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Pakistan Reader# 263, 29 December 2021

2021: Where the PTI scored, missed and floundered, and what it means for 2022

It was a rollercoaster year for Pakistan. Like the previous year. And the previous years

D. Suba Chandran

At the end of 2021, Imran Khan and the PTI remain relatively stable, despite opposition from the PML-N, PPP, JUI-F and a few other regional political parties. Not because of PTI's internal strength, but more due to the opposition's weakness. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an amalgamation of opposition political parties including the PML-N and JUI-F remains weaker because they could not reach an understanding with the PPP on a common minimum programme against the PTI. Besides, the PML-N remains internally weak due to the absence of Nawaz Sharif, and the difference between Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif.
The PTI faced a mini-crisis vis-à-vis the Establishment. Despite tall claims of being on the same page, Imran's relationship with the Chief of Army Staff remained tense during 2021. The difference between the two was evident over the appointment of the new DG-ISI. There were tense moments between the PTI government and the Establishment. However, both seem to be having a working relationship at the end of the year. Though, it is not the same as it was in January 2021.
The Establishment may have won 2021 to keep its supremacy vis-à-vis the civilian institutions. However, multiple fault lines were visible during 2021 and are likely to continue in 2022. While the PTI and the Parliament played second fiddle to the Establishment, there have been serious questions from three other institutions – judiciary, media and civil society. Never before the Establishment's supremacy was questioned, as was during 2021, by these three institutions. The Establishment may have won the battles with all three, but the war has just begun.
The biggest challenge to the PTI government in 2021 – neither came from the opposition parties, nor the Establishment. It came from the rise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). In 2021, the government took multiple U-turns in dealing with the TLP. The government attempted to cajole, coerce and ban the TLP; all of them backfired. The political and violent rise of the TLP in 2021 will continue into 2022.
The biggest failure for the PTI in 2021 was on the social fabric. Besides the rise of the TLP in 2021, the killing of a Sri Lankan citizen on blasphemy charges, violence against women, and the decision to negotiate with the TTP would highlight where the PTI failed to invest. The factors behind these developments would return in 2022 to haunt Pakistan.
In addressing the pandemic, the PTI government has a mixed record. The worst is over. However, the challenge was managing the economy and debt. Despite strong political rhetoric on not going to international institutions, the PTI would have limited options in avoiding the IMF. The question in 2021 for the PTI is not keeping away from the IMF, but how to reach an accommodation with the conditionalities.
A similar challenge was in terms of facing the FATF. The government passed a series of legislations in the Parliament that kept Pakistan from getting blacklisted by the FATF. However, the same could not help the PTI government get Pakistan out of the grey list. This is one foreign policy achievement that the PTI would have wanted very much.
However, Pakistan's most significant foreign policy achievement came from the western neighbourhood – Afghanistan. In January 2021, the PTI would have never expected the Taliban to return to power during the year. The American withdrawal and collapse of the Ghani government witnessed the return of the Taliban to Kabul with much ease. Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) also feel that Pakistan has returned to Kabul. Has Pakistan won in Afghanistan? 2022 will answer that question.
Another foreign policy success for Pakistan was knitting a network with China and Russia. While developments in Afghanistan helped Beijing and Moscow look at Islamabad as an option, the global political equations and India moving closer to the US helped Pakistan place itself in the centre of the China-Russia approach towards the region. Even if this means Islamabad getting distanced from Washington, Pakistan is willing to pursue that option. The PTI government, in particular, looks at China as an economic and political opportunity and the CPEC as a strategy. In 2022, Pakistan would move closer to China and Russia; and attempt to bring Beijing and Moscow more into the region.

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