The attack on the Army Public School demonstrated how the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had often targeted the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
It has been a decade that Pakistanis would rather forget. It has not been the best of times as the country lurched from one crisis to another. The death of hope has made future prospects more uncertain. The overall crisis of leadership has never been so pronounced.
Despite two elections the democratic political process remains fragile. The country has already moved to becoming a diarchy with an ineffectual civilian government virtually playing second fiddle to the military. The weakening of democratic institutions has provided a greater opportunity to forces outside the government to get more deeply involved in manipulating politics while attempting to thwart basic rights.
More worrisome is that under a democratically elected government there is now a move to stifle freedom of expression and plurality of views through unannounced censorship and other forms of pressure exerted by security agencies. The populism is increasingly manifested in rising authoritarianism, thus undermining democratic political culture. The 2010s have seen further erosion in the rule of law. The state has seldom been so fractured.
The decade witnessed the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history when on December 16, 2014 the Pakistani Taliban took their campaign to a ruthless new level with an assault on a school in Peshawar that killed 141 people — 132 of them schoolchildren. The attack on the Army Public School demonstrated how the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had often targeted the country’s most vulnerable citizens. Described as Pakistan’s 9/11, the incident should have been a turning point in the country’s battle against militancy and violent extremism but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Violent extremism remains a major threat to the country’s stability. There are serious questions about the state’s capacity and willingness to counter radical sectarian groups.
The economy has remained the biggest challenge for successive governments in the past 10 years. A major challenge is how to transform a crumbling institutional structure and address the key constraints to economic growth. Pakistan will have to overcome the barriers to structural transformation that have been stifling its development in the previous decade. Partial and half-hearted reforms cannot take Pakistan out of the current morass.
The security of the country is threatened by a failing economy, population explosion, poverty and environmental degradation. A massive youth bulge and a rising uneducated and unskilled population with few prospects of finding productive employment presents a terrifying scenario. Failure to address these problems could lead to the country sliding further into the abyss of poverty. Pakistan has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, offsetting efforts to improve social indicators. With a 2.4 per cent growth rate, the population has crossed the 208 million mark, making it the world’s fifth most populous country. It is sitting on a potential demographic disaster with more than 60 per cent of its population under 25 years of age. The inability of the state to productively utilise a large young generation could cause further social dislocation and conflict.
Pakistan’s foreign policy challenges have not been less daunting in the last decade. With extremely problematic relations with the United States, growing tension with India and worsening conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been in a difficult situation on the external front too. India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir and its growing belligerence has created a very dangerous scenario.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan has played a very important role in facilitating negotiations between the US and the Afghan Taliban that have shown significant progress. But there is no probability of the Afghan war ending soon. To deal with these enormous internal and external challenges, the country needs political stability and a leadership that is not stuck in the past and has a vision for change.
By arrangement with Dawn