The recently elected coalition government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) must now struggle to cement its power amid dauntingly high public expectations. In addition to lingering political disputes, among them the recent judiciary controversy and the ongoing conflict with Kashmir, this new government now faces a grave economic situation and a changing political atmosphere in the exterior.
(From Islamabad) AS EXPECTED, AN ELECTED GOVERNMENT has taken office in Pakistan, effective since March 25. On April 1, the new cabinet was sworn in Islamabad. The people were very glad to see this happen. Notwithstanding the tremendous goodwill shown to the new government, the country is faced with daunting challenges much beyond the current capacity of the government. There are various external and internal challenges facing Pakistan.
Pakistan is faced with a serious governance challenge and also a very grave political situation of immense complexity. “The new civilian government is faced with several challenges, and re-establishing civilian rule will obviously take some time” Meanwhile, the economy is not doing that well. As required, the new coalition government of PPP-PMLN is trying to consolidate its power in the country. This is obviously the foremost internal challenge faced by the PPP-PMLN government. It shall not be an easy ride by any measure. General Pervez Musharraf had taken over power in 1999 and, after eight years of the rule, is now reluctantly supporting the new civilian government in power. This new government was a result of the very successful February general elections in Pakistan. The new civilian government is faced with several challenges, and re-establishing civilian rule will obviously take some time. Which are those internal challenges?
“It is important that the new coalition government not fail to deliver according to the very high public expectations” Meanwhile, the economy is not doing that well. The growth targets have been revised downwards to 6 percent, the fiscal deficit is alarming at 6 percent of the GDP, and revenue figures have also been lowered from over Rs (Rupees) 1 trillion to Rs 990 billion. Inflation has climbed from 6 percent even higher to 10 percent, causing great public anxiety. It has been reported that the fiscal deficit may even increase further to 9 percent by June 2008, as a massive overspending of Rs 558 billion has occurred this fiscal year. External debt has increased from $37 billion in 1999 to $42 billion today.
The government plans to generate more revenue from various sources. Contrary to the propaganda of the Musharraf regime, the economic situation is now bad. Serious corrective measures are in order for the new civilian government. It appears that the new government has the resolve to tackle the issue. It is important that the new coalition government not fail to deliver according to the very high public expectations.
UNREST OVER JUDICIARY DEPOSITION
Meanwhile, the lawyers’ movement is actively pushing for the re-instatement of the deposed higher judiciary within thirty days of formation of new government. The earlier ousting of the higher judiciary by Musharraf had greatly shocked the Pakistani public and they voted out the PML (Q) party that was aligned with him in the coming February general elections. The PML (Q) lost badly as a result of popular protest vote.
FACING THE INTERNAL STRUGGLES
The new civilian government has given Pakistanis new hope of a national turnabout, and the new collation government must come up to the expectations of the people of Pakistan. “The people are most concerned about inflation, economic opportunities and the security situation in the country” This can only happen if President Musharraf is sidelined completely. The new civilian leadership is doing well up till now. It is showing statesmanship and prudence as well. Not heading into an immediate confrontation with President Musharraf was a wise move. It would be better for Pakistan that Musharraf is tolerated for some time, till the new PPP-PMLN government is able to consolidate its hold on power.
Musharraf has been discredited and is surely on his way out. He can and should be tolerated a bit more. There are other more important things on the agenda of the new civilian government. The people are most concerned about inflation, economic opportunities and the security situation in the country. “There are increasing signs that the new government means business this time around, and this is good for Pakistan” There is ample empirical evidence available to prove this true. After all, people are most concerned about their own welfare. This is to be expected. The civilian government must move quickly to tame inflation, create jobs and tackle the serious security situation.
The window of opportunity is going to soon close on the new government, and it can be expected that the tremendous goodwill for the PPP-PMLN will evaporate in the next six months or so. The people expect the new government to deliver on what it deems as most significant. There are increasing signs that the new government means business this time around, and this is good for Pakistan.
EXTERNAL CHALLENGES: RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES
“The Bush administration, thankfully, realized that there was no justification for continuing coup-related restrictions on the country” The United States is apparently supporting the new government in many ways. This was to be expected. Given the situation in Afghanistan, the U.S. cannot afford to alienate the new civilian government, and to the credit of the Bush administration, Americans have been showing increasingly good will towards the PPP-PMLN government. It has removed military coup-related restrictions from Pakistan, enabling it to continue to receive the American assistance in the future. The Bush administration, thankfully, realized that there was no justification for continuing coup-related restrictions on the country. Before the notification, Pakistan needed an annual waiver from the White House to continue to receive U.S. assistance.
On March 24, President George Bush issued the last coup-related waiver for Pakistan, certifying that a waiver … would facilitate the transition to democratic rule in Pakistan, and it is important to US efforts to respond to, deter, or prevent acts of international terrorism. “There are speculations in the U.S. and India that Pakistan may have a problem getting a waiver from the next administration, if a Democrat wins the 2008 president election” The waiver asked the US Congress to approve $300 million in security assistance for Pakistan, ignoring the restrictions that prohibit such aid to a country ruled by the military.
Later, a White House spokesman said the Bush administration wanted to support Pakistan’s fight against terrorist groups and to bring terrorists to justice, and that’s why it had issued the waiver. However, the US still had concerns about fundamental civil and political rights in Pakistan, referring to the state of emergency imposed there in November 2007.
These concerns have led to speculations in the U.S. and India that Pakistan may have a problem getting a similar waiver from the next administration, if a Democrat wins the 2008 president election. However, this particular action has put an end to all such speculations as Pakistan will no longer need a waiver–other countries are also showing goodwill to Pakistan. The nation is breathing a sigh of relief and the public mood is upbeat.
THE KASHMIR PROBLEM
The people hope that the new government will appropriate more money to the social sector by cutting defense expenditures. Pakistan does not need such a large military establishment as it seeks peace with India, its erstwhile enemy. Pakistan and India are urged to solve the Kashmir issue, the main stumbling block to peace in the subcontinent.
The enormity of the human tragedy in Kashmir cannot be overstated. During the last 15 years some 60,000 to 70,000 people have lost their lives in the insurgency in Kashmir, and it remains to be seen how fast the two governments move to solve this intractable issue. Given the nature of the territorial dispute, it will not be easy. Only strong governments in both India and Pakistan can possibly be expected to deliver a solution. We hope both leaderships in India and Pakistan will summon the courage to settle the issue once and for all. Only then can there be peace in South Asia.
Meanwhile, the West must seize the moment and come out in support of the new civilian government in a big way. This is expected of it. Pakistan is too important to the security of the West for it to fail in this move. We hope for the best. There are signs that Western powers realize this.
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