Pakistan’s 2018: Major political developments during the year
Pakistan today, is in the hands of a new government, a government with no political baggage.
A government with intentions to introduce broader changes in Pakistani society has completed more than four months in twilight days of Year 2018 after Pakistan completed another five-year tenure of a political dispensation in a row.
The trend of violent politics and terrorism seems relatively at low key during the ongoing year but targeted killing of Ali Raza Abidi, a former member of parliament on December 25, indicates that the symptoms of the menace of terrorism will continue to haunt the country in the new year.
The process of radicalization and faith based divisions that were initiated in 80s as a strategy to gain political benefits still surviving to an extent with hatred against vulnerable segments of the society.
A full-throttle political crisis posing serious questions over governance and highlighting fissures within the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had overcome the country in concluding days of 2018.
The PML-N government led by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi after disqualification of Nawaz Sharif in a corruption case, completed its tenure.
It was a new example set in the 70-year history of Pakistan that the two political governments in a sequence completed their full terms despite all odds- a rare sign of stabilization of a political system in the country.
The country still needs to fight the larger than life role of the obscurantist elements in our society and the statecraft. The policies of the new government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf led by Prime Minister Imran Khan in its initial months has shown the courage and an impression has been created that this government is working on a new vision for Pakistan with a healthy mindset to stabilize the country in a world facing existential threats.
The fight with a mindset that has led our country away from the real challenges to the perceived threats and thus dividing and weakening the very basis of the nation, is yet to reach its end.
Pakistani state and society facing major challenges within and the outside ahead of Year 2019.
In current year the Senate elections were held on March 03, 2018 to replace 52 retiring senators, a half of the Senate’s strength. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) emerged as the largest party of the house, followed by the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the elections of the upper house of the parliament.
But the results of polls were steeped in controversy due to allegations of horse trading, which led a call from Imran Khan (at that time in opposition) and other leaders for reforms in the voting procedure of the Senate polls. Before this election, PML-N candidates were declared as independents by the Election Commission of Pakistan owing to a verdict of the Supreme Court.
The PML-N despite its numbers in Senate failed to win the seats of Chairman and the Deputy Chairman of the house.
In elections for chairman and deputy chairman on 12 March 2018, two major opposition parties PTI and PPP, joined hands and both offices were won by the opposition candidates with Sadiq Sanjrani and Saleem Mandviwalla elected chairman and deputy chairman respectively.
Punjab due to its more than 50 percent seats in the National Assembly remained the battle ground province in the General Elections in July 2018.
The PML-N despite winning good votes in Punjab failed to win an overall majority in the election and also lost the government in the Centre to rule the federation of Pakistan.
The corruption scandals hit Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with the party leadership facing scores of graft references.
The corruption issues harmed PML-N, which bleed and lost significant amount of its political capital in these scams.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who was removed as the prime minister of Pakistan by the Supreme Court in its judgment in Panama Papers scandal in 2017, was awarded 10 years sentence in Avenfield corruption reference on July 06 this year along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain (retired) Safdar.
The ruling was later suspended by Islamabad High Court.and ordered release of the incarcerated members of the Sharif family against a surety bond of Rs500, 000 each.
Another accountability court on December 24 in Al-Azizia accountability reference handed Sharif seven years’ jail term, while he was acquitted in Flagship case.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) made its inroads in Punjab and put its claim over the vote bank of the strategic province.
Sindh, Pakistan’s second largest province and home to the country’s economic engine Karachi, being governed by Pakistan People’s Party facing corruption allegations and governance issues.
The province suffered huge losses of lives due to terrorism and gang warfare in Karachi in recent years.
A turf war for influence in the major city triggered militancy and stranglehold of the armed wings of major political parties competing in Karachi. A security operation led by the paramilitary rangers started in September 2013 put cap on an extent to the violence in the city and provided breathing space to the people of the metropolis.f
The PPP despite the governance issues in the province faced no major challenge to its political fortunes in Sindh except in Karachi and some urban centres of the province.
The PPP, however, suffered a jolt in Karachi when its prestige constituency of Lyari lost to the PTI in July election.
A political worker from Lyari, Shakoor Shad, from Imran Khan’s PTI defeated PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
The law enforcement operation in Karachi demolished the influence and infrastructure of major political player of the city, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), causing rifts in the party ranks.
The party also disown its erstwhile founder based in London after his diatribe against the Pakistani state and its security agencies in August 2016.
