ANOTHER up-and-down year has just passed, with a potentially momentous one lying ahead. If 2012 was the year of standing still — despite all the predictions and speculation, little changed, for the better anyway, on the political, economic or security fronts — 2013 may be the year Pakistan’s overall trajectory is tweaked again. Parliament in March, the president in September, the army chief in November and the chief justice of the Supreme Court in December — there is a potentially significant changing of the guard at key institutions in the year ahead. And yet, it says something about the inherent uncertainty of Pakistan that the year-end speculation has centred on possibility of the elected figures in that quartet — parliament and the president — not returning on schedule, whereas the other half, the unelected half, of the quartet may somehow find a way of continuing in power beyond 2013.
First, though, a look back at the year that has just passed. Politically, the main success was that the PPP-led government saw off various crises — ‘memogate’, the Swiss letter, closure of Nato supply routes, trouble in Karachi and myriad others — and has entered 2013 still very much on track to complete a full term in office. The first civilian-led transition of power is not the panacea it has sometimes been made out to be, but it is very much a necessary condition for Pakistan to definitively resolve the issue of who is to run this country: elected civilians or unelected would-be saviours? Unhappily, the PPP-led government continued to provide very little by way of leadership in the crucial areas of the economy or security. A looming balance of payments crisis; fears of a plunging rupee; a fiscal deficit that grows ever-more threatening; an energy crisis that refuses to recede; and resignation that either a fresh bailout package by the IMF will be needed in the year ahead or even more reckless borrowings will be made by the government from the domestic market — this is really the stuff of banana republics and shockingly out-of-touch plutocrats.
On the security front, neither the civilians nor the army-led security establishment provided any kind of leadership to rally the country in the fight against militancy. The odd speech here and there by Gen Kayani, President Zardari and Asfandyar Wali notwithstanding, the once-again rising graph of terrorism and militancy found virtually no resistance. Be it the purposeful targeting of Shias or a sophisticated jailbreak in Bannu or attacks on more military airbases, the government was unable to respond in the cities and districts and the military was unable to squeeze the space for militants in the tribal areas. Where the government did act, it conjured up Orwellian legislation by approving the Fair Trial Bill, which will create more problems than it solves, as did the Action (in aid of civil power) Regulation 2011 for Fata and Pata, which has been used to justify otherwise illegal and indefinite detentions, most notoriously in the case of the Adiala 11. And where the military did act, it once again tried to rely on the good Taliban/bad Taliban distinction in North Waziristan to selectively deal with a monstrous problem — a dangerous tactic that will undermine this country’s security and stability in 2013 and beyond.
Looking back on last year, it may not seem that going forward there will be any change for the better. However, the pivotal moment of the year ahead is the political transition. The civilians, be it President Zardari or Nawaz Sharif or even Imran Khan, have insisted that a free and fair election is the only political option — and both the government and parliament have taken measures to help achieve the goal of at least a freer and fairer election than in decades past. A strong and independent ECP is in place already, now a neutral caretaker set-up needs to be installed. The country can move forward, if the civilians demonstrate real leadership and the other power centres allow them to.