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Is There a Way Out?

General Musharraf should be aware that the state of economy is so precarious that it will crumble under the shock of default. But he has been reluctant to make certain 'concessions', such as on the CTBT, agree to certain realistic adjustments on an aggressive posture in foreign policy and take some manageable measures to contain the freedom of movement of our holy warriors or maintaining a minimum deterence and a total roll-back. The choice is not between the ligitimate support to the Kashmir cause and abandoning it.

A kind of stalemate at both domestic and international fronts has emerged. Islamabad is finding it difficult to broker a substantial financial bailout package with the multi-donors who continue to suspect its credentials and share the apprehensions of the investors. Despite its policy of engagement, the international community doesn't feel encouraged in allowing some room to the Musharraf government to maneuver a way out of isolation. With economy and governance not responding to its recipes, the military government is increasingly getting into conflict with the civil side and the political forces across all divides in a tenuous federation. Is there a way out?

Should we go for default, as being suggested by a whole lot of amateurish 'radicals' from within the establishment and without? Is there any solid basis for taking a course of almost defiance on even minimal adjustments on some of our strategic overtones being asked by the world community to stabilise nuclear regime and contain the terrorist menace that actually poses a threat to the writ of the state? Is not it in Pakistan's interest to remove certain apprehensions of the world community, seek a mid-term financial bailout package, sign the CTBT, contain outlaws, set our own house in order and bring in a transitory civil arrangement for fruitful mediation with the world and a clear roadmap for the restoration of democracy?

No doubt General Pervez Musharraf, a reasonable marl, has done what was possible of a military regime not in tune with a post-cold war world. While institutionally representing one-sided military aspect of our security concern, he could not show flexibility on certain foreign policy counts, although the economic imperatives demanded so. He distinguished his regime for "Kashmir and nothing else" policy and endorsement of jihad in the disputed territory as state policy not favoured by a world that was once sympathetic to the just cause of the Kashmiris. Although his offer for a dialogue with India "any time any where" exposed India's untenable obstinacy, it was also seen as a ploy in the absence of a commitment to the Lahore process that was derailed by the Kargil misadventure.

Despite agreeing in principle to sign a non-discriminatory CTBT, the regime has continued to drag its feet behind the facade of creating a national consensus. Given the ongoing tension in the region, necessary measures could also not be taken to stabilise the nuclear regime as agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding signed at Lahore. The concerns of the international community against rising terrorism continued to keep Pakistan in a bad light and helped create an unholly alliance against Islamabad, since some cosmetic measures could not help alleviate strong apprehensions. The disadvantages, such as on "terrorism", Taliban, destabilisation and proliferation, could not be 'advantageously' used to get out of international isolation. They were, erroneously, taken as something to hoodwink others or to play on the weakness of sobriety. This has obviously not worked and is now backfiring.

The recession was so deep and fiscal and financial deficits so high that no short-term measure could revive the real potential of the economy. Certain fiscal measures, such as documentation and extension of GST to retail stage, although necessary, could not help overcome recession, especially when the accountability drive pushed the potential investors out. Thanks to combination of factors, such as continuing row with the HUBCO, a precarious state of external account, poor financial rating and not so good law and order situation, investors' confidence could not be revived. Neither could privatisation take off, nor could non-productive expenditure sufficiently curtailed to create sufficient fiscal space for the required level of Public Sector Development Programme to kick-start the economy.

The institutional limitations, financial constraints, protracted recession, state of regional confrontation, international isolation and the multiplicity of crises, coupled with despondency prevailing among the masses, were some of the factors that further constrained the initiative of the self-righteous reformers. The problems that accompany a military takeover, such as putting the constitution in abeyance, replacing federation with unitary rule, suspension of the Parliament, subordination of judiciary to PCO and alienation of civil society, make the job of governance too much autocratic and estranged to tackle complex and sensitive issues.

The increasing expansion and extension of the armed forces to every civil sector, and from top to bottom, causes an enormous displacement and structural overlapping, instead of setting things on an institutional basis to put the house in order. As the gulf increases between the commanding garrison and a marginalised civil side, despondency sets into motion a wave of cynicism beyond the control of too-distant rulers. The political void could not be filled with quasi-civil cabinets and could not be substituted by monitoring cells. The political compulsion to pass the onus to the disposed political paraphernalia caused immense distraction from the pretext of proposed 'mission'. And an accountability drive against all those who matter in the main stread of politics, and not extended to sacred cows as demanded by the zealots, annoyed both the (for and against) camps of the NAB.

No doubt the system of political patronage came to an end, but there was nothing that could replace that in a political void. However, you may accuse the political system, it does pull multiple social forces, for or against, into a dynamic interaction at various levels that keeps social class and ethnic regions in the mainstream of governance. By driving everybody out in the wilderness, the military regime has actually created the ideal conditions for a broadest platform for the revival of democracy. The erstwhile revivals have been forced to join hands in what is being seen as an increasing divide between the khaki and the mufti. So far there is no big case of corruption against the Sharif's and who doesn't know how Ms Bhutto was sentenced in an alleged corruption case. Not only that the regional/ethnic nationalist forces have been provided solid reasons to get bitter and active in the absence of a modicum of autonomy. Exploiting the political void to their advantage, the religious parties have also become increasingly restive to extract maximum concessions and push the regime into confrontation with the whole world.

After more than a year in power, the regime has actually nothing to show in palpable terms to the people. Despite losing much of the credibility reservoir, it is not yet eager to engage the major stakeholders, especially the political parties, in major decision-making processes. Its plan for devolution, instead of involving political parties and making them busy with at least local government elections, has effectively shut the doors of local body politics on them. A sustained effort at creating anew bunch of apolitical opportunists at the cost of ousting the political parties from the grassroots has raised serious apprehensions about the future designs of this government.

Now the regime is standing at the cross-roads. It cannot postpone important decisions, nor can it continue to prolong Islamabad's isolation while keeping the political process held-up to the whims of NRB. Desperateness at the prospects of limitations of, or no, choices and miscalculation based on stubbornness can lead to adventurous decisions. Those who have been arguing in May 1998 that tit-for-tat-nuclear explosions will not make us financially vulnerable are again active to suggest default without knowing its devastating fallout for a most dependent economy. The decision can be taken if some Sanchopanzas think that sustainability of the economy has got nothing to do with the survival of the nation and its legitimate defense. This may, rather, turn out to be the last nail in the coffin of the defiance syndrome.

General Musharraf should be aware that the state of economy is so precarious that twill crumble under the shock of default. But he has been reluctant to make certain 'concessions', such as on the CTBT, agree to certain realistic adjustments on an aggressive posture in foreign policy and take some manageable measures to contain the freedom of movement of our holy warriors or maintaining a minimum deterence and a total roll-back. The choice is not between the ligitimate support to the Kashmir cause and abandoning it. It is between the survival of state and disorder being perpetuated by the terrorists both within and without. And option is also between sustaining the economy and defying the world. On the home front, the regime has alienated most of the political forces to a point that it has lost the necessary qualification to mediate or arbiter among the contending forces. The future of the federation and the constitutional frame is under threat and there is no buffer in between the army and the people.

At the critical juncture, a turning point has come. Pakistan needs a civilian regime for credible mediation with the world to get out of isolation and strike a reasonable quid pro quo. A neutral regime that can work as a buffer at home for a non-acrimonious transition to democracy with a clear roadmap backed by national consensus. Can't it be a caretaker government of reconciliation, moderation, mediation, and transition-to-democracy that should be led by a credible personality of international repute backed by the armed forces with General Musharraf as President?
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Author:Alam, Imtiaz
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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