The post-operation situation created a space for politicking in the city providing opportunity to PTI to win the most national and provincial assemblies’ seats in the metropolis in July 2018 election.
The PPP and Mustafa Kamal led Pak Sarzameen Party were failed to win considerable votes in Karachi.
Imran Khan led PTI emerged as winner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite the province’s tradition of punishing the incumbent government by denying it votes.
The PTI with winning the Independent lawmakers and an alliance with Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) successfully deprived the PML-N to rule Punjab despite the later emerged as the largest party of the province.
The PTI with its ability of alliance making also got support of several small parties and groups to gain a working majority in the National Assembly.
The year 2018 started with political chaos, which also hit the economy of Pakistan.
With declining fortunes of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) when it is restricted to a province, the centre to left and liberal politics lost its importance in Pakistan and political right claimed ascendance in the political narrative of the country and right wing causes and issues gained an upper hand.
The country’s tilt towards right also witnessed increase in the new religious groups working for specific causes apart of the old religio-political parties.
A surprise emergence of a sectarian political group in the second half of Year 2017 made inroads into the mainstream politics of the country.
The resurgence of politico-religious party belonging to Barelvi sub-sect, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), gave the government a headache, challenging the writ of the state after the Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case.
Surging from a protest movement against execution of Mumtaz Qadri who was convicted in murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, the group gained momentum as a new party in the political sphere of the country in late 2017 after holding a three-week-long protest in Islamabad, paralyzing normal life in the federal capital posing serious existential threat to the government.
The PTI’s plans
The PTI, founded in 1996 by Imran Khan, wants to make Pakistan a social welfare state.
It is a Third Path in Pakistan’s politics, which aims to create a welfare state, where the state will be responsible for education, health and jobs for citizens.
The party advocates egalitarian Islamic democracy for Pakistan. It has campaigned against corruption in government.
Khan remained deeply critical of the entire political order of Pakistan, which he thinks as corrupt, inefficient, and morally bereft of any of the founding principles of Pakistan.
The PTI promised to create an independent, self-reliant Pakistan free from debt, dependency and discord. It maintains that it represents all Pakistanis, regardless of religious, ethnic, linguistic, and provincial backgrounds.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 116 seats in National Assembly to emerge as the largest political force in Pakistan in elections on 25 July 2018. After 28 reserved seats for women and five minority seats, the total number of PTI seats reached 149.
The PTI with 31.82% of total casted votes, formed government in the center with the alliance of MQM-P,PML-Q,BAP,BNP-M,GDA,AML and JWP. It formed government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by having 78 seats, in Punjab with 175 seats and a coalition government in Balochistan.
Imran Khan was elected as Prime minister obtaining 176 votes against Mian Shehbaz Sharif who bagged 96 votes.
The PTI in its election charter called for major social, economic, and political reforms and vowed to free the country from corruption. The party also promised jobs for the youth.
After taking oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan in August, Imran Khan’s government has announced and initiated 10 billion tree project for the country to fight against the climate change.
The PTI government in its first 100 days also announced an initiative to build five million homes in Pakistan.
The new government has constituted an Assets Recovery Unit to curb money laundering and illegal flight of national wealth from the country.
The government has initiated efforts to improve relations with neighboring countries including a call of PM Imran Khan to India for talks over Kashmir and other contentious bilateral issues.
The government at the front of the public diplomacy also announced to open Kartarpur Corridor at the border with India next year on the anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, to facilitate Sikh pilgrims to visit their holy shrines in Pakistan without any hassle.
PM Khan’s government has also taken a straightforward posture towards the United States over the country’s demand of “do more” over the Afghan conflict. After US President Trump’s request Pakistan has played a pivotal role to bring the Taliban on talks table in Afghanistan conflict.
The new government continued cooperation over the flagship project of CPEC with all-weather friend China.
The PTI government has also made significant diplomatic gestures to strengthen ties with Russia.
In its early 100 days the PTI government has taken scores of initiatives that could if implemented with perseverance could have potential to change the face of the country for better.
The year 2018 also witnessed institutional tussles reminding us of the fragility of the country’s political system. But the system also offered a chance in the shape of an on-schedule general election to move a few steps in the direction of normalcy and stability.
It has to be seen if Pakistan’s political elite and the new government can use this critical chance to consolidate democratic progress of the last decade in a productive and peaceful manner.