Moving beyond 2017

The year 2016 passed without any possible reversal of democratic transition – which was being desperately sought – and we enter 2017 with the hope to move ahead and consolidate the representative system via elections in 2018 after the completion of the term of yet another elected government. A great leap forward indeed in a state of ‘martial rule’. However, instead of being complacent, critical reflection is required to move ahead.

Except for the regional and international isolation that peaked in 2016 and the dust storm raised on the Panama leaks, Pakistan moved ahead on most crucial counts, including the war against terrorism, some crucial macroeconomic indicators, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and grand infrastructure advancement, including on energy.

The war against domestic terrorism went ahead with terrorist acts being reduced by three-fourths and the situation in Karachi improving by over 90 percent on three major counts – although street crime has increased. The insurgency in Balochistan, however, awaits a concerted and serious effort to politically address Baloch grievances, as the counter-insurgency strategy is now facing diminishing returns.

A more rigorous implementation of the National Action Plan is required in areas that remained neglected, such as banning outlawed sectarian and violent outfits (including LeJ, LeT and JeM) madressah and syllabus reforms, strictly prohibiting the use of Pak territory for cross-border terrorism, improvement in investigation, prosecution and judicial processes and developing an alternative democratic narrative to counter violent extremist/sectarian narrative, etc.

After the completion of the last IMF programme, the economy – according to Forbes magazine – is likely to grow close to 6 percent of GDP with the stock exchange breaking all records in the region with a 400 percent increase. Inflation remains at 4 percent and fiscal deficit below 5 percent along with lower interest rates. However, crucial structural vulnerabilities, decline in exports, foreign direct investment and expected rise in debt repayment can jeopardise economic sustainability. Most alarming are the social indicators on almost all counts that show Pakistan to be the worst place to live in for a majority of its people. The real test for the Sharif government is how to bring an end to loadshedding before the next elections. That depends on the completion of some of the power projects which are being projected to produce 10,000MW.

The progress on the CPEC was quite remarkable, particularly after the inclusion of chief ministers from the three smaller provinces. Sindh’s projects of the Keti Bandar Port, Dhabeji industrial zone, three power projects and the Karachi circular rail have been added into the grand project. Even though Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was not well-prepared, the chief minister of the province has come back satisfied with the inclusion of some KP projects into the plan.

All the provinces and specific territories are going to have an industrial estate plus circular railway in the four provincial capitals. But the issues and complaints of the first stakeholder, Balochistan, need to be addressed as a top priority. The CPEC now stands at Rs5700 billion and is likely to further expand. It opens a new era for national economic development and regional economic integration and collaboration. The game-changing economic corridor in the grand One Belt One Road (OBOR) context requires softening of borders as a necessary prerequisite for regional economic integration and progress.

Professor Li Xiguang, China’s leading expert on OBOR, has said that through the CPEC China wants to “bring Central Asian and South Asian countries, like China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Nepal and Sri Lanka together and into one family under one heaven”. He says that “the heartland of Asia, which includes India, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Central Asia and Chinese western provinces actually did not have any artificially (drawn) national borders”, before the British colonialists arbitrarily drew them.

Professor Xiguang has suggested “soft-borders”, including the Karakorum Pass, both sides of Tibet, Srinagar, Ladakh, and wants them to be included as key nodes of OBOR. He has argued for “open borders” instead of military build-up – so that the Chinese, Indians, Kashmiris and Tibetans living in Ladakh can travel freely and resume the old Silk Route through the Karakorum Pass. “We should let the people living in Kashmir and ‘South Tibet’ (‘Arunachal Pradesh’) benefit from OBOR”, the professor emphasised in an interview last Sunday with a Pakistani magazine.

Coincidentally, as civil-military relations move towards convergence, the first good news of the year is that a high-level meeting of the civil-military leadership, headed by the prime minister, reviewed foreign policy and Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours. The meeting resolved to pursue “peaceful co-existence” with the countries of the region to make the CPEC a tool for regional economic integration.

Elaborating the policy shift from confrontation to cooperation, the prime minister has said that: “Peaceful co-existence, mutual respect and economically integrated region must be our shared objective and we must strive for realising this objective. This can be possible only when we demonstrate a commitment to our aspirations of peace, progress and prosperity”. It remains to be seen how far Pakistan will go to address some of the crucial concerns of its immediate neighbours to make the PM’s vision for mutually beneficial regional cooperation a viable proposition.

A few days earlier, in his closed-door interaction with media persons, the national security adviser to the PM had, in fact, listed the necessary remedial measures to overcome Pakistan’s regional and international isolation. If all he said was somehow true, the nation will witness de-escalation of inter-state conflicts and improvement in bilateral relations in the months ahead – depending on how India and Afghanistan respond. Some new initiatives are being anticipated during COAS Gen Qamar Bajwa’s Kabul visit and contacts with India are being expected to be revived after the UP elections in India.

But 2017 has started with the spill over of the Panama case. The Supreme Court’s newly formed bench has started its proceedings, which are expected to be concluded in a shorter time. Whatever the judgement of the apex court, the parties should accept its findings and keep the democratic process on track.

Before moving towards the third phase of the democratic transition, parliament and all parties must agree on the following reforms: electoral reforms to ensure fair and free elections; a comprehensive law for across-the-board accountability of all; establishment of a national security and foreign policy committee of parliament to formulate and scrutinise both foreign and security policies and make all the concerned institutions accountable; implementation of the National Action Plan; and constitutional reforms to make Pakistan a truly tolerant and inclusive country while effectively devolving power at the grassroots level.

The parties should now gear towards formulating the policies that they will present before the electorate. Hopefully, the democratic transition should safely move towards the elections in 2018 in the spirit of the Charter of Democracy and the elections are held freely and fairly on the basis of a new population census.

The writer is a senior journalist. (Email:

(Courtesy- The News)