There was a time when Pakistan held a key geo-strategic importance in the region and attracted the attention and engagement of major powers. Rightly or wrongly, it became a key US ally during the Cold War, Afghan War, and War on Terror (WOT) to reap the benefits of a generous military and economic support at the cost of severe internal / external consequences; both expected and unexpected. Despite the numerous opportunities available, the country could not achieve peace, prosperity, political stability, and internal harmony due to rampant corruption, poor governance, political instability, institutional disharmony, democratic discontinuity, and an ineffective justice system Today, Pakistan has yet again maneuvered to find itself embroiled in a vicious cycle of internal strife, power struggle, political unrest, chaos, uncertainty, economic ruin, and public unrest unprecedented since the events of 1971. Pakistan’s ongoing political and economic instability is damaging its international image, eroding its relevance in South Asia, and tearing apart its social fabric with potentially global consequences.
Pakistan has been facing a severe economic and political crisis that could lead to uncontrolled public unrest and retaliation, pushing the country towards a point of no return. Dr. Maleeha Lodhi described the current economic crisis in Pakistan as one of the worst in the country’s history. Had the last-minute $3 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) not materialized, the country, a proud nuclear state with a population of over 230 million people, would have defaulted on its total external debt of $126 billion. In May 2023, the annual inflation rate reached 37.97%, the highest since 1957, and the country’s foreign reserves were depleted. The IMF bailout package is yet another short-term fix and one of the 23 IMF relief packages that the country has so far availed with no long-term economic revival measures on the horizon. The IMF bailout package has resulted in serious economic burdens for ordinary man. The prices for electricity have doubled in the past year and fuel rates have gone up by more than 150 percent. There are wide-spread protests across the country against unbearable energy and commodity prices, however, the Government is unable to help without IMF nod which seems unlikely. The public unrest continues to rise with reports of people burning their electricity bills and power supply departments requesting police security for its staff and installations.
The political crisis in Pakistan has worsened the longstanding economic issues since the removal of Mr. Khan’s government in April 2022. A controversial vote of no confidence brought together even the ideologically divergent political parties to oust Mr. Khan from power due to his economic incompetence and mismanagement. Well, one year down, the inflation continues to loom around 29%, energy prices have risen more than 100% since then, and the Pakistan rupee has plummeted to its historic low of 307 against the dollar versus its value of 185 in April 2022. Due to economic hardships and political instability, over 450,000 Pakistanis have left the country in the first seven months of 2023. The trend is rising, causing severe brain-drain with long-term repercussions.
The political crisis in Pakistan persists as its most popular leader, according to a Gallup survey, remains imprisoned on fabricated charges. At the same time, over 150 politically motivated cases were registered against him. Most of his party leaders have either fled the country, others have been made to leave the party, and those who refused have been jailed after incidents of May 9, 2023 where sensitive buildings were vandalized and damaged by angry mobs protesting against Mr. Khan s humiliating arrest from the premises of Islamabad High Court by security forces. Pakistan s Law enforcement agencies blamed Mr. Khan and his party leadership for orchestrating chaos and accused his opponents of using their cronies and creating favorable conditions for angry protestors to approach sensitive buildings that are otherwise heavily guarded. Following his political party’s protests, the establishment-backed by the Pakistani government, Khan and his supporters have been subjected to harsh crackdowns. Over 10,000 party workers and supporters have been arrested, and the media is forbidden from mentioning Khan’s name in any form of broadcast. Furthermore, exhibiting his party’s flag publicly may lead to imprisonment. There is strong resentment in his supporters against these undemocratic practices, which are being exacerbated by the ongoing economic turmoil. The establishment, judiciary, and law enforcement agencies are engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with Mr. Khan. They have created a vast web of criminal cases to trap him in one or the other. Despite an appeal court suspending his conviction on August 29, 2023, he remains in jail.
As per the constitution of Pakistan, new elections are to take place within 90 days of the dissolution of elected assemblies. The government that replaced Mr. Khan in April 2022 completed its term and assemblies were dissolved on August 09, 2023. The election commission defied a call by the President of Pakistan to finalize the election date as per the constitution. Khan and his party have accused their opponents and those who yield actual power in the country of using delaying tactics to wipe out his party fearing its overwhelming popularity.
Thus, Pakistan once a powerful and influential player in the region, finds itself embroiled in a messy political and economic turmoil unprecedented since 1971 which is adversely affecting the lives of common hardworking folks struggling to have a respectable livelihood. Pakistan is left with few friends who would be yet again eager to come to her rescue if appropriate long-term corrective measures are not put in place to address the evils that has plagued the country for last 75 years. The current dismal state of Pakistan s internal affairs is not only eroding her startegic relevance in the region but also affecting her international image. For any country to be respected internationally, all elements of its national power must come together to collaborate constructively, displaying unity, cohesion, sincerity of purpose and resolve. However, the ongoing political tug-of-war, the economic chaos, institutional manipulation, disregard of human rights, basic democratic principles, and the rising public unrest if remained unchecked; indicate towards a disaster in waiting with potential repercussions of the region and the world.
Authors Bio: Nasim Khan is a writer and researcher at Consortium’s South Asia team. He is a former active duty decorated Air Commodore from Pakistan Air Force and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in strategic and security studies.