Look what Imran said at the remembrance ceremony. See who the PTI has left to twist in the wind, again. Behold the embarrassment of the dam-water debate.
But, for now, on to different things.
Because the mistakes are now piling up, it’s easier to sketch out what’s going wrong. Governance — that loose, woolly term that means something different to everyone — is off-track and it’s because of two disconnects.
Governance is already off-track because Imran has been gallivanting around making wild promises, dreaming up fanciful schemes and ruling through optics.
The first is between Imran and Asad Umar, the PM-FM symbiosis and closeness that’s missing. It is the PM-FM relationship on which all functional government or lack thereof is built and it’s easy enough to explain why.
All government, especially the big, sweeping, hope-y change kind, starts with money — how much is available, how much can be raised, how much can be spent? Because government is essentially about money and, in Pakistan, government is always about not having money.
That’s where the PM-FM relationship comes in: the finance guy is the adult in the room who has to have the ability to both tell his PM, usually on a child-like high with big ideas and no plans, what can be done and make sure the PM listens to him, at least somewhat.
Inevitably, that puts a strain on the PM-FM relationship in office — no PM likes to be told no, certainly not a Pakistani PM and definitely not Imran — and so going into their jobs, there needs to be a rock solid understanding between the PM and the FM.
Either the PM has to deep down know and accept that he doesn’t really know much about numbers or the FM has to have the trust of his boss, that the FM has the same vision and agenda as the PM, that they soar or sink together.
Imran, it is becoming apparent, believes he knows numbers. We can’t really be sure yet if he actually knows his finance and numbers, but in the dam talk you can see that numbers to Imran is about belief — if you want the impossible, start by believing.
Probably not the best place to start in matters of finance and in Imran’s case worsened, likely, by the hospital and all the fundraising he’s done over the years. Still, not automatically and necessarily an immediate disaster — if there’s a strong FM around.
There isn’t. The numbers, when Asad Umar reveals them to Imran, will impose their own straitjacket — government is about money; that there is none available, how difficult it is to raise more and how impossible it is to actually spend less.
But governance is already off-track because Imran has been gallivanting around making wild promises, dreaming up fanciful schemes and ruling through optics. Imran, of course, is larger than life and a leader no one in his party can think to control or meaningfully restrain.
Yet, for all the public respect and consideration between Imran and Asad, there’s always been a coolness discernible. Much has always been made of Asad, along with Shah Mehmood, seeing himself, or being thought of, as prime-minister-in-waiting.
Whether the PM suspects that or the FM believes that, it’s equally dangerous to the PM-FM dynamic — either the boss suspects you of disloyalty or you think the boss is a dunce. Either way, not a good place to be.
It’s easy to make too much of the dynamic — the last chap who ruled had a financial sidekick who was trusted entirely, and maybe a bit too much. The sidekick delivered initial macro stability, but then undid it all with kooky, dated economic ideas.
But with weakness in the obvious, initial chain of governance, the PM-FM nexus, Imran’s capriciousness and executive novice-ness has allowed indiscipline and lack of direction to break out early across government.
You can’t see a JKT or Aleem Khan having allowed things to slip so quickly.
The other disconnect is systemic. It is now transparently obvious that 2018 has been first and foremost about keeping one chap out and, as a result, bringing another chap in. That has created multiple distortions, many effects of which were predictable and that are quickly becoming apparent.
It has left Imran with multiple dependencies and constraints — towards his political allies, towards the court and, of course, towards they-who-cannot-be-mentioned. Because Imran is discovering all of this for the first time, it’s looking like amateur hour to most others.
Imran probably thinks he’ll get to grips with them quickly enough.
But the dependencies and constraints don’t grow easier with time, they grow more insistent and pinch harder. And because of what they are rooted in, what 2018 has been about, it’s not obvious that Imran can ever overcome them — even if he really wants to, and does he really want to?
Governance, that loose, woolly term, is already off-track and it’s because of two disconnects: between the PM and the FM, and 2018 being as much about keeping one chap out as bringing a new chap in.
But that doesn’t mean disaster is already inevitable. Imran’s base will stay with him, no matter. The noise is turned up to deafening, but a few things will get done — especially once the financial straitjacket is imposed and reality sinks in.
Just expect a lot of drama along the way.
Then again, when has Pakistan not had drama?
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018