Another 83 days

Updated 08 Sep 2018


The prime minister has asked TV journalists he invited after assuming office to give him time, three months to be precise, before they start criticising his government for its shortcomings.

This request for a honeymoon period to a gathering of electronic media stars, many of whom he must see as friends as they contributed to his ascent to power, is indicative of the fact that life is very different in office for a leader known primarily for his grit in opposition.

Even though the request was made to a handful of journalists present in Islamabad, one can be sure many others who were elsewhere on the day would also grant the newly elected prime minister his keep-your-powder-dry-for-three-months desire.

The mighty PM won’t mind if we keep scribbling in a notebook all that we may have objected to during the three-month period.

But, while we maintain a voluntary embargo on criticising the government or the prime minister, I am sure the mighty Imran Khan won’t mind if we keep scribbling in a notebook all that we may have objected to during the three-month period.

My own humble notebook entries start with something I’d support eyes shut and that is austerity while in office. Even so, this needs to be well thought through as the prime minister now effectively lives in two residences — one for the weekdays, and the other reached via a helicopter on weekends.

In a country currently battling terrorism, no elected official need apologise for any security measures deemed necessary so the tenure of a holder of public office is not truncated at the whim of a crazed suicide bomber or the like.

So, now, even if the security arrangements at Banigala are not half as elaborate and expensive as they were at the private residence of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif at Jati Umra, these would be way beyond the cost of paying for a chowkidar or two.

In the same area, ie security, if the advice of the protection team assigned to the country’s chief executive is that he use a helicopter for some of his essential commutes, so be it. The talk of spending a mere Rs55 per trip (in an $11 million machine) is wholly unnecessary.

Optics are important but leaders should lead and not bother with how this and that looks as no amount of optics can fix all that ails us. It will need Einstein’s IQ and a Herculean will to steer us out of the mess we are in. This should remain our primary focus.

Much has been said about the prime minister’s choices for the chief ministers of Punjab and KP and we have also heard him defend his selection. Here I’d agree with Imran Khan as he knows his party officials better than we, on the outside, do.

If he thinks he has chosen with good reason, then the less informed about the strengths or otherwise of PTI legislators should wait before directing their fire at the party leader, and judge the two on their performance.

Although he appeared so convinced of his electoral victory in the run-up to the polls, it appears that the prime minister was taken aback when the results gave him the best chance of all of forming a government not just at the centre but in Punjab too in addition to KP.

His ascent to office probably made him forget his own words in support of Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s cause. His party’s candidate against Ahsan Iqbal in Narowal also used this weapon against then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal. In May, an assassination attempt had been on the latter by a man who police said supported Rizvi’s outfit.

The prime minister named an internationally acclaimed economist to his Economic Advisory Council, to the delight of all who believe in Jinnah’s Pakistan. When this decision was slated on the grounds of his nominee’s faith, his government first seemed to robustly defend the move and then capitulated.

Had Imran Khan remembered his own campaign slogans and also his interview during the dharna when he’d mentioned economist Atif R. Mian’s name and then was forced to backtrack saying he was unaware he belonged to the Ahmadi community, he would not have named the latter to the EAC.

Sometimes, governments take a decision for the right reason and take it back for the wrong one but I feel appalled how we have ended up treating a brilliant academic. And for no fault of his apart from his excellence in economics.

And three weeks into the new government we are still to see even a hint of a policy statement on what its economic managers are planning to do to arrest what they, rather uncharitably for the last government, describe as an immense looming economic crisis.

Finally, and I will take this up in greater detail after the three-month voluntary embargo, the prime minister made a rather naïve statement describing the civil-military imbalance and tension as a myth as the civilians and the military were all on the same page ie to make Pakistan ‘rise’.

There can be no doubt that the prime minister must be one of the most popular leaders in the general staff and the rank and file because he is seen as clean, incorruptible and a God-fearing man with ambitions tempered by a sense of reality and the right level of patriotism.

But surely on mere day 20 in office, he can’t rubbish the country’s entire tragic history which is replete with examples of civil-military rifts with each side accusing the other of acting in transgression of the constitutionally defined limits/ authority and the rule of law.

He should not have touched this issue on a day which was so solemn and sombre as the one earmarked to pay tribute to the memory of our martyrs who, over the years, have offered the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us can sleep in peace in our own beds. They were fighting our war.

This was a mere peek into some points in my notebook. Will delve in greater detail in about 83 days.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2018