PM’s defence of U-turns

Updated Nov 20 2018


IN attempting to address a perception, he appears to have unwittingly further exposed the problem.

After a bruising few weeks for his government and with the 100-day mark for his prime ministership fast approaching, Prime Minister Imran Khan met a group of journalists on Friday to try and allay concerns in sections of the public and the media that his government is suffering from a lack of direction and that Mr Khan has thus far failed to rise to the mammoth task of being prime minister.

Mr Khan may not have anticipated that a few remarks of his would sensationally overshadow his intended message of accountability and economic stability.

But the prime minister surely ought to have known better.

According to media reports, Mr Khan defended decisions of his government that have been characterised by political opponents as U-turns.

And the prime minister made a rather startling comparison to Adolf Hitler’s alleged unwillingness to reconsider the German invasion of Russia, which according to Mr Khan’s understanding was a mistake that ultimately led to Hitler’s defeat.

Were the prime minister’s controversial remarks simply carelessly framed?

At least when it comes to the remarks about Hitler that have been attributed to Mr Khan, the prime minister should offer an adequate clarification.

As for the prime minister’s claim that U-turns ought to be lauded as a sign of mature political leadership, the founder of the PTI was following a more familiar political course of blaming shifting circumstances for alleged changes in government policy.

But another explanation for the U-turns is that it is the PTI’s and Mr Khan’s understanding of the economy and governance that was inadequate to begin with, leading them to make claims in opposition that were never going to be fulfilled once in government.

A willingness to adjust policy to changed circumstances is a necessary and good attribute in a government.

But ignorance or a flawed understanding of a problem at the outset will inevitably require an adjustment to reality — which is the nub of the allegation against Mr Khan and his shaky start as prime minister.

There also remains a problem of clarity.

The 100-day plan of the government was originally seemingly billed as a set of achievements that the PTI would deliver in its first 100 days in office.

Yet, on Friday, Prime Minister Khan appeared to suggest that at the end of the first 100 days, a policy road map will be revealed.

Certainly, it is the government’s prerogative to decide its priorities, and three months is a fraction of the five-year term of parliament.

If Mr Khan and his government do unveil a realistic governance and reforms agenda in the days ahead, the government still has a great deal of time to implement its programme.

But the PTI needs to demonstrate a greater capacity for delivering on the promises it has made and will make.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018