenges facing the country. He can affect reconciliation with both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, bringing about much-needed stability to Pakistani politics.
He has had extensive experience as an administrator, both when he was mayor of Multan and as the country’s foreign minister. The people of Multan still remember him fondly because of his development projects. In fact, he was billed as a potential prime ministerial candidate in both 2002 and 2008 with the backing of Asif Zardari, but lost out to Yousuf Raza Gillani, on account of internecine politics. Today, as vice president of PTI, he commands considerable clout. He is widely considered to be one of the few people capable of bringing about the birth of the long-promised South Punjab province. In fact, he was said to have been close to Hafiz Saeed at one time. This implies that he can potentially manage the violence of the terrorist groups, most of which have a major presence in south Punjab.
In his previous incarnation as foreign minister, he had considerable success. He was instrumental in resuming the long-stalled Indo-Pak dialogues, started a strategic dialogue with the United States and helped procure much-needed aid from them. He also managed to improve relations with the Afghans and is considered pro-western and moderate by the international community. Domestically, he is the one person in Pakistani politics whose vision and deeds match the tenets of the Bajwa doctrine. If one listens to his speeches carefully, even on the Kashmir issue, he differs significantly with PTI’s line.
Imran Khan has promised to halt the entire country for half an hour every Friday in ‘solidarity’ with Kashmir, evoking angry reactions from the already harassed public. His motto of ‘Kashmir banayga Pakistan’ has not found many takers. However, Shah Mehmood Qureshi has focused on the independence of Kashmir from both countries.In his latest appearance in Multan on September 17, he again said that Kashmiris required independence, but was forced to later chant ‘Kashmir banayga Pakistan’ to avoid embarrassing the prime minister. He still feels that the Kashmir issue can be resolved through the legal channels and in his speech on the same day exhorted the Indian Supreme Court to step up to the job.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi can be the ideal prime minister for Pakistan if he could shun the company of a few, whom he considers close advisers, most prominent among them being Munir Akram, an ex-ambassador to the United Nations.
Munir is distrusted and is said to be the brain behind a number of gaffes, most prominent and recent being at the UN Human Rights Council where Mr Qureshi followed by Imran Khan, very confidently proclaimed that all 58 countries had supported Pakistan on Kashmir in the council. This figure, as per confirmed information from credible sources, was supplied by Munir Akram. It later turned out to be a huge public embarrassment when it was found that the council comprises only 47 members! Very awkward!
He has also influenced Qureshi to state in public that Pakistan has put pressure on India on the Kashmir issue. Munir Akram is very dismissive of major Gulf countries, calling them “small and insignificant” This issue came to the fore when he was asked about the awarding of the Order of Zaid to Prime Minister Modi of India by the UAE.
His personal views on Kashmir are reputedly very different from what he proposes to the current foreign minister. In an interview with a Pakistani news channel, he said that article 370 was India’s internal issue.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi is seen right now as Pakistan’s best bet, with a good family background and understanding of foreign affairs, governance and agricultural issues. An amiable man and an exceptional speaker, he is fluent in English, Urdu, Punjabi and Seraiki, he can develop the diversity of Pakistan. If he is allowed to assume the top mantle by the army, he is capable of restoring confidence in Pakistan as a strategic partner and steadying the economy. Imran Khan’s antics have plunged the country into unimaginable depths. It’s time a new team and approach took over.