Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan's former prime minister, is the latest to be targeted by the NAB. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

The hybrid regime ruling Pakistan – a political party backed by the military establishment – has been doing everything to suppress the opposition and dissenting voices in the press but has failed miserably to change the economic fortunes of the country or to bring normalcy to the political discourse.

Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan is paying the price for failing to devise a plan to stop the spread of the disease and lacking a strategy to keep the economy ticking: economic turmoil and possibly human lives lost.

There is clearly no strategy to strengthen the health-care system, and both the government and its backers are only concerned about getting loans and aid from the international financial institutions and friendly countries.

The post-pandemic fiscal deficit according to government insiders is expected to reach 9.4%, while the poverty rate is expected to rise from 24.35% to 29%, and in the worst-case scenario, it could reach 33.5%. Also, at least 3 million people will likely lose their jobs, a million in the industrial sector and the rest in the services sector.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already projected negative-1.5% growth for Pakistan’s economy this year. The automobile sector has seen a 52% decrease in sales, and for the first time in the country’s history not a single car was sold in the month of April. Tax collection from the services sector in the month of March was 20% short of target because of the imploding economy.

But if one examines any aspect of the current regime, one will find that since Day 1 of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) assuming power it has been a tale of blunders and incompetence in the domains of economy, foreign policy, and governance.

Even in these testing times when the country is faced with economic distress due to the pandemic, opposition leaders are being sent notices by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in regard to very weak and vague corruption allegations.

Most recently, a former prime minister and stalwart of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, along with his son was sent a notice by the NAB on Thursday in regard to a scandal involving the import of liquified natural gas (LNG). The day before, Abbasi in the National Assembly had taken the PTI government to task, not only pointing out its inability to govern but also by challenging it to present even a two-page plan on combating the pandemic.

Of course, neither the government nor the establishment has any plans or vision to free the country from its shackles. In fact, if any among them had any vision they would not have interrupted the economy of the country that was growing at 5.8% annually, and just to increase their share of the cake got rid of the non-obedient prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the blatantly rigged general elections of 2018.

It is no secret that the help the Imran Khan-led PTI has received from the establishment is unprecedented, as no Pakistani government in the past has enjoyed such overwhelming support from the military elite. However, from the economy to governance and from foreign policy to political discourse, everything has gone gradually into decline.

The famous “Bajwa Doctrine” thought to have been perceived by Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to help the PTI government and to remove the PML-N from the power chessboard while cutting the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) down to size may have brought some good results for a while as far as the power brokers were concerned. The PML-N is out of power and the PPP is not only fighting the pandemic but also has to save its government in Sindh province, which could easily be toppled at any time on the tried and tested formula of leveling corruption charges against it and imposing governor’s rule.

So given this situation, the Bajwa Doctrine should have been prevailing by now, and the country should have been at least seeing a little bit of stability on the political front and a good future as far as the economy is concerned. But this is not the case, as the doctrine itself is flawed and the person the establishment chose to implement the doctrine, Imran Khan, is not up to the task.

So not only has parliament become a laughing stock as most of the cabinet members along with the prime minister are playing the role of opposition instead of the government, but their ignorance about running state affairs has virtually made them all a joke in the eyes of a large section of the masses.

Yet many do not bother to criticize the PTI government any more; rather, they blame the Bajwa Doctrine for the problems the country is facing, as it was this doctrine that brought PTI to power and paved the way for a journey that has no goal other than clinging to power and keeping the status quo intact.

The “corrupt” Nawaz Sharif according to Imran Khan and his backers ate up the resources of the country and destroyed the economy, whereas the fact of the matter is that now lacking Sharif’s mega-projects like highways, Metro bus service, big power plants and reforms in health and education, Pakistan has achieved nothing as far as infrastructure or reforms are concerned.

Likewise, former finance minister Ishaq Dar is constantly blamed for maintaining the economy artificially and accused in imaginary corruption cases, yet the reality is he transformed a weakened economy to 5.8% GDP growth in 2018. No sane mind can believe that Dar was maintaining the economy artificially, as none of the global financial institutions came to that conclusion.

So, in a nutshell, we are back to the era of General Pervez Musharraf, when during the last days of his dictatorship, Pakistan was faced with a severe economic crisis and the establishment was blamed openly by the masses for interfering in politics and as a result, bringing the country to the verge of economic collapse.

At the moment it is an undeclared coup where the men in the establishment are mostly calling the shots and even are appointed to key posts.

The economy is in shambles, and since neither Khan nor the architect of the prevailing doctrine has the ability to turn the tables and fix the economy and government issues, the controlled media and spin doctors are given the task of repeating 24 hours a day that both the PML-N and PPP are responsible for the mess, and that it was their corruption that not only increased the external debt but also resulted in the demise of social sectors like health and education.

It indeed is nothing less than a joke as a country where dictators ruled directly for almost three decades and for the rest of the time the military establishment either ruled indirectly through hybrid regimes or by manipulating the political discourse, it needs no genius to find that it is the establishment and its propaganda that always uses politicians and democracy as the scapegoats for its failures.

The question, however, is how long this Bajwa Doctrine will persist, as with every passing day the country is paying the price for the misadventure of bringing Imran Khan to power and in the process making the economy weak and vulnerable.

Perhaps it is time to put this doctrine to rest, or else it will be a dead-end street from where not even a genuine political leadership will be able to push the invisible forces back. As they say, life punishes those who come too late.

Neither Sharif nor Zardari has anything to lose in this battle, as they being experienced and season politicians know that with the deteriorating economy and now with the pandemic that will cause a global recession the establishment will not be able to keep intact the current status quo, and the frustration of the masses will prove the catalyst for a regime change.

So the doctrine that in the start was about ruling the country through PTI for 10 years has to be replaced, as the dwindling foreign reserves and the crippled economy will not give any further margin of error to Prime Minister Imran Khan or the establishment.

It is not a matter of how this doctrine will collapse, as it is already collapsing under the weight of its own failures. The question is how long this doctrine will be kept intact by force, and at what cost. It is the cost factor that always has to be kept in the mind, as in the Musharraf case we paid the cost of a surrendered foreign policy while General Ayub Khan and General Yahya Khan cost us the debacle of East Pakistan.

Fingers crossed that the final scuttling of this doctrine will prove beneficial for the strengthening of democracy and the country.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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