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Where are our modern day visionaries?

Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as performed his national duty by speaking out and talking straight on Defence Day. In the absence of an active, visionary and credible political leadership, somebody has to pick up the banner and lead.

A candid, realistic, and fearless narrative had to be given and the Army chief did just that. But is it enough and where do we go from here? General Bajwa mentioned threats facing the country, internally and externally. He cited the example of bigger states with greater resources which had crumbled and imploded under pressure from such threats. He talked of institutions, saying if they are strong, Pakistan will be strong. Strength of democratic, constitutional and legal traditions will be the strength for all of us.

A critical point he made was about the country we will handover to our future generations. It is their right that we give them a state and society free from terrorism, corruption and lawlessness – ‘a normal Pakistan’, as he called it. And in an indirect missive to our current leadership, he almost wished that young people took control of the country. Whatever he said to the foreign states was clear and emphatic but what is more important is our domestic situation.

On terrorism and security fronts, General Bajwa is meeting the challenges effectively, despite occasional roadblocks. In his no-nonsense message, he also spoke about corruption, rule of law, constitution and strength of institutions. These subjects don’t directly fall in his domain but, he said, he was giving his input as part of his efforts to do whatever he can to put things back on track. Why he has such a lack of confidence in the political leadership who is supposed to be the guardian on these fronts and what is the urgency about handling these issues?

Gen Bajwa would not say so but he knows that on the economic front we stand very close to the precipice and are almost ready to fall in the ditch. Economic security is also a top national security concern.

Latest media reports show that the fiscal deficit has crossed 5.8 percent of the GDP, reaching Rs 1.864 trillion – the highest ever in the country’s history.

The gross mismanagement of the economy by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and his repeated reliance on fudged and fraudulent stats has brought us here, and we still have him as the country’s chief economic manager. If we do not knock on IMF doors soon and keep depending on China for a bailout, there will be a heavy price to pay. The Chinese are shrewd businessmen and the world knows that. I fear it will come down to handing over the multi-billion dollar Reko Diq gold and copper mines to Beijing – as the latter had shown keen interest in them after milking the Saindak cooper treasures for years. Once the CPEC corridor is fully functional, who will stop our gold and copper swished away overseas through Gwadar in the raw form, something we did not allow the Canadian company in Reko Diq to do.

For this to stop, corruption has to be tackled. But what we see is a concerted and collective effort by crony heads of regulatory and law enforcement institutions to protect the corrupt, despite judicial intervention.

General Bajwa can do nothing about these problems, as he cannot bring about educational, police or legal reforms that he desperately wants to make anti-terrorism plans effective. He mentioned all of this in his address.

What is needed is some serious deliberation between those who matter — generals, judges, some politicians, and thinkers — to make a national plan for survival

Meanwhile, politicians have gone into the election mode after Panama Papers verdict or they are fighting their survival battles – leaving governance to run on autopilot. No one is minding the store while time is flying and the world is converging on us, one and all, with bigger demands, tighter sanctions and an un-payable price if we default on the economic front.

While the judiciary is on the right track, the process and progress is so slow, it ultimately enables the corrupt to beat the system and win. Examples of this are available by the dozen as we routinely see cases delayed because evidence gets lost or stolen, witnesses are killed or sent into exile, and judges recuse themselves from hearing cases.

And the mainstream political leaders and their cronies are always less than 30 minutes away from taking their private jets to off shore safe havens.

Who is going to monitor the ticking clock? Every important national issue gets politicised. Census was done under Army supervision but no one is ready to accept it. Army secures the elections generally but instances of rigging are never forgotten.

In this time constrained milieu when nothing is working and no one is serious about making things work, is it not a nightmarish scenario?

The army chief may keep making inspirational statements and raising the morale of the nation every other day but reality never disappears with sweet pep talk alone. What is needed is some serious deliberation between those who matter – generals, judges, some politicians, and thinkers – to make a national plan for survival.

When business-as-usual starts to threaten the state and its legitimacy, out of box solutions become imperative. We must not forget that there are precedents when the military was granted exceptional powers to deal with the situation at hand, like the early years of General Musharraf’s rule. Sorry to say the general could not grasp the enormity and scope of that monumental chance he was given.

We need visionaries for larger than life decisions.

Sehbai, Shaheen. Where are our modern day visionaries?. September 8, 2017.

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