Here stands Pakistan, bidding farewell to the horrible year of 2023. The year has left behind scars and wounds that have yet to heal. Foes and woes have cropped up, and crises have deepened. The situation turned bizarre at every formidable event. Worries have multiplied, and happiness has divided. Uncertainty blankets the nation at a time when the 2024 general elections loom. Let us take a recap of Pakistan’s 2023 saga.
May 9 & A Divided PTI
“When wrath speaks, wisdom veils herself”—it was May 9 when the whirlwinds of revolt growled through the region of Pakistan, taking away with them the reserves of unity and solidarity. The air was contaminated with hatred and disrespect, leaving traces of peace. “Political pollution,” as no surprise, was increasing with little or no steps to reduce the dramatic effects of the ‘national climate,’ yet the catastrophic storm that hit Pakistan has shaken the true patriots to the bone, and everyone had to rethink. Let’s delve into the summary.
As the military claimed, the 9th of May 2023 was a “black chapter” in Pakistan’s bleak history. The state held Imran Khan, the supreme leader of the PTI and ex-PM, on that day. Immediately after the buzzing news of his arrest surfaced on social media, the public halted its activities; PTI workers and youth suffocated on the roads. Buildings had been set ablaze, and virulent slogans reverberated in the air. Police and military came under the barrage: police for ransacking PTI party members’ residences, while the latter was declared ‘guilty’ by the public for its alleged involvement in politics.
Scathing WhatsApp statuses, mocking trending tweets, and sarcastic memes: the required ingredients gave a good flavor, but physical violence, as it grew, gave a final touch of spice. The drama unfolded swiftly, cooling off the emotions; the apex court termed Imran’s arrest “illegal” on the 11th of May. Then, he moved to police custody, and later, as he received blanket bail from the Supreme Court, IK had the freedom to move back to his residence in Lahore.
May 9, 2023, marked a ‘Black Chapter’ as Imran Khan’s arrest triggered chaos, leading to PTI’s fragmentation.
Meanwhile, two audio leaks added colors to the picture, and acrid remarks by Maryam Nawaz, thrown at the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), finalized it all. Cut it short: the nation stood at a standoff. Onwards, the destruction distorted the dimensions of ongoing politics. After May 9, PTI is continually under the fragmentation process, as many confidants bade the party farewell under the guise of condemning the horrendous May 9 incident and forming new parties as a preventive measure against being tried in military courts. The two daughter parties emerged: “Istihkam-e-Pakistan,” led by Jahangir Tareen in Punjab, and PTI-P in KP, founded by Pervez Khattak. Some even posed, stepping out of the mud of politics. The magnitude of the tension in the PTI-military cord increased. A trend emerged. Any PTI member who would spring up on social media got arrested.
Ahead await crusts and troughs. Khan had been indicted in the “Cipher case” initially, but recently, he secured bail. The Election Commission demanded PTI to hold intra-party elections, as a result of which Khan handpicked Barrister Gohar Ali Khan. The next obstacle was the election logo. ECP’s ban on the cricket bat logo mirrored the entity’s politics. However, PTI election candidates got a headache pill from the Peshawar High Court by suspension of ECP’s move. While Imran Khan has been allocated breathing space in the cypher case, he has yet to fight at several legal and political checkpoints to rebuild his shattered dream. Legal cases, momentous allegations, and arrests embellish the electoral period. And it was Khan this time to maintain the tradition. It is time for the populist leader to learn the lesson, tone down his rhetoric, and probe his strategy.
Previously, the PTI had been optimistic about contesting the elections despite its weakening ties with the military. Here, public power wins the plaudits for the party’s expectations. Not surprisingly, PTI’s winning probability was high. However, May 9 turned it all upside down, raising Imran Khan’s ire to new heights as he lashed out at the army, radiating more confidence and political independence. As a strike back to the ego, the military vowed to give strict punishments to the ‘planners and masterminds of the May 9 incident, and the teaser to the statement was released, with approximately 5000 PTI workers getting arrested. With political units divided and defensive bodies earnestly indulging in politics, PTI does not appear to have a chance of celebrating triumph this time.
The comeback of Nawaz Sharif
The Sharif clan is back and is now stretching its muscles. The previous two years slid with top brasses of PML-N announcing the leader’s arrival date now and then, but all compounded to no effect. Perhaps senior party officials needed to be aware of the insights. Or it was a collective tactic to keep the supporters glued to the party. Gradually, PML-N voters became hopeless.
Noteworthy: once wrapped up in complex judiciary matters, nothing was a sweeter escape than living in a self-imposed exile by feigning illness. Nawaz had been handling party affairs remotely, termed the ‘London plan.’ How whimsical to observe the elder Sharif traveling to Dubai and other countries while battling illness. Alas! He had to put off his comeback.
The strategic return of Nawaz Sharif amid political shifts and questions surrounding judicial decisions.
A return to Pakistan meant jumping into the legal well. It was not his turn. The stage was in preparation for him. Once Imran Khan was incarcerated and PDM’s regime was over, it was the perfect time to book a return ticket. The road was all clear and went hand in hand with the establishment. The same reason cements the diversion of Nawaz’s comeback speech, delivered on October 21st, from hitting out at the establishment, which played him down back in 2018. He had to be back for the general elections. Shahbaz Sharif cannot contest for the seat of power in his big brother’s presence.
Connecting the dots, while one might clap at the clever thinking and political moves of Nawaz, eyebrows get raised at the independence, transparency, and robustness of the judiciary. The same ropes once suffocated Nawaz; now, as he gets exonerated from all blame, one wonders: “If he was innocent in these cases, why was he charged four years ago? Did the judiciary make a mistake in deciding, or did some unique evidence as proof of innocence pop up from nowhere?” The quasi-political stance of ECP is in question, as the adage says, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Inflation and the Economic Crisis
The economic crisis is another full-grown stem of political instability. The strife between PML-N leaders Miftah Ismail and Ishaq Dar nudged Pakistan to the verge of calamity. Petty foreign exchange reserves, mundane and ineffective monetary policies, skyrocketing interest rates, poor governance (a consequence of political unrest), and an all-time low rupee value—all the friends joined hands to threaten Pakistan monetarily. A meager total of $3.1 billion in foreign exchange reserves in January was a red signal for Pakistan. The rupee also hit an all-time low of 307 against the dollar. PIA also bore the brunt of this issue, as it had to cancel several operations due to a fuel shortage.
However, with the efforts of former Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the PDM-led government was able to ink a standby agreement with the IMF to avert default at the end of June. It all grew into thorns in the form of out-of-budget power bills and fuel and oil price hikes. Masses took it to protests, burning their power bills and demanding relief. The caretaker prime minister ruled out any ease for the public, as it was at odds with the IMF-set conditions. From all directions, it was the public that received comeuppance.
Cricket has always rescued Pakistan from the abyss of hopelessness on the global stage. It is not a sport. To Pakistanis, it is a firm belief and an undeniable feeling that induces love for the country every time. Cricket enlivens the spirit of patriotism and gives hope a chance to rise. However, fate was on our side this time. Asia Cup 2023 was a heart attack as the men in green got washed off in the semi-finals. The team had been struggling for a satisfactory performance.
Mainstay, Babar Azam, had forgotten his spell with the bat. The dangerous trio of Shaheen, Haris, and Naseem had broken, with Shaheen and Haris grappling to grab the scalps and Naseem Shah backed off by a shoulder injury. However, the nation has eyes fixed on the masterpiece event.
The Men in Green kicked off their World Cup campaign with back-to-back victories against easy foes, the Netherlands and Sri Lanka. Yet, ahead awaited laborious matches. Specifically, the arch-rivals’ showdown went ordinary, with Pakistani fans left dumb and Indians celebrating a mediocre triumph. Defensive play by Pakistan sacrificed all historic strokes and slaughtered the hopes of millions of fans. The target proved to be a piece of cake. Hitting a string of failures evaporated any excitement and energy on the Babar-led side. Pakistan’s cricket team broke unwanted records, including a pathetic loss against Afghanistan. Fakhar’s comeback was amusing, but one must admit, it was the wrong time.
Cricket disappointments, coaching staff shakeups, and Babar Azam’s leadership woes painted a dismal picture for Pakistan’s cricketing saga.
A dismal campaign drove Pakistan into a state of do-or-die. Green caps, already sucked by castigation by seniors and experts and multiple defeats, returned empty-handed without grabbing a chance to even leap into the semi-finals. It all became a cherished dream: Babar’s classic batting, Shaheen’s shock waves via the ball, Haris’s thrilling deliveries, and Shadab’s inviting performance. Fans regretted Naseem’s absence as well.
Notably, PCB shuffled the array after the World Cup campaign culminated in distress and grief. The entity had sacked the entire coaching staff. New faces have emerged as part of the PCB. Muhammad Hafeez, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, and Mohammad Yusuf have joined. Every crown has a price to pay. So was Babar’s case. Being bombarded with flaks after showcasing a below-par performance in CWC23, Babar had to step down from captaincy in all three formats. Consequently, PCB announced Shan Masood as the new captain for the test series and Shaheen Shah Afridi as the captain for the T20 series. However, PCB’s immediate announcement of new captains was shady. Recent audio leaks from PCB’s serving chairman revealed the scenario formed to push Babar out of his rank.
Wisdom smirks when one watches his country become a banana republic. The rhetoric of politicians is an echo of a slogan about echelons of power. The legacy Pakistan inherited in 2022 was unwanted baggage, and in 2023, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Years have flown by, and new generations have populated the country; a common question still resonates: “How long will poor governance, corruption, injustice, ignorance, and all these elements continue to corrode Pakistan?”
It is time for the election campaign. Every politician is in the race to enter corridors of power. In voluminous history, the word of the veracity of political rhetoric will remain. With the upcoming elections in 2024 blurry in the political chaos, the country has fallen short of an antidote to its woes. While everybody might argue in discussing the crisis, all are on the same page about elections. The nature of elections does not stand alone. Elections will not be a free and fair exercise. Let the nation watch what 2024 has in store for it.