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Autumn already?

LAHORE: Islamabad feels like autumn, which is bizarre because it is monsoon season these days. The mood seems to have enveloped the government, the opposition as well as its screaming but increasingly irrelevant media.

The PTI government has completed its first year and its only claim to fame is that it still is in power formally. The prime minister said so last week when he uttered these words: "They mock me for my U-turns but look, I still made it to premiership while my opponents are in jail." These words clearly showed what Imran Khan's idea of a political legacy is.

Gone are his pledges of making the country economically stronger, corruption-free, with hundreds of billions of dollars being invested in Pakistan by foreign investors as well as overseas Pakistanis, people coming from other countries looking for jobs and the value of the green passport soaring. Forgotten are his promises of Pakistan gaining respectability in the international community due to its clean and competent political leadership. So are the dreams of 10 million new jobs and five million new houses.

The biggest bombshell this week was a report claiming that Pakistan had achieved fiscal deficit of 8.9 percent (a record Rs3.45 trillion) of the GDP, the highest ever in recorded history. This happened under Prime Minister Imran Khan and his new team of economic advisors. The news comes on the heels of the first quarter of the IMF program approaching, which consisted of the commitment of restricting primary deficit to 0.6 percent. The record fiscal deficit highlights the government's failure in controlling expenses and increasing revenues despite endless speeches and hollow talks on austerity.

Prominent economic reporter Shahbaz Rana noted, "The PTI government spent 20 percent more than last year but its total revenues were six percent lower than the preceding year. Debt and defence spending consumed Rs3.23 trillion or 80 percent of federal government revenues."

The latest embarrassment for Imran's administration is its foreign policy manoeuvres as it attempts to find a peaceful solution of the Kashmir dispute. Soon after the July meeting in the White House between Imran Khan and Donald Trump, the Indian government ended autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, which it had enjoyed for more than seven decades. India effectively broke it into two parts and downgraded the status to union territories.

In the aftermath of the August 5 de-operationalising of the Article 370 of the Indian constitution and the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, no country has taken a stand with Pakistan. Even China, while sympathising with Pakistan and arranging a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council without any action, actually protested against Indian action of declaring Ladakh as the union territory "as it affected their national sovereignty."

If there were any hopes for Pakistan for some face saving on Kashmir, they were dashed as the G-7 summit concluded. In the joint press conference during G-7, Trump supported Modi's handling of the dispute. It seemed as if Modi had persuaded him that everything was under control and no mediation was required. The second bolt from the blue was the White House statement this week declaring India a "critical partner for peace in Afghanistan" as the final peace deal in Doha appears more visible. The confidence building between Taliban and the US seems to have entered an advanced stage. Earlier the cabal of Pakistani defence analysts were rejoicing on national TV that Pakistan had thrown India out of the final settlement in the Afghan end game. The recent crowning of Modi by UAE and Bahrain has completed Pakistan's isolation even within the Islamic bloc. A frustrated Imran Khan, instead of internationalising, has actually internalised the Kashmir dispute by asking Pakistanis to support the cause at all levels. The latest address to the nation proves beyond that Pakistan stands in the Cul-de-sac with no real workable options left. Proxies, diplomatic offensives, conventional and non-conventional wars are not an option anymore.

If there is any saving grace for Pakistan on the current Kashmir fiasco, where over eight million Kashmiris are quite literally living in a cage without any communication tools, it is the international and independent Indian media which have successfully highlighted the miseries of Kashmiri people and has also truly internationalised the human rights situation in the valley. The Pakistani government and media regularly quotes them to strengthen their narrative.

The opposition is not doing great either. After the embarrassing defeat in their attempt to remove Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on August 1, the parties are licking their wounds and have not come up with any alternative plan. There is no word on the inquiry announced to hold defectors who ditched them during the no-confidence vote against the Senate chairman. Shehbaz Sharif is nursing his back while Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is busy with his organisational visits. There is no clear understanding on what the opposition wants. While Maulana Fazalur Rehman wants dissolution of current assemblies and fresh elections, major parties like the PPP and the PML-N are not in harmony with this plan. The parties are conspicuous by their silence over the full term extension given to COAS General Bajwa. It is clear that the opposition's silence exudes their hope that as General Bajwa's next term begins, Imran Khan will no longer enjoy the same carte blanche in suppressing opposition and the media.

Gagging of voices on the media continues and moguls have accepted their new shackles. The slave electronic media and the cabal of obedient TV anchors are trudging through censorship decrees as and when they are issued. The gags and their acceptability have created a bizarre situation as the people at large no longer consider mainstream media credible. People searching for trustworthy news and analyses about Pakistan are fast switching to online media - blogs and V-logs and multiple social media platforms. In the failing decade-long project democracy, the media has turned out to be its own swan song.
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Publication:Friday Times of Pakistan (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Aug 31, 2019
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