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CHALLENGES INTO OPPORTUNITIES

Poised to become the Prime Minister (PM). Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will lead a new Coalition govt. Among the acute challenges will be severe distress in the economy. Foreign exchange reserves have depleted due to widening of current account deficit and repayment of previous loans.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) may be approached for a US$10 to 15 billion bailout package to stabilise the external sector. Rather difficult given that the US has a say in IMF affairs and US-Pakistan relations are at their lowest ebb. Out of the blue came a warning shot, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning Pakistan, “There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with that American dollars that are part of the IMF funding, for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself”. While the coupling of one with the other is mystifying, for the foreseeable future the IMF option therefore appears closed. With the talk of a bailout by China not confirmed, the PTI govt needs engage the US govt with pragmatism, apprising them of the new dynamics emerging in the region and the need for both the countries to have a more constructive relationship.

The first 10 months of fiscal year 2018 saw Pakistan’s current account deficit widening almost 50% to a record high of $14.03 billion. This deficit has taken a toll on foreign exchange reserves sinking to a low of around US$9 billion. Before starting to appreciate after the July 25 elections, the Pakistani rupee depreciated alarmingly against the dollar rising briefly beyond Rs 130. Pakistan’s debt has increased to an unsustainable level of Rs 24.5 trillion or 72% of total size of economy (domestic debt Rs16.5 trillion and external debt Rs8 trillion). Fiscal and trade deficit have recorded an all-time high. Imran Khan promised mass reform, giving top priority to the making of strategy and policies in consultation with the business community and the private sector.

A fiery Opposition does not accept the electoral results, however Imran Khan has already waved an olive branch to the Opposition by offering to have any constituency investigated where they believed irregularities have taken place. A huge dose of pragmatism is now needed, the new govt must do everything in its power to develop a working relationship with the Opposition based on the new realities. Imran Khan must now go the extra mile, taking on the mantle of a mature, non-partisan and patriotic politician having only the best interests of the nation and its people at heart; it is said that leaders must very often manage change, even if the change is unpopular. While a strong  Opposition is vital for any democracy, it must ensure that it plays its role as an alternative viewpoint to proposals and to generate debate. It must refrain from hounding and criticizing the majority only for the sake of it, as has sadly become the norm in Pakistan. The combined Opposition must serve the country by providing honest checks and balances needed in a functioning democracy, shunning opposition for the sake of opposition.

Imran Khan has promised to work towards the success of CPEC and that he wants to send teams to learn about poverty alleviation from China and utilize their model to lift up the poor and downtrodden in Pakistan. PTI’s manifesto also reiterates its desire to take friendship with China to new heights. The presence of any non-state actors in Pakistan is bound to put extra pressure on Pakistan. Another serious challenge that Imran Khan might face will be on the eve the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting scheduled for Sept 18 where the issue of non-state actors could be debated.

Speaking in a televised address on July 26 Imran Khan, opened his heart to the nation without the aid of scripts or notes. He came across as someone truly humble and mature, he was conciliatory in not blaming anyone for the past but looked ahead to the future.  He vowed not to pursue political victimization and strengthen state institutions to ensure they were really independent. Setting a personal example he offered himself for accountability and called for having harmonious relations with all neighbours and with major powers, including the USA.  Reaction both in Pakistan and abroad to his speech was largely favourable with many saying that Imran has graduated from being just a politician to a Statesman.

Imran Khan must deliver on promises made i.e. fighting corruption and bringing the looted wealth back to Pakistan, ensuring across-the-board accountability and providing jobs by reviving at least 100 industries. New legislation must ensure that the process is impartial. Strong liaison with foreign governments will be needed for crafting fresh treaties and agreements for extradition of criminals, repatriation of the robbed assets to the country of origin and curb money laundering. The looming water crisis, energy shortages, internal and external security factors, etc, are among the challenges. Foreign policy challenges have multiplied because of the PML (N) failure having a Foreign Minister for four long years damaged Pakistan’s image internationally. The road to “Naya Pakistan” appears littered with pitfalls and obstacles, the job is certainly not going to be an easy one, but the new govt  must have the will to take unpopular and difficult decisions.

Spare a thought for the soldiers of our Armed Forces and the peace that prevails rendered by their blood, sweat and toil. On top of the challenges we were facing only five years ago, terrorism is now more of an irritant to be eradicated rather than any major challenge.  The verdict of voters of Pakistan would not have been possible without our soldiers changing the environment drastically from fear and despondency to peace and tranquility, giving them the opportunity to exercise their choice. Our soldiers went the extra mile ensuring a clean and fair electoral process. Despite the abuse and calumny visited on them by the losers and those domestic and foreign entities having a vested interest in them, not a single shred of evidence has been produced with any credibility.

Setting a high bench mark for himself, Imran Khan and his party members will have to rise above petty personal and political prejudices. Challenges are only a means of achieving goals and vision, an opportunity for renewal and change for those who have the capability, the competence and the will to meet the challenges head on. Imran and his PTI will have to prove themselves worthy of the trust reposed in them by the voters of Pakistan.

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