While the ostensibly inexorable slump of Pakistan cricket continues, it has increasingly come to resemble and reflect the broader social and political behavioural patterns. One of the more recent woes of Pakistani batting line up is the ‘conversion problem’ – batsmen make impressive starts but fail to convert them into big scores. They get off to a decent start, show positive intent and then play an ill-advised shot just at the opportune moment. The result is often a dramatic batting collapse. The refusal to learn from previous mistakes is the only consistent feature of this batting line up.
The story of Pakistani politics is not very different. Take the style of politics of the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. His previous tenure as PM was marred by confrontation with the army and the judiciary, thanks to his brash and ill-judged political moves. He did not believe in engaging political opponents and was particularly indifferent to the concerns of the smaller provinces. The end result was a military coup, Sharif brothers’ incarceration and then exile to Saudi Arabia. Nawaz Sharif had to wait for more than 13 years to return to power.
When he took charge for the third term as Pakistan Prime Minister, many political pundits and observers hoped that Nawaz Sharif was a “changed man” and had learnt from the past. This optimism was not misplaced given the maturity demonstrated by the PML(N) in the opposition benches during the PPP regime. The PML(N) played a key role in developing ‘civilian consensus’ on protecting the country’s democratic dispensation against unconstitutional moves, thus in effect disavowing any direct or indirect military intervention in politics. In addition to contributing to democratic consolidation, the PML(N) also showed some signs of having shunned its traditional Punjab-centric approach to politics and put on federalist cloaks. Punjab’s role in the passing of the 7th NFC Award and Nawaz Sharif’s friendly overtures to the ethno-nationalists of Balochistan and Sindh before 2013 elections gave one sufficient reasons to believe in the more democratic and federalist outlook of the erstwhile ‘centralist’ PML(N). This perception was reinforced in the wake of the 2013 elections when Nawaz Sharif respected the mandate of the nationalists and the PTI in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa respectively.
However, ever since the PML(N) has come into power, it seems intent on spoiling the goodwill it has laboriously earned over the past few years. In contradiction to its earlier pro-federation gestures, the PML(N) has emerged as a “centralist” party with little regard for the rights and prosperity of smaller provinces. To begin with, the party’s stance on terrorism has mainly been determined by a concern to ensure the security of Punjab. It has shown high pain threshold for terrorist violence affecting other provinces. Secondly, the PML(N) has seriously undermined the political and fiscal decentralization introduced by the 18th amendment. It has created new federal ministries to carry out responsibilities in fields that were devolved to the provinces in the 18th amendment. Similarly, a number of federal bodies that now fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of provinces have not been devolved (e.g. Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and the Workers Welfare Fund). Additionally, the rule that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) should meet at least once every 90 days has not been followed.
Finally, the ruling party has ignored the viewpoints of smaller provinces, especially Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on vital issues related to the much-touted China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). First off, there is an acute lack of transparency about the actual route of the corridor, the development projects and the location of economic zones to be set along the route. The Ministry of Planning and Development website does not provide any detail of the proposed route and agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) signed between the two governments. Secondly, the chief ministers of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who were conspicuously absent during the visit of the Chinese President, were not consulted. Not surprisingly, lawmakers from these provinces, especially Balochistan, have expressed serious reservations regarding the corridor.
A map given by the Wall Street Journal shows the proposed route of the corridor and location of energy projects. The CPEC consists of multiple routes, two of which pass through Punjab and one through Balochistan and KPK, with the later being the shortest of all routes. The Minister for planning maintains that work is underway on the western (Gwadar-Quetta-Peshawar) route and that it will become functional once it is ready. However, the honourable minister has given no time frame for the completion of the western route. There are multiple issues with this multi-route economic corridor.
First, there is no credible commitment that the western route will be developed quickly and made functional. Secondly, even if the commitment problem is somehow resolved, the western route is unlikely to become the main route upon its completion. Since the two eastern routes passing through Punjab will become functional way earlier, huge investments would be made and economic zones established along these routes by the time the work on the western route is complete. Consequently, it will be near impossible to relocate resources and investment to the western route passing through the barren and relatively insecure land of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Thirdly, the proposed $46bn infrastructure and energy spending plan is contrary to the principles of inclusive economic growth and equitable development. A mere glance at the map gives one the impression as if the territories west of Indus are not a part of the plan. Out of the ten odd power plants and energy-related projects, only one is located in the provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa each. The proposed railway track is also likely to pass through Punjab. Moreover, while funds have been earmarked for the upgradation of Karakorum Highway (Havelian to Thakot) and Karachi-Lahore Motorway (Multan to Sukkur) and establishment of Lahore Metro Train project, no funds have been allocated for infrastructural development in Balochistan (barring Gwadar). The only investment promised in Balochistan is in Gwadar and that too is aimed at augmenting the extractive capacity of Islamabad. As far Balochistan is concerned, the corridor and the concomitant investment will only build extractive institutions benefiting a tiny elite. This focus on extractive rather than inclusive institution building is likely to accentuate income inequalities and regional disparities.
The CPEC offers Islamabad an opportunity to reverse its neo-colonial policies in Balochistan, FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and help them come out of the conflict and poverty traps. The governments of Balochistan and KPK should mobilise the Council of Common Interests to get their reservations heard. The ruling party should use this propitious moment to bridge gaps in regional prosperity levels and embark on a path of inclusive economic development. Most importantly, it should learn from the past and capitalise on this opportunity to establish its credentials as a genuine federalist party. Otherwise, its fate is unlikely to be any different from that of Pakistan Cricket.