Political slogans during an election campaign are a common phenomenon around the world, because as Carl Von Bismarck said, “politics is the art of the possible”. For the same purpose, political actors design their campaigns to garner public support and gain power to supposedly serve the people.
One such political campaign, which kept the economy as its main driver with an extremely appealing phrase, “The economy, dumb”, was coined by James Carville in 1992. Carville, who was the Democratic Party candidate in of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against incumbent George HW Bush, is commonly quoted as “It’s the economy, stupid.” The strategy worked because the US economy was in an economic recession in 1992.
However, long before Carville’s phrase on the economy, Pakistani politics also saw a very popular political slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” (Bread, clothes and shelter), by former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Every element of this promise had to be backed by a strong economy and since Pakistan’s economy never reached this level of strength, the people’s dream of obtaining basic amenities also remained unfulfilled.
Debate continues over whether economic security brings political stability or whether political stability provides the platform for economic security. While it is undisputed that without economic security, no state can remain truly sovereign and cannot avoid being exploited by international financial institutions (IFIs) as needed.
Economic security helps governments mitigate political crisis in a more organized way without jeopardizing state security and sovereignty.
In the post-COVID environment, although the pandemic is not completely eliminated and its impact will take much longer to dissipate, at least two countries in South Asia are experiencing severe economic downturns. Sri Lanka have already defaulted and Pakistan are placed fourth for a potential default. At least three global credit rating agencies – Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, which monitor almost the entire market, have downgraded their rating for Pakistan, showing uncertainty and lack of investor confidence. Similarly, the currency of Pakistan also continues its descent and does not seem to recover in the near future.
It is undeniable that even the most developed and advanced states with stable economies can have periods of political instability, but it is usually on a particular issue or for the request to replace an incumbent government for its unfavorable action. For example, most European countries face political unrest over issues of immigration, gender identity or women’s rights. Spain has experienced a long period of political turmoil over the issue of the Catalan region’s separation from mainland Spain. At least three prime ministers have resigned in the UK since the Brexit referendum in June 2016, although Boris Johnson’s resignation was unrelated to Brexit. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, South America or Africa as well, neither the political crisis nor the economic crisis is a deal breaker, but it is clear that economic security helps governments to mitigate the political crisis in a more organized way. without jeopardizing the security and sovereignty of States. .
Coming back to South Asia, the fragile economies of Sri Lanka and Pakistan did not leave enough space for the respective governments to weather the political storm. Sri Lanka has turned violent and defaulted, but Pakistan is still struggling on both fronts: political stability and economic security. It is an uphill task for the incumbent government as the people on the streets are demanding new elections, while the current coalition feels that the time is not right for them to stand in the general elections.
Even though I keep politics out of this article, the situation on the ground clearly reflects people’s mood. I have only recently introduced the theory of peoplism and it seems to be gaining popularity among concerned circles. The sole purpose was to highlight the fact that the people of the developed world are fortunate to have their opinion duly taken into account and that the ruling elite has very little room to ignore public opinion. While this was not the case in Pakistan until recently. However, it is with hope and relief that I can write that the people of Pakistan are now being heard in relevant circles and the feelings of the people are being respected to some degree, even if not in their entirety.
It is perhaps the first step towards lasting political stability that would ultimately lead to economic security, as state institutions draw their strength from public support and can make long-term political and strategic decisions with greater confidence. . Also from the people, when they see that their leaders are making decisions in the national interest, which must be in line with the public interest, they also come forward to take ownership of that decision and stand behind the government and state institutions.
All Pakistan needs now is a legitimate government, chosen by the people and supported by state institutions, thus regaining political stability; which will ensure an economic recovery. It may sound simplistic, but it is certainly doable and must be done in the national interest and the economic security we so badly need.
The writer is the author of the book “Nuclear Deterrence and Conflict Management between India and Pakistan”. He currently works as Director of the Center for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS)