Amid mounting challenges in Pakistan, Imran Khan's government extends hand of friendship to opposition

In what comes as a rare acknowledgment of its mounting challenges on multiple fronts,  the Pakistani  government on Saturday said it needed to "reduce bitterness" with opposition parties and leaders— whom Khan and his ministers often call "corrupt" and "criminal" political elites—and said they should talk about issues facing the country

Jan 02, 2022
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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

In what comes as a rare acknowledgment of its mounting challenges on multiple fronts,  the Pakistani  government on Saturday said it needed to "reduce bitterness" with opposition parties and leaders— whom Khan and his ministers often call "corrupt" and "criminal" political elites—and said they should talk about issues facing the country. 

“At the beginning of the new year 2022, I think we need to reduce bitterness. The government and the opposition should talk on elections, economy, political and judicial reforms,” Fawad Chaudhary, a federal minister and Khan’s close confidant, often at the forefront of demonizing opposition leaders, was quoted as saying by Dawn. 

Riding on his strong anti-corruption plank, Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power in 2018. Khan, who comes from a cricketing background, a highly popular sport in the subcontinent, soon became an anti-corruption hero, often targeting, demonizing, demeaning his mainstream political opponents. 

His government, backed by the country’s powerful military establishment, unleashed federal agencies after opposition leaders, stepped up his rhetoric of "zero tolerance" towards corruption, and jailed many top political leaders, calling them “corrupt” and in some cases “enemies.” 

Despite being a flawed democracy, Pakistan has a well-functioning parliament, with elected representatives. The government needs to get its bills passed in the parliament, which often requires a functional relationship between the government and opposition parties. 

Khan’s witch-hunting of political opponents—and often loaded rhetoric full of insulting words against them—resulted in the breaking down of that functional relationship, needed for the smooth functioning of parliament. 

On Saturday, Federal Minister Fawad tweeted, “Pakistan is a great country. We need to understand our responsibilities. It diminishes the prestige of politicians. Ruckus in the parliament lowers the repute of politicians in the eyes of the common man.” 

However, that realization came when the government is steadily losing popular support, mainly due to mismanagement of the country’s economy. High inflation has turned the people against the government. The ruling party, PTI, has also lost out badly to opposition parties in recently held local elections. 

The government has been seeking fundings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has conditioned cash aid to a series of reforms in many sectors. Many of these much-needed reforms—requiring hiking taxes, fuel and electricity kprices, and cuts in government spendings—are politically unpopular. 
  
To get $1 billion, part of the $6 billion bailout package, from the IMF, the government has recently introduced a mini-budget, to implement the IMF’s suggestions. However, the bill couldn’t be passed as opposition parties created a ruckus in the House. 

Furthermore, the more delay the government does it in putting these reform measures on the ground, the more damage it could do to the ruling party in the next general elections, due in two years from now. Significantly, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an umbrella body of opposition parties, has been planning to hold a massive “anti-inflation March” in March this year.  

(SAM) 

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