Categorized | South Asian Politics

Vision 2025 Irrelevant and Distracting

Posted on 28 November 2013 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

Lahore

  Pakistan’s federal government announced on November 22, 2013 that it was launching a plan for socio-economic development and for improving the quality of life for ordinary people under the title of VISION 2025. Its details are to be finalized by the end of December. This project has been initiated by Ahsan Iqbal, federal minister for Planning and Development which aims at giving a development agenda up to year 2025.

 Ahsan Iqbal had launched a similar program “Vision 2010” during the earlier PMLN government, 1997-1999. The PMLN government came to an end in October 1999 and the Vision 2010 became irrelevant. Now, Ahsan Iqbal has returned to the same strategy of selling dreams of a better future.

 The real issue is not the making of a plan but its implementation. What is the guarantee that the present government will survive until 2025 to implant the plan. This project is being launched at a time when Pakistan faces acute internal problems and external pressures. The situation is so uncertain that we cannot confidently talk of what would be the internal situation of Pakistan by the middle 2014, when American and NATO troops would be partly withdrawn. Will Pakistan’s government overcome its policy of inaction and a failure to match performance with promises?

 Currently, the PMLN federal government has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly. The same can be said about its provincial government in the Punjab where it has clear majority in the provincial assembly. Therefore, it does not face any obvious threat to its rule. The opposition is also not in a mood of confronting the PMLN. This gives enough space to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to pursue his political agenda and address the problems that Pakistan faces today.

 Despite the federal government’s political strength it avoids taking firm positions on a number of important issues that causes uncertainty in the political system. The appointment of the new Army Chief and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff was delayed unnecessarily. Normally such key appointments are announced several weeks before the deadline. This delay has amounted to humiliating the top brass of the army who were kept guessing for a long time.

 The federal government needs to set its priorities right. The most difficult problem is Pakistan’s troubled economy, especially the declining foreign exchange reserves, increased current account deficit and a heavy reliance on bank loans to cover official expenditure. The steep price hike of food items and other household goods is hurting every family. These problems are linked with two other problems: energy crisis and internal violence and terrorism.

  In Pakistan, non-state armed groups that use Islam to justify their activities appear to have become so strong that the state avoids confronting them. Consequently, these groups have developed strong roots in Pakistani society and have cultivated support within the state institutions, including the security establishment. Therefore, there is a little attempt to implement the writ of the state in full against the threats by non-state militant Islamic groups that are present in the Punjab, in addition to the tribal areas.

 The notion of primacy of Pakistani state has weakened. Most political leaders and Islamic parties support Pakistan’s sovereignty when it comes to India or the United States. However, when Taliban and other militant Islamic groups challenge the Pakistan and reject its constitution and legal authority, it is not viewed as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

  The narrative of drones violating Pakistan’s sovereignty by the government and other political and Islamic groups is one sided. This is being used to build and cash on anti-U.S. sentiment to make political gains in the Punjab and Khayber-Pakhtunkhwa.

 If the issue is protection of Pakistan’s sovereignty, it needs to be protected against all encroachments. If the drone aircraft violate Pakistan’s sovereignty, so do Taliban and other militant groups. But, most political leaders only blame the U.S. for violating sovereignty.

 In fact there is a race among religious and political parties for cashing in anti-U.S. sentiments. As the PMLN, Tehrik-i-Insaf and Jamaat-i-Islami appeal to same type of people and voters in the Punjab. These are from the Political Right to Far-Right and Islamists, none of these parties reduce their anti-U.S. sentiments which are strong in these circles. In other words, foreign policy interests are being sacrificed for making domestic political gains.

 The PMLN government is pursuing two types of policies. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Interior Minister, has adopted anti-U.S line to compete with Imran Khan. The Prime Minister and Advisor on Foreign Policy are pursuing a moderate line. The most interesting situation developed on November 23 when Pakistan newspapers published two news items. One news item reported Chaudhry NIsar Ali’s criticism of the U.S. as a country that wants to destabilize Pakistan. Another news on the same day reported about the joint statement at the end of the meeting of Pakistan-United States Defense Consultative Group in Washington (November 21-22) where the two sides decided to continue with defense related cooperation even after 2014. This also included cooperation for countering terrorism.

 These conflicting signals are causing much confusion in Pakistan because it is not clear if the government has determination to fight terrorism or the Pakistan state will breakdown as a cohesive entity under pressure from terrorism and violent non-state actor.

 The absence of a unified approach by Pakistan government on its relations with the U.S. and other western countries is causing confusion. A large number of people inside and outside the government are afraid of criticizing Taliban and other militant groups because they do not know if the government treats these groups as a friend or foe. Further, there is a strong fear that an open and persistent criticism of Taliban and Punjab based militant groups exposes a person and his immediate family to life threats. The state is often unable or unwilling to protect the people threatened by these groups.

 The notion of “Vision 2025” is irrelevant. The government must deal with the immediate problems and meet with the challenge of armed non-state groups that also manifests in sectarian violence. Unless the current economic issues and religious groups are controlled, the government will be unable to deliver anything and thus lose credibility. If these trends continue, it is difficult to predict if the Pakistan government will be able to keep the state affairs under its firm control. 

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