Century-old promises

Published November 23, 2018
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan is not the first one to be put on trial for what he had promised to achieve in a short, specific span of time — his initial 100 days in power. All in the government are moved by this necessity to claim success even before beginning the job. Few have passed the test of public scrutiny as the deadline nears expiry.

It would have been rather unreal if Khan Sahib had passed this stage with any less difficulty than the others. After all, notwithstanding the myths some of his followers would want to attach to his person, the prime minister comes across as your standard leader willing to try any solutions that this world has invented to deal with the issues, with ‘utmost sincerity and honesty’, a phrase we have been subjected to frequently in Pakistan.

There is no escape from proclamations. The vows expressed by the military globally for the sake of morale are so inherently a part of culture that even requests about a discussion on their merit today is met with a steely ‘no’. Others in crucial positions to ensure people’s security, or deliver them from a serious situation in any other area of governance, may be similarly compelled.

Take, for instance, Shahbaz Sharif pledging to end the energy crisis in a short, specific period, rather than taking the ‘easier’, less dangerous route of doing it first and asking for credit later. In this case, he then had to come up with a new specific time period for achieving the task and then replace the time frame with another, and then another. These were U-turns and called out as such, except that no genius in the government then advised Shahbaz Sahib to stand up and proudly own up to his ability to take the U-turn as some kind of a secret vision he was blessed with.

It would have been rather unreal if Khan Sahib had passed this stage with any less difficulty than the others.

Then not too long ago, among others, we had an interior minister who was very fond of saying that the country had gotten rid of ‘the scourge of terrorism’. Each time he made this statement to the media, it sent shudders down the spine of the paranoid souls who feared retaliation against the minister’s boast. The question was asked then just as it has been raised every time a leader predicts enemy surrender without what you would call conclusive evidence.

There have been so many snubs but this is how this world works. It is an adventurous path that the leaders cannot do without. Setting targets, fixing agendas, proclaiming control and mastery over events that are yet to take place is an essential, if not the most basic, part of their politics. Those in charge are not supposed to quietly work on things, emerging from their low profile to claim a major breakthrough to the pleasant surprise of the people. This may be the preferred mode of the meek working by the old animal instinct that required them to lie low until they were a breath away from their goal.

The rules and the indicators inside the house from where the proceedings are run are different. The assumption generally is that if you are able to achieve more than 60 per cent, even 50pc, of what you had set out to do, you have done a reasonable job of coming up to your own expectations.

This is true for all businesses, even though some enterprises are more result-oriented than others and quick to take corrective measures (U-turns if you like) that might involve a fast and sudden replacement of agenda, or strategy or leader — if you like, the coach who has not been able to deliver.

The PTI politicians have been quite bold in their defence of the 100-day target. They have been far too vocal about their grand designs in government so far to back off from their claims. There have, however, been a few murmured explanations by the government about the existing state of affairs being grimmer than the PTI had anticipated.

This argument about the government having been caught unawares — and unprepared — cannot be the most favoured one obviously. Simply put, it may sound apologetic to the vast numbers who have brought the party to power, as also provide the millions others the PTI must try and woo to its side a reason to stay away. The truth is that the reality the PTI was confronted with slowed down its campaign in certain areas where the party had promised reform, pledging that the tone of these changes would be set during the first 100 days of its government.

It has been by and large about the economy. The prime minster and his core team have to make sure that there is enough in the coffers before they can concentrate their attention on all other problems, which in one way or the other are related to the economy. It has been a tough job, from the IMF to Saudi Arabia to China to the UAE. But as visuals go, it can be said that towards the end of his first century, Prime Minister Imran Khan seems more relaxed than before, looking forward to the challenge and holding hands with Malaysia, apparently his favourite among potential partners.

There will be areas that experts and opponents are going to point to — which have not quite received attention or which have suffered because the government’s focus has been elsewhere during its first 100 days because of the unexpected position it found itself in. There has long been a list of the ‘usual suspects’ that governments in Pakistan have been guilty of ignoring in their rush for priorities after having vowed to give all causes and concerns due time and effort. Quite often the neglected, sensitive questions have suffered even more as a government has gone about attempting to do the ‘doable.

The PTI government is going to be duly and unduly criticised for a lack of initiative in quite a few areas. Let us not forget its promises in the more difficult areas — such as a peaceful and content Balochistan and a new province in southern Punjab.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2018

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