The year 2019 is very crucial for Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan, both on domestic and international fronts. It will not only be the test for his leadership skill to cope with the changing developments but also to ensure political and economic stability within the country.
All this, PM has to keep his own ‘House In-order’, which at present was not fully in order and controversies like Azam Swati, Razak Dawood and Dr Farrukh Saleem did not go well. He also has to control his ministers’ temper and though some Opposition leaders also used abusive language it is the government, which needs to act cool. Sooner they will understand that it’s better for the PM and his team. So what are the real challenges ahead and is PM ready for them?
On the domestic front, handling of the possible fallout of the cases against the key Opposition leaders including the key players of two Opposition families, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari, will be the first test of the PTI government in 2019.
They have two options. One, to keep themselves at distance from the court proceedings against Opposition and let the law take its own course or to attack the Opposition and adopt aggressive tone. At present, they have picked the second option, which perhaps would not help in bringing political stability and as a result its impact can come on economic conditions.
It is now up to the prime minister and his team to decide whether they want to bring political sanity in the country without compromising on its basic narrative against corruption and accountability or go for political confrontation to keep their opponents on the defensive. There is an element of risk involved in the second option ie instability.
It is but certain that the final political fate of three-time elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz would be decided in 2019. His fate was also linked with the fate of the PML-N, which so far looked very much intact after they decided not to take confrontational path.
This year Zardari and other PPP leaders will be facing serious cases, which can even lead to changes in the Sindh setup. The year will also be the test for NAB and its claim of across the board accountability if only the Opposition leadership and that too of the PPP and the PML-N become its prime traget and adopt soft attitude towards the ruling elite, the very purpose of accountability would be damaged, which may help Opposition to exploit the situation in their favour.
The year 2019 will also be a new era for the Supreme Court after the retirement Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on January 17 and he will be replace by the CJ-designate Justice Asif Saeed Khosa. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar would be remembered for many outstanding decisions in his tenure and also for his keen interest in fields like health, education, human rights and above all his campaign for building a ‘DAM’. In 2019, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa will be handling some important cases and his decisions can go in history as landmark decisions. But for all that we have to wait.
Another big challenge in 2019 will be local bodies’ elections in the country. Government apparently looked confused as they have not been able to bring a new Local Government Ordinance, particularly for Punjab, which will be the real test for both the PTI and the PML-N popularity.
While there will be lot of political happenings in the country in 2019, Pakistan will be facing daunting task at the international front as well.
In February this year, the case of Indian spy Kulbushan Jhadav, would come up for crucial hearing at the International Court of Justice. Pakistan claims it has solid case against him when he was arrested and his terrorist network was unearthed in Balochistan and Karachi. A serving officer in Indian Navy is already facing death penalty in Pakistan.
Despite tension with India, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership are on one page in improving relationship with India and ready to discuss all outstanding issue including Kashmir.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is confident that after India’s elections this year, the government would revisit its relationship with the eastern neighbour.
The 2019 will also be a ‘Year for Afghanistan’, and if Pakistan’s efforts bring some basic changes in Afghanistan including the withdrawal of the US troops and accord between the US and Afghan Taliban, with the cooperation of other powers like Russia and China, it will be Pakistan’s major victory on diplomatic front.
US President Donald Trump’s desire for meeting the new Pakistani leadership also gives new hope for future relationship between the two countries under the leadership of two quite different and strong leaders in their own right.
So if Trump meets Imran, not just for a shake-hand but for meaningful dialogue, it can turn out to be ‘News of the Year’.
Pakistan was still not out of trouble regarding FATF, and government has to satisfy them of their efforts in checking ‘money-laundering’. It is very important and government is confident that they would be able to satisfy them as they had taken steps for checking money-laundering.
On the economic front, the challenges are far graver and there are lots of grey areas as well. Whether Dr Farrukh Saleem was prime minister’s adviser on economic affairs or not, the fact remains that the issue which he had highlighted was of concern for the new government.
The man who has been advocating PTI’s view even before he was picked up as adviser had only warned the government about the grey areas, but the way some of the ministers had reacted and finally succeeded in removing him only reflects confusion within the government.
All this has come before government-IMF talks, which is expected later this month or early next month and also the possibility of a ‘mini-budget’.
Similarly, Razak Dawood’s controversy will not go well for the government and it is matter of ‘conflict of interest’, and it is better if he steps down in a bid to see his company now run by his sons continue with the project.
Therefore, by all means the year will be full of ‘news’ as there were also lot of newsmakers in the PTI government and Opposition is also not far behind. One thing is certain that the PTI government and the premier cannot afford political confrontation at this crucial juncture.
As far as the Opposition parties are concerned, their problems were linked with the cases of back-to-back corruption, which is also keeping them busy. Let’s see who will emerge strong in 2019, the PTI government or Opposition led by PPP and PML-N.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang