Dawn, 17 Jan 2010
IN an opinion piece in TheWashington Post on Friday, President Zardari has told his foreign audience that his government has a plan to build “a functioning society and economy” and that it has courageously taken some “unpopular steps” to save the country from the “fire of terrorism”. Is the president right? Yes and no. Yes, the government has got at least two fundamental things right so far: one, it has rescued the economy from the verge of collapse; and two, it’s strong support for the war against militancy has genuinely helped in tackling the biggest internal security threat the country has faced in decades, and possibly ever. Since neither of those two tasks — turning around the economy and re-establishing the internal sovereignty of the state — is anywhere near completion, the government has not always got credit for its role so far. Thankfully, though, the president did not use his opinion piece to lash out at his critics: even if the government has been unfairly criticised, it must act with restraint and focus on projecting what it believes to be the successes of the government so far.
Where we do not agree with the president, however, is the suggestion that the government is moving to consolidate what it has achieved while in crisis-management mode. Consider Mr Zardari’s claim that: “On taxes, education, agriculture and energy, we have shown that we must adapt, reform and become self-sufficient.” The government has certainly talked a lot about overhauling those areas of the economy, but in terms of actionable plans that have already begun to be executed, we have seen little. And on the security front, the Ashura bombing and its aftermath in Karachi have shown that the line between order and anarchy is still unacceptably thin, a terrifying prospect in a city that is definitely home to all manner of security threats. The problem is not so much that a lot remains to be done but that the government is not necessarily demonstrating the urgency and seriousness of purpose that the challenges facing the country demand. Pakistan needs and deserves more from its government.