Let’s start with the strengths. There is a new government under a new administration. As always, there are supporters and detractors, as there should be in a healthy democracy, but between change and the status quo, change is always preferred, especially if the status quo is problematic and the country is Pakistan. Six months in and we have positive developments on the foreign policy front. First, we have a foreign minister; a development, by itself, not quite deserving a burst of applause, until you realise we had none in the previous government. Shah Mehmood Qureshi is sharp, classy, and effective and is making the right moves. Our relationship with the Chinese continues to become sweeter than honey and higher than the mountains and so on. CPEC promises domestic investment and development. Relations with the Royals and Emirates look promising – as aid packages blow air into our sinking life boat, one after the other. Even with India, there was an initial attempt at dialogue, rebuffed later by Prime Minister (PM) Modi (friendship with Pakistan is not an election winner in Hindutva land), sending a crisp message to the world: Pakistan wants peace, India doesn’t. The opening of the Kartarpur corridor threw things into sharper contrast: this is a Pakistan which desires peace and outreach. And if one believes Khan’s detractors that the current administration treads in lock-step with the mili-establishment, then one must concede the mili-establishment, too, was in favour of said overture. And finally, there are serious talks of the United States (US) withdrawing from Afghanistan, along with ongoing negotiations with the Taliban who despite 17 long years of US occupation still control 50 percent of the country. Almost a decade ago Imran Khan proposed the same, at which his detractors called him Taliban Khan. Today even someone like Lindsey Graham, a man you’d never accuse of having secret affections for Pakistan, agrees with Khan’s 10 year old diagnosis. It seems like the Americans are learning the lessons from Vietnam fifty-years too late. Earlier, Khan and Trump exchanged fire on twitter. Trump was at it again, using Twitter for his school yard antics, but Khan responded with facts and figures. Some felt Khan was brash and blunt, but a few days later, statements came out from a much more reconciliatory White House that Pakistan is a key ally in Afghan reconciliation efforts. The message seems clear: Pakistan has regional leverage, quite far from a country with its back to the wall. Our youth bulge is at once our greatest opportunity and greatest threat. A young, productive workforce could elevate this country to the highest levels of prosperity; an uneducated unproductive population could drag the country to the depths of despair On the economic front: the debt crisis, a ball the Nawaz government dropped, has been averted courtesy aid packages from ‘friends’ of Pakistan. A mini-budget was recently presented to boost commerce and business – via tax exemptions and cuts for SMEs and the agriculture and industrial sector. In other words, the government is committed to course-correction – a tall order considering just how far off the course things stand today. The notorious civil-military imbalance that’s ravaged the country since inception seems refreshingly contained. Some might view this as a negative development, especially those who think this has merely broadened the mili-establishment’s purview and influence, albeit with a softer touch. Khan’s advocates, however, view this as a paradigmatic shift in the running of the state, the PM calling the shots, the mili-establishment backing him along the way. Now the weaknesses: first, it’s true, Khan’s campaign agenda was justice and accountability, and the country desperately needs to set standards for fair-trade and ethics, but this is no time for the NAB to prowl the land as the grand inquisitor. The system, weak and recovering; requires surgery, not bludgeoning with a spiked club. Accusations of selective accountability will hurt the current administration and make any effort at progress painful. Second, the economy is not out of danger. Debt servicing and the military budget continue to eat away our budget. We ran up our debt when the Rupee was over-valued and now we must pay it back on a de-valued rupee – and no, it seems like there is no method to the madness, it’s just madness through and through. And our defense budget has actually crept up from the previous fiscal quarters – we need to decide, do we want military parity with India, or do want to educate and employee the 100 million kids coming up to employment age? Furthermore, we have the circular debt crisis, now effectively at $10 billion. Short of an overhauling of the power sector — inefficient DISCOs, line losses, private IPPs charging the government at pre-determined rates – this will remain a noose around the country’s neck and it’ll only tighten from here on. Thirdly, there are curbs and controls on the media. The moment a state drops the axe on free speech, it blows life into pockets of resistance which can tear it from within. And in Pakistan, free speech is not merely about gender preferences or views on the role of the state, it runs much deeper. There are people who are hurting in this country because they belong to the wrong religion, or the wrong province, or the wrong class, or the wrong tribe, or even the wrong worldview – wrong by whose standards? The standards etched in our constitution: some people are more equal than others. But the math is simple: you can silence journalists, de-platform student activists, and crush incipient resistance movements, but you cannot murder ideas, and ideas catch fire and birth revolutions along the way. Fourth, it’s good that the state arrested Khadim Rizvi, but what also needs to be arrested is the mindset that created him, and several others like him. Proscribed actors are still at large. Pakistan simply can no longer afford to be on the wrong side of history. We need religious education not deadly indoctrination, we need critical thinking not creedal conformance, and we need educated theologians not merchants of death. As for opportunities and threats, there is enough overlap between the two to confound a generation of thinkers and reformers. Our youth bulge is at once our greatest opportunity and greatest threat. A young, productive workforce could elevate this country to the highest levels of prosperity, an uneducated unproductive population could drag the country to the depths of despair. An ascendant China could be the giant wave which lifts all boats, it equally could be the tsunami which mercilessly inundates. Our looming water crisis could mark the moment when we fundamentally re-define how we irrigate our lands, conserve our water, refine laws and regulations around water ownership and such, or we might let the shortage devastate sentient life on our lands, generation after generation. Given this context, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that a huge mountain stands erected on the actions and will of those in power; a mountain of responsibility which will determine whether we rise to the apex, or remain crushed under its load. The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, February 15th 2019.