The following mention appeared in The Express Tribune on April 12, 2023, at the following link
The removal of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in the penultimate year of its five-year tenure was an unwise move, as the ruling coalition’s first year in office has turned out to be a complete disaster, political experts believe.
Several among the political intelligentsia, who were approached by The Express Tribune, rated the performance of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led coalition government as “abysmal” as all its promises before taking the office fell flat on its face.
In April last year, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), that also included the PML-N, besides other allied parties including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), successfully voted out the PTI government led by its Chairman Imran Khan.
After the removal of Imran through the no-confidence motion – the first ever in the history of the country – Shehbaz was sworn in as the prime minister on April 11, 2022. On the other hand, Imran launched an aggressive onslaught against the government.
Though the government has survived Imran’s onslaught and is so far, able to prevent the country defaulting on its debt payments, the experts believe, completing one year amid political, economic, and judicial impasse is nothing short of an “achievement” in itself.
The PML-N led coalition government had come to power on the promise of ending economic instability and containing inflation but in fact the government’s promises fell flat amid a series of political, economic, and legal challenges.
“In my opinion, a year of PDM in office has been a complete disaster,” renowned political expert Zaigham Khan summed up the one-year performance of the 13-party coalition at the Centre. Not only the ruling coalition failed at the economic front, but things also slipped out of their hands politically, as they have become “very unpopular” at the end of their first year,” Zaigham Khan continued.
The PDM, which was the opposition alliance last year and now the mainstay of the ruling coalition, had frequently lashed out at the PTI-led coalition government, especially, over runaway inflation. But under its government, the inflation topped 35.4% in March.
Recently, it was reported that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned that Pakistan was at a dire risk because of low foreign exchange reserves, projecting the highest inflation and the second lowest economic growth in the country among the comity of 46 Asian nations.
“If you go chronologically, Pakistan was in serious financial crisis when the PML-N-led coalition government took over as the 7th and 8th review of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme was stalled, while a huge current account deficit was piling up coupled with a large fiscal deficit,” Zaigham said.
In the first few months, he maintained, they did their bid; former finance minister Miftah Ismail was proactive; the IMF programme was put on rails again. But, he added, it had a political cost for the PDM, particularly, for the PML-N as was clear from different by elections.
“That’s where they went wrong as they brought Ishaq Dar back and made him the finance minister,” Zaigham opined. Soon the IMF programme was derailed; the country’s financial situation deteriorated as the government tried to keep the dollar rate in check and, resultantly, the whole economy tumbled, he added.
Apart from economic turmoil, he noted, the government became “very unpopular” as they couldn’t manage the situation politically as things slipped out of their hands.
“Pakistan is facing a poly-crisis where the three pillars of the State are at daggers drawn.”
Stressing that “we mustn’t forget the overall situation of the last four to five years”, Zaigham noted that Pakistan’s situation had deteriorated, while the bureaucracy failed to help manage governance and their delivery was hugely affected.
“Even keeping that situation in view,” he concluded, “their [coalition government’s] performance has been abysmal”.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) president, also holds a similar view.
“The decision to remove Imran Khan through a vote of no confidence just 16 months before the expiry of his term was an unwise one,” he said.
The decision was driven partly by fear of Imran’s strong-arm tactics and possible appointment of former spymaster Lt Gen [now retired] Faiz Hameed, who had the reputation of being a staunch supporter of Imran, as the new chief of army staff (COAS).
The expert noted that the surge in Imran’s support after he was driven out of the power corridors was anticipated as had been the case with all those removed artificially and prematurely in the past, including late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
“Managing an unwieldy coalition of 13 parties for a full year under extremely difficult circumstances defined by unprecedented economic crisis, security crisis, political crisis and now judicial crisis is probably an achievement in itself,” he added.
Mehboob acknowledged that Pakistan had so far avoided the worst outcome in an economic situation that is the default.
“The government has also withstood an aggressive onslaught of Imran Khan and his very effective communication strategy,” he said, adding that the communication of the federal government had been “extremely weak and ineffective”.
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The Pildat chief expressed the fear that it seemed that the worst was not yet over and the country might face tougher times ahead. “The confrontation with the Supreme Court may help the popularity of the coalition because in the present-day Pakistan, confrontation helps, no matter how unreasonable it is.”
As the government struggles to find solutions to the complex problems, both the experts were anxious to see whether the government would be able to regain the trust of the people by delivering on its promises before the country went to elections this year.
For the time being, the government remained mired in political wrangling, with little progress made on important issues over the past year