The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Pakistan is facing a political crisis, and the ruling elite are not up to the task.

Pakistan is facing a political crisis that risks the country’s stability. Only cooler heads can temper the volatile situation. Imran Khan, the head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, faces a litany of legal woes including a non-bailable arrest warrant issued by a court in Islamabad. As expected, Khan fears arrest and disqualification from contesting future elections.

For many of his supporters, Imran Khan is upholding the rule of law and fighting these mostly bogus allegations made against him. The world is watching and will note actions taken by the government.

After Shehbaz Sharif’s government refused to fund the Punjab provincial elections scheduled for April 30, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced that the elections would be moved to October 8.

Attempts by the government to crush the opposition would be counter-productive and against the best interests of the country. Is Pakistan again descending into direct military rule? Many inside and outside the country hope this isn’t the case.

Military interference continues unabated. The current government is both ineffective and clueless to resolve the matter. Pakistan’s ruling elite should have seen it coming. But that is to be expected from a mediocre and callous elite. Something must give.

The litmus test for Pakistan is whether provincial elections will be held in October. For the sake of the country’s future, they must be held as scheduled.

The solution to Pakistan’s political crisis is adherence to the rule of law. No one, certainly not the military, can stop the provincial elections from taking place in October. Establishing a democratic foundation in the country is no easy task. Given Pakistan’s history, building it will take time.

Given the grave economic crisis facing Pakistan, the country has little time left for that to happen.

Given Pakistan’s tragic history, it bears repeating that the military should have no role in the country’s politics. Can Pakistan’s political parties create a viable political system? There is no evidence that they can.

Pakistan is a mess. There is a crisis of political leadership. Unfortunately, there is no guidebook about how to resolve the current political crisis. Nevertheless, Pakistan must move on.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is also facing a severe economic crisis requiring immediate attention. The precarious nature of Pakistan’s economy requires swift action. Yet some hurdles remain in securing a deal with the International Monetary Fund. The government must now fulfill the remaining IMF conditions; the sooner the better.

Unfortunately, here’s the catch-22 if there ever was one. The IMF says that Saudi Arabia and its other allies must help Pakistan first before they step in. Meanwhile, the Saudis say that Pakistan must secure the IMF deal first. Meanwhile, internal conflicts are wrecking the country.

Debt servicing in Pakistan is now equaling its federal income. Not a good prospect for the future prosperity of the country. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s political instability is severely affecting the economy; not that it was being managed wisely in the first place. But still, political stability is paramount and fundamental for economic stability.

There are opportunities now available for rapid economic growth because of Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with Iran which can benefit neighboring Pakistan. But first, Pakistan must put its own house in order. Will that happen anytime soon? There is little evidence for that. The ruling elite is not up to the task, to say the least.

There is an urgent need to adhere to the country’s constitution for workable solutions to the current crisis. It bears repeating that the military should have no role in Pakistan’s political system. Let constitutional law prevail for once.

Sohail Mahmood is an independent political analyst focused on global politics, U.S. foreign policy, governance, and the politics of South and West Asia.