Predictions for the New Year

With a new year and new decade having just begun, the game of predictions-making has begun in full swing. Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain was correct in many of his predictions last year, so it is interesting to see what he foretells for the new year. The good doctor makes his predictions in The Daily Times today, and there is much reason to hope that his predictions are largely correct – stability in government, greater democratization, reduced load shedding, and less violence from militants.

The 17th Amendment will eventually go this year but not until the PPP, without whose parliamentary support no new amendment can be passed, has extracted its ‘pound of flesh’ (and blood) from the N-League leadership

My first article for this newspaper in the new year is about predictions I made the previous year, how right I was, and then my predictions for the new year.

So, first my predictions about the last year (Old predictions and new, Daily Times, January 5, 2009). I was right that Mr Zardari will remain president and Mr Gilani will continue as prime minister. I was also right about the provincial governments, especially in my assessment that Mr Shahbaz Sharif will continue as chief minister of Punjab with a functionally minority PML-N government.

I was right in predicting that the Indian government will refrain from taking any direct action against Pakistan as retaliation for the Mumbai massacres.

I was right in predicting that the Taliban would lose support of the majority of Pakistani people if they continued their terrorist attacks on civilians.

I was right in predicting that the Punjab government would somehow ban basant once again, a remarkable example of ideological concurrence between the previous Q-League government and the present N-League government. I was also right about load shedding ending only if Pakistan completely ran out of electricity — with no loads to shed, there would obviously be no load shedding.

However, I was completely wrong about the Chief Justice (CJ) not being reinstated. And I was also wrong in believing that President Obama would not escalate the US involvement in Afghanistan.

Here goes for this year. First, the easy ones: President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and all the chief ministers and provincial governments will stay essentially where they are right now. Of these, the only person who might be at risk is PM Gilani, but I believe that he will continue in his present position barring any major political crisis that I cannot foresee at this point.

Basant of course will again be cancelled, but the Lahoris will find some outlet for their irrepressible urge to celebrate spring.

Now to the more dicey predictions. The CJ and the higher courts will settle down into a state of ‘judicial restraint’ after their initial activist exuberance of the past year. The fallout of the disappearing National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) will however escalate, slowly but surely, and some of the former ‘beneficiaries’ of this law will either be forced out of government for good or at least be forced to resign until such time that that they are cleared by the courts or settle with the authorities.

The recipients of major loans that were ‘forgiven’ during successive past governments will be the next major category of people to be brought under investigation. This investigation must involve a much wider class of political ‘operatives’ otherwise charges of party-specific victimisation on the part of the higher courts will become a valid concern.

About other political forecasts, the 17th Amendment will eventually go this year but not until the PPP, without whose parliamentary support no new amendment can be passed, has extracted its ‘pound of flesh’ (and blood) from the N-League leadership. I do not believe that Mian Nawaz Sharif will contest for a national assembly seat as long as the 17th Amendment is still in place. A precursor to the repeal of the 17th Amendment in my opinion will be the return of the PPP as an active part of the Punjab government.

Since I do not see any ‘mid-term’ elections happening this year, therefore I do not foresee any important structural changes in any of the major political parties this year either (sorry Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan!). Most importantly, the pipe dream of a ‘national government’ will remain as such. Frankly, we already have pretty much a representative national government, since the coalition at the centre represents all the major political parties from all the provinces with the exception of the PML-N.

Now to some non-political matters. The most important sideshow going on right now in Punjab is the escalating confrontation between the physicians on one side and the Punjab government and the senior judiciary on the other. Already, many physicians are refusing to take care of sick patients for fear of being accused under the criminal procedure code (CPC) in case the patients don’t do well. This trend must be interrupted or else it will have severe consequences for healthcare delivery in the province.

So, I predict that some form of healthcare legislation will be passed this year that de-criminalises medical ‘malpractice’ with a simultaneous increase in surveillance of private medical centres and of the lax ‘certification’ process of private medical colleges and universities and of their graduates. The rapid increase of ‘for-profit’ medical colleges is a serious threat to the future of medical care in the province and must be scrutinised properly.

Concerning load shedding, I actually believe that by the end of this year it will really become much less of a problem. Here, foreign aid under the Kerry-Lugar Bill and foreign direct investment will play an important role in improving the power production capability within the country, though improvement in the state of law and order will be an important prerequisite before this can be accomplished.

And this brings me to the most important problem facing the country at this time. It is my considered belief that the recent spate of terrorist activity will settle down as the Pakistan army continues to put pressure on the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, the most important factor is going to be an escalating abhorrence for the terrorists among the people of Pakistan. If the leadership of the PML-N finally accepts that controlling terrorism is more important than repealing the 17th Amendment and comes fully on board, then it will become easier to mobilise public opinion against the terrorists.

About the US ‘surge’ in Afghanistan. I do not think it will succeed in pacifying Afghanistan, but it might relieve some pressure on Pakistan, as more of the Taliban along the border will join the fight in Afghanistan.

And no, I do not think that the Chief of Army Staff will get an extension.

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