Dawn Editorial 17th February 2024

PSL begins

THE ninth edition of the Pakistan Super League begins today, but this time around, the glitzy T20 league is severely lacking in star power. An event that paved the way for Pakistan to end its international drought, the PSL was supposed to get larger as the world’s second biggest T20 league after the Indian Premier League. Instead, with leagues mushrooming in South Africa and the UAE, it has now been forced into a window where player availability has been compromised. There have been notable international withdrawals, with Afghanistan ace Rashid Khan and South African pacer Lungi Ngidi pulling out. This year’s edition was due to tee off on Feb 8, a date that coincided with the general elections, the fallout from which has dampened the build-up. The delay means the final stage of the PSL will be held in Ramazan. With political developments dominating discussions, it remains to be seen whether the PSL, which once captivated the entire nation, will still capture attention as it did in its past iterations.

From a purely cricketing perspective, though, the PSL offers a chance for players to push themselves into contention for the national team ahead of June’s T20 World Cup in the US and West Indies. With only a little sprinkling of overseas stardust, it will provide more opportunities to Pakistan’s emerging talent to show their mettle. It has done so in the past, and members of Pakistan’s under-19 team, which performed admirably at the ICC World Cup this year, have also been picked up by the franchises. It is a chance for them to shine and rub shoulders with the likes of Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Shah Afridi. That in itself would be an experience for them to savour. And in a country that comes to a standstill when cricket takes place, perhaps the PSL will become the topic of national discussion again after the first delivery.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2024

Gloomy prognosis

MOODY’S recent assessment on Pakistan’s inconclusive election outcome resulting in a hung parliament, as well as the ensuing hectic politicking for the formation of a new coalition government, is indicative of investors’ anxiety over political uncertainty. The split public mandate followed by claims of election fraud, which potentially could lead to more political instability, has drawn ‘credit negativity’ from Moody’s analysts. And, given the defiant mood of a few major parties, the rating agency’s opinion does not come as a surprise. “While negotiations between parties to form a coalition government are currently underway,” it warns, “prolonged delays will raise political and policy uncertainties at a time when Pakistan faces significant macroeconomic challenges, particularly its very weak external and liquidity position.” Moreover, the agency argues, the coalition set-up might not be politically strong or united, making consensus difficult on pursuing tough but necessary reforms. Moody’s assessment of the post-poll situation is in line with the views of most Pakistani commentators who have repeatedly cautioned in recent weeks that flawed polls could undermine the legitimacy of the new government, intensify political and economic uncertainties, and affect the rulers’ ability to take tough decisions and implement the reforms needed to stabilise and boost the fragile economy.

Moody’s assertion that uncertainties will make it tough for the incoming government to approach the IMF for a bigger programme in April, weaken the external economy, and make liquidity management more challenging might seem far-fetched to many. However, it cannot be ruled out. We have seen the previous PDM administration delay the execution of the IMF-mandated reforms for as long as it could to avoid a public backlash. How strong the incoming coalition will be is anyone’s guess. Some are pinning their hopes on the military-backed SIFC. But the SIFC cannot be a substitute for longer-term political and policy stability. Despite the SIFC, the Gulf nations, which committed billions of dollars in investment, have so far hesitated from entering the Pakistan market due to political uncertainty. That Pakistan’s finances could collapse and the country default on its international payments unless the IMF agrees to bail it out, thus unlocking funds from other bilateral, multilateral and commercial lenders, is well-known. How the new coalition deals with the Fund, and when, in spite of the volatile political conditions, will determine the economic course of the country.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2024

No surprises

TO some, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman triggered a political earthquake late Thursday when, during a television interview, he ‘revealed’ that former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and spy chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed had organised and orchestrated the 2022 vote of no-confidence that resulted in Imran Khan’s ouster.

A day later, he ‘corrected’ himself in a different interview, saying he had taken the ex-spy chief’s name by mistake, and that it was his successor that he had, in fact, been referring to.

“They were in contact with all political parties regarding the no-confidence motion, and they told us the way of going about it,” he had initially said. The PDM parties went along with the plan, but they were merely “rubber-stamping” the move, the JUI-F chief claimed.

The maulana’s ‘confession’ ended up causing quite a stir on social media, with most PTI sympathisers describing it as ‘confirmation’ of their party’s long-held stance on the cipher ‘conspiracy’, under which they believe that army generals acted to topple the PTI’s elected government in collusion with/ or on the instructions of officials from the Biden administration.

On the other hand, the maulana’s detractors were quick to dismiss him, with many speculating that he had only made a statement to secure a few positions in the next government for himself or one of his family members. It certainly seemed hypocritical of him to claim that he never wanted a role in the no-trust vote and that he only went along due to ‘peer pressure’. He had, after all, been heading the PDM at the time.

Regardless, to those familiar with the security establishment’s behind-the-scenes machinations, this ‘revelation’ outlined another link in the larger scheme of interference and control ongoing for the past many years.

From the ouster of Nawaz Sharif in 2017, to the pre-poll rigging before the July 2018 elections to keep him out; the post-poll creation of the PTI government with the help of independents; Gen Bajwa’s service extension; the subjugation of the media; and, finally, the ouster of Imran Khan’s government — Gen Bajwa remained active throughout, supported in his political adventures for most of that period by Gen Hameed, who served first as DGC and then as DG ISI.

It is time for both gentlemen’s actions during this extended period to be investigated thoroughly and, if their misconduct is proven, for them to be appropriately punished on each count. It ought to be noted that this current cycle of instability started with Nawaz Sharif’s ouster in 2017, and has only gotten worse since then.

It may be too late to rectify the original sin, but it is never too late to stop repeating mistakes. Recognising this will put the country on a path to recovery.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2024


February 21, 2024

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