Measuring tabdeeli

August 28, 2018


THE PTI promises a new Pakistan. But can one measure change easily? Its manifesto, 100-day plan and PM Khan’s TV speech contain so many promises it’s tough to even list them cogently. But the five broad areas of basic needs, institutional reform, economy, domestic politics and foreign policy capture them all well.

Basic needs include income, food, health, education, housing, sanitation, water, energy, human rights, security (from terrorism and crime) and transport. We have massive needs in all these areas. Population, climate change and environment link closely with them. The prime focus must be on those marginalised by ethnicity, gender, faith, etc. Since the state must meet many basic needs directly, the PTI must reform institutions: parliament, the justice system (accountability bodies, lower courts and police), taxation and local bodies, and loss-making state entities. Creating a dynamic economy that helps meet basic needs is crucial too. That produces many sub-aims: immediately rebuilding foreign reserves; CPEC issues; cutting fiscal and external deficits and debt by increasing tax and dollar revenues; helping industry and agriculture increase jobs and exports; cutting inflation, interest and unemployment rates; and increasing savings and investment. Each of these sub-aims produces many sub-issues.

But PTI’s focus on these three could be diverted by domestic politics and foreign affairs. Domestic politics will involve deft handling: i) party and coalition fissures; ii) the big opposition and its credible rigging charges; and iii) civil-military and, more broadly now, elected-non-elected institutional fissures. The key foreign policy issues are regional peace, Gulf politics, US tensions; and FATF issues.

All five are linked. Basic needs are the primary aim but the economy, domestic politics and foreign policy may consume the most time. One must measure outcomes on all five, despite poor data and the many outcomes. But outcomes emerge slowly from state action, ie, legislation, policies and projects. Other factors affect them too. So, one must analyse outcomes, quality of actions and the role of other factors. Since such analysis will challenge voters and even individual experts, parliament or civil society must establish a neutral and competent body to track change and present findings lucidly to voters. This will help educate them to focus on issues, and not catchy slogans and dodgy reports by TV and social media.

Outcomes will depend on the quality of PTI actions, and that on the quality of its team.

Outcomes will depend on the quality of PTI actions, and that on the quality of its team. It’s too early to judge outcomes or actions but not the team. There, one sees problems. The PTI co-opted many ‘electables’ to win and looks as stale as PML-N and PPP now. There are the cabinet (dis)appointments, with mostly old faces taken on political grounds and not merit. How will old faces produce new Pakistan? Fans say PM Khan is the difference. How do we know he has such huge abilities? Fans point to his cricket heroics. But running a complex state is much tougher than running its cricket team. And even in cricket did he win with a weak team selected on political grounds? Ignoring pressure, he selected the best team. He had this magic to spot hidden talent. We don’t see that magic in selecting his cabinet.

One can also judge early populist orders to cut costs, all in areas where managerial orders alone move mountains. But unluckily the complex issues listed above don’t budge much before managerial orders. Such populism will save some money. It is thus a minor plus but not a substitute or even predictive of real change soon, which requires long effort and very different skills. There’s much moralising happening too. So he will live in a modest state house. Good. But cynics tired of moralising demand the same in his private life to set an example in a place where most live in huts.

One must also judge the growing recent violence of allegedly PTI supporters: on people by a minister in ’Pindi and an MPA in Karachi; on opponents and anchors on TV by a leader; and on their own offices, TV vans and even reportedly a donkey by workers. For a party saying it is different from others, this is bad. Will PTI become like BJP, with an honest and populist top leader who ignores rank violence and even sleaze?

I predict slow change (as before) as a social scientist and surely no new Pakistan. Hope is good but not wild hope. What if I am wrong? Well, I will just tweak my prediction models a bit and continue predicting merrily. What if I am right? Even if he fails wild hope may live on for those seeing a messiah in Imran given his cricket heroics. Our best ex-captain is actually Misbah and not Imran. So, wild hope may soon turn to him. Messiah Misbah — it even rhymes better!

The writer is a senior fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2018