THE wide-ranging questions covered familiar topics, but the scattershot responses were a missed opportunity.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Prime Minister Imran Khan had an opportunity to present his government’s point of view to policymakers in the US and offer them a path ahead in a difficult region encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Instead, the prime minister chose to focus on grievance, the past and his own flawed understanding of the war in Afghanistan and the fight against militancy and terrorism inside Pakistan.
When asked, “Do you think Pakistan’s relationship with the US should warm up?” Prime Minister Khan could only offer: “Who would not want to be friends with a superpower?”
Earlier in the interview, Mr Khan did suggest that Pakistan wants a trade-based, multidimensional relationship with the US similar to the Pakistan-China relationship, but the prime minister did not elaborate on how Pakistan and the US could move beyond the security-centric ties the two countries have had since 9/11. Indeed, he did not offer anything substantive on resolving the core security issues either.
Perhaps more worrying is that Mr Khan suggested that his government is still not clear on what path it will take to steer the country out of a balance-of-payments crisis and ballooning fiscal deficit.
“We have two scenarios: one with the IMF and one without,” Mr Khan said in response to a question whether ongoing negotiations with the IMF will be successful.
If Mr Khan was intentionally ambivalent to try and gain an advantage with the IMF during negotiations it would perhaps be