Pakistan is, tragically, once more at an impasse that is all-too-familiar, with its political leadership opting for decisions that make little logical sense and foster divisiveness in society. Internally, the country’s politicians are more worried about one-upping each other than finding solutions to the crises they’ve all—with the establishment—played a role in creating, while externally Pakistan is faced with ever-harsher conditions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avoid default, with the general public facing the brunt of the additional taxation that would entail.
Despite attempts to play down the extent of the prevailing economic crunch, it is undeniable that the situation is dire. Not helping is political polarization that sees the opposition secretly welcome harsh conditions imposed by the IMF because they allow it to crucify the government for “letting the people down.” At the same time, a resurgence of terrorism and growing intolerance to diversity and dissent—fueled by a “narrow vision of Pakistan’s national identity”—threaten any prospects of social cohesion and stability. The situation has been succinctly summed up by the U.S. Institute of Peace: “Pakistan saw peaceful political transitions after the 2013 and 2018 elections. However, as the country prepares for anticipated elections in 2023, it continues to face a fragile economy along with deepening domestic polarization.”
For now, Pakistan is hoping for some “relief” in the form of support from “friendly” nations that has been pegged on the revival of the IMF program. But this revival comes with strings that no political party is willing to stomach during an election year, with constituents more likely to voice anger than support when asked for votes. Who can blame them? Inflation is backbreaking, the rupee’s value has fallen sharply, foreign exchange reserves are now barely sufficient for three weeks of imports, and pending external debt repayments leave little in the treasury for development and good governance.
Amidst this chaos, a frustrated polity finds it easier to support the “heroic isolationism” of Imran Khan over the “political flexibility”—advocated by the ruling coalition—needed to placate skeptical lenders. The country’s political leadership, perhaps recognizing its own inability for an economic revival, is now entirely focused on when to hold elections. The PTI, citing the Elections Act, 2017, maintains that polls in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa must be held within 90 days of their assemblies’ dissolution, while the government argues that Pakistan’s security and economic situation does not allow multiple election cycles and these should be conducted with general elections in October. There is no guarantee of any stability in either scenario. Needless to say, Pakistan can ill afford any missteps at this critical juncture.