Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pakistani Election

Results are not final and it will be a while before dust settles. So all this blogging is 'provisional' only.

It was a forgone conclusion that PPP would be thrown out of power. The state in which Pakistan as a nation finds itself - most public institutions broken, inability of Pakistani Army to spare resources for nation building, as like India Pakistani economy completely hobbled by Corruption and scant progress in eradicating feudal social structure decades after independence - it would have been hard for any single political party to bring about change in one term. I am not justifying PPP and its governance. Obviously, it was relatively an incompetent government. Day to day suffering of people would have hardly made Pakistani Voters to appreciate the fact that PPP government completed its full term. So it was very much expected that the first thing voters would do is throw away PPP.

The question of the election has been to what an extent Imran Khan would pull down Nawaz Sharif in becoming third time Prime Minister of Pakistan. Seems like Nawaz Shariff has pulled off this feat and the danger of Imran Khan completely spoiling Sharif's plot seems receding.

Needless to say, for Imran Khan this is a political graduation party. He has emphatically established his presence and presence of his ideas - notably, interest in removing corruption and demanding USA drone attacks on Pakistan soil stop altogether. Clearly it is going to be hard for the new government to allow any further USA drone attacks; at least initially. Obama Administration must be anticipating a strong push back from the new Pakistani Government for the continuation of drone program; if nothing else but for reasons of establishing bonafides of the new regime.

With the presence of resurgent Imran Khan in parliament and continued outside pressure from likes of Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri; Sharif government is bound to be weak. Quite possibly it may fall short of majority and may have to dependent on assortment of smaller parties to survive from one parliamentary session to another like how PV Narasimha Rao Government was in India. 

But exactly as the legacy of PV Narasimha Rao shows, a 'weak government' can make lasting changes too. Dr. Singh under the tutelage of PM Rao embarked Liberalization of Indian Economy and laid the foundation for changes unfolding for next two decades. If Sharif can achieve something like that - he has many of the needed ingredients like his business background - Pakistan can also get out of the grip of a broken economy.

Immediate well being of Pakistani people and stabilizing economy; those are the top priorities for the new government. Imran Khan would have been un-tested Captain there whereas in Sharif you have a seasoned player and captain. Of course he carries his baggage too - not so sterling record against corruption, presence of his younger brother in the party so as Nawaz Sharif attempting dynastic politics, no clarity with regards to how to deal with Pakistani Taliban and other sectarians in the country. No one can expect, in given circumstance, Pakistan to have a 'clean government'; able to solve myriad problems of the country in one single term. What we need from Sharif government is to provide basic stability (which at least PPP did by completing a term), keeping Army back in barracks without sucking all of Pakistan's meager resources, relieving Pakistani people from their current misery and lay the foundation for stronger economy. Problems like modernization of society or addressing endemic inequality; may wait. As economy opens and economic growth kicks in, inequality will actually increase. But all that price will be justified so long as day to day struggles of Pakistani people are addressed - lack of electricity, basic life security from terror attacks, inflation and jobs for people.

One thing going in favor of the new government is across the whole political spectrum, there is no appetite to increase any further tension with India. As Bloomberg Editorial argued in a surprisingly enlightened understanding of the sub-continent; indeed India will be a country to 'tango with'. For America, as her presence decreases in AfPak theater; working through India may have its advantages too though Sharif has friendly relations with American political establishment as well. Sharif's pro-business background and policies should find receptive ears in Republican Party to push aid and other Pakistan supportive policies through Congress. 

In general my sense is new Pakistani Government would not be adventurous in foreign policy area and will be lot engrossed with domestic politics. Pakistan does not need another Kargil. When Pakistani voters come down from the 'high' of effecting a peaceful and historic transfer of power and Pakistani people start facing realities of governance; disappointment is inevitable. It is not going to be easy for the new government to undertake reforms among population which is not necessarily used to do its share. For example - what happens when the new Government attempts to increase  abysmally low income tax collection? That is what IMF will demand when it advances a structural reform linked loan to Pakistan.

Nevertheless, preoccupation of a democratically elected government with its citizens is a good thing though. Pakistanis will be rightfully happy for that and the world will be glad too; a government by the people, for the people - in Pakistan.

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