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Imran versus Imran

Updated November 28, 2018


IT is hard to pass a verdict on any government based on its performance in the first 100 days of its rule. But Prime Minister Imran Khan had himself set a benchmark to judge his administration’s performance. His 11-point agenda announced even before the elections has pitted Khan against himself. His populist rhetoric has raised expectations that he now finds hard to meet. Mixing politics with cricket has its own perils.

It has certainly not been an easy time for an inexperienced leader to take charge of what is often described as an ungovernable state. The former cricket captain was swept into power in elections that left the country more politically polarised. With a wafer-thin majority, the challenges for the new and untested administration have become even more daunting. Besides, Khan’s one-dimensional approach and his reluctance to come out of an opposition mindset have turned his politics into the stuff of satire.

While its policy of prioritising human development seemed right, the PTI government is falling short when it comes to governance and lacks a clear strategy for meeting the goals the prime minister set in his 11-point agenda. The elimination of corruption, self-reliance, health and education topped the list of priorities. It was seen as a welcome departure from the PML-N government’s obsession with grand infrastructure projects. But, there has not been any substantial progress on meeting those goals in the first 100 days.

There is no evidence to prove the government’s claim of having stabilised the financial situation.

Surely, the poor state of the economy inherited by the PTI government has been a major impediment in moving forward on the promises. Fixing the economy should certainly be a top priority. But, there is little sign of the country getting out of the economic crisis; it has no clear long-term policy direction. The government seems to be engaged only in a patchwork job.

While relying on Saudi Arabia and China for a bailout, there is no sign of the government willing to take tough measures to reform and restructure the economy. An IMF deal remains elusive largely because of the government’s indecision. Khan is stuck between his populist agenda and much-needed structural reforms. What the prime minister has failed to understand is that voodoo economics cannot provide a solution to the country’s deep-rooted financial problems. Then, there is also the question of capacity and vision for long-term thinking. Begging and borrowing do not provide a solution to our perpetual financial crisis. It is shameful when foreign financial help is projected as a diplomatic triumph.

It is evident that the government does not have a clear idea about the seriousness of the financial and fiscal problems. It is true that these problems could not have been fixed within 100 days, but some substantive steps should have been taken by now. Indecision and uncertainty have aggravated the crisis. There hasn’t been a single policy step that could help restore investor confidence. There is no evidence to prove the government’s claim of having stabilised the financial situation.

It was important for the government that lacks a clear majority in parliament to build a broad consensus on key national issues and avoid political confrontation. Instead, the ruling party’s confrontational approach, often paralysing parliament, has continued. In this situation, it will be harder for the government to get any cooperation from the opposition benches when it requires legislation on key issues. A major question the government should ask itself is how it will implement its ambitious reform agenda in a hostile political atmosphere?

Undoubtedly, corruption has been a major problem in the country, but the PTI government has taken the so-called accountability process too far, exposing itself to allegations of conducting a political witch-hunt. Khan’s campaign also raises questions about the autonomy of the National Accountability Bureau. The spectacle of university vice chancellors and professors being dragged to court in handcuffs is a black blot on the PTI government. Indiscriminate actions in the name of the anti-corruption campaign have also affected the function of bureaucracy.

On the foreign policy front, too, the government’s performance has not been enviable, to say the least. The prime minister has made two trips each to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and one trip to China, mainly to seek financial help. Khan may have been successful in his endeavour but at the cost of reinforcing the image of the country surviving on a begging bowl.

In both Saudi Arabia and China, the prime minister caused embarrassment by speaking about corruption being the biggest problem in Pakistan and that too at investment conferences. There is hardly any precedent of a Pakistani leader speaking on domestic problems at an international forum. It was certainly unbecoming of a national leader. Such an attitude cannot be attributed only to his naiveté.

Forming the government in Punjab, despite being a minority party, gave a much-needed political boost to the PTI. It is evident that no federal government can be effective without having control over the country’s biggest and most powerful province. But the provincial government’s survival depends on the support of disparate political groups and independent members. The tables could be turned anytime with a few defections. A weak and an inexperienced chief minister at the helm, and the emergence, consequently, of several power centres do not inspire much confidence, particularly when the success of the PTI’s reform programme depends on the provincial government.

What the PTI government lacks is professional capacity not only to navigate the country out of the financial crisis, but also to chart a long-term strategy for sustainable economic progress and carry out its reform agenda. A major advantage Imran Khan enjoys is the support of the military establishment and the judiciary, which provide his administration some semblance of stability. But, it may not work for long if the government does not get its act together and overcome its problem of governance. Surely, its performance in the first 100 days of its tenure may not be that critical, but it is an important learning curve for the prime minister and his team.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2018