The nation was still in shock from the massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 as dawn broke on January 1, 2015, the month when the National Action Plan was formulated in response, and which has defined much of the state of the nation since. As plans go, it was more wish-list than plan and has been indifferently implemented since, with some elements more difficult to tackle than others. In particular, the registration of madrassas and the cutting off of funding to banned or extremist groups has been only partially successful at best. There is still no overarching national counter-narrative to that espoused by extreme ideologues within, and some remain nurtured by the state rather than constrained, an indication that such ideological positions are close to the heart of parts of the establishment.
The year has seen a re-crafting of foreign policy and in particular a pivot away from but not out of the influence of Arab states. The fulcrum was the decision — even with the briefest of hindsight a correct decision —not to join the Saudi-led war in Yemen. To have done so would have fanned the ever-present flames of sectarian conflict, occluded the developing and positive relationship with Iran and would have found little favour with any of our allies, both old-school and emergent. China is the place where Pakistan is going to do its metaphorical shopping in the future — the real-time shopping will continue to be done in the glittering malls of the Gulf, but the hardcore business of regional and national economies is going to be defined by the Chinese.
Further evidence of relative indifference came in the form of Pakistan’s submission to the Paris climate conference, where a delegation of 25 handed over a single page that committed the present and future governments to very little. Pakistan may have a miniscule carbon footprint compared to developed industrialised nations, but it is one of the 10 countries most at risk from the effects of global warming. Regular flooding on a massive scale has already damaged agricultural productivity, bad news in a nation where almost half the population is to a greater or lesser degree food-insecure. Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and ferocity the world over, and the heatwave in Karachi and Sindh that killed thousands must not be viewed as an isolated event. It will get as hot or hotter in years to come, and the country is woefully ill-prepared. We ignore climate change at our extreme peril.
Politically, 2015 saw a rattling of the dice. Overall the PML-N will judge that it had a good year. Having looked distinctly wobbly as the challenge from the PTI coalesced around the dharna before parliament in mid-late 2014, the PML-N has recovered well. For the PTI, it is both good and bad. It has both won and lost in by-election races and there is a sense that it has lost traction in terms of establishing itself as a party with a truly national footprint. For the PPP, it has been a dismal year. It holds its heartland of Sindh and little besides, with not much by way of optimism for 2016.
Terrorism took a beating in 2015, and since both the Karachi operation and Operation Zarb-e-Azb have rolled on, terrorist incidents have dropped markedly, and external mutterings of ‘failed state’ have fallen silent. The year is ending on a note of cautious optimism in respect of the single greatest impediment to national development — the quality or otherwise of the relationship with India. There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes in November and December, culminating in the ‘surprise’ visit of Narendra Modi, who received the warmest of welcomes from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. As years go, it could have been better, but it also could have been worse. We hope for better in 2016.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2015.