What if the right was right – M Saeed Khalid

As election results started trickling on the evening of May 11, a shift to the right was discernible. By next morning, the centre-left parties had suffered a massive defeat with the exception of Sindh. Six months on, it can be said that the shift to the right, both in terms of economic policies and ideological leaning, is even more significant than the election results had shown.
Looking at the economy first, the PML-N remains business friendly with plans for the privatisation of state-owned enterprises. The talk of bullet trains and metros has subsided. Yet, there is no comprehensive plan to provide fair-priced transport to the common man.
Although the power situation has improved, it cannot be taken for granted. CNG has come to a trickle but the torturous unavailability of gas to homes has not yet begun. The zealous campaign to round up power and gas thieves does not make headlines any longer. One reason for improvement in these two sectors may very well be the decrease in massive corruption and stealing of public money that went on for five years.
On the negative side, the new budget showed that the government did not possess the courage to tax the trader-merchant class and the so-called liberal professionals. It is pathetic that the rich spend millions on weddings or on acquiring real estate or luxury cars but do not have a dime to show by way of tax returns. As a result, GST and other levies were increased, maintaining high state charges on POL. Collectively, these measures have led to crippling price increases of all essential items.
The cumulative result of the PML-N and the PTI’s rightist economic policies is a gradual erosion of their popular support. The lacklustre governance by these parties for six months has demoralised the common citizen. While the PPP, ANP and the MQM were seen as enriching themselves, the new ruling parties are basically pursuing capitalist policies, enriching the already rich.
The American invasion of Afghanistan was responsible for pushing thousands of international terrorists into Pakistan. The US was keen to spread the war and pursue the jihadis on our territory but Pakistan flatly refused to allow that.
The drone war started because the tribes were unable to dislodge the hardened foreign fighters. In fact the Taliban killed tribal chiefs to establish their hegemony. It is the height of cynicism to claim that the TTP is fighting the state of Pakistan for siding with the US. On the contrary, it can be said that Pakistan cooperated in the drone war to a certain extent because Pakistan’s sovereignty had been violated by Al-Qaeda in cahoots with the TTP.
Some of our religious parties have been allies of the Afghan Taliban. They have links with the TTP and hope to ride the Islamist wave to take power in not too distant a future. Imran Khan believes that if the Americans leave, our armed tribes will take care of Al-Qaeda. He is a staunch supporter of talking to the TTP, adding that by so doing we will know which groups are against talks.
The PML-N is dedicated to talks with the Taliban but is more realistic in its expectations. Here again, the idea that the end of US drone strikes would lead to a settlement with the TTP is over-optimistic. Just as progress in talks with the TTP is supposed to bring an end to the latter’s war on terror, the end of drone attacks is expected to bring success to the dialogue between the terrorists and the state of Pakistan. In the same vein of facile presumptions, the blockage of Nato supplies is thought to be an effective way to force the US and its allies to see reason and stop drone attacks in the tribal areas.
Imran Khan may be excused for his inexperience in statecraft. The religious parties as usual think they have monopoly over righteousness. Mian Sahib, who has logged more air miles than any Pakistani leader in his first six months, may have realised by now that the international agenda is largely set by the big power.
Small powers like Pakistan can either facilitate the big power in pursuing its agenda, remain aloof or side with those – like Al-Qaeda – the big power considers as disruptive forces. On a bad day like 9/11, the big power tells the others that ‘you are with us or against us’.
The Afghan Taliban are not a disruptive force like Al-Qaeda because they were ruling Kabul before – and up to – 9/11. But the Pakistani Taliban are a disruptive force, more so in view of their alliance with Al-Qaeda on the one hand and sectarian outfits in Pakistan, on the other. What kind of dialogue they can have with Pakistan will be clear to us all only if the talks ever begin.
Nobody has monopoly over wisdom though. All those who claim that talks with the Taliban can only fail, should consider this. The PML-N, the PTI, and the JI can disown the war that the Taliban call America’s war and which was aided by the military government and then the PPP-ANP alliance.
And consider that the Pakistan Army, which has been half-heartedly pursuing the war gives the present rulers a chance to hold dialogue with the TTP. And consider that the Afghan Taliban will need the help of the Pak army and the ISI after 2014 even more than today. Therefore, nudging the TTP towards dialogue could be a quid pro quo by the Afghan Taliban.
There is no certainty that in reality events will follow this logic. But just imagine – the Pakistani right may well be right in what they are envisaging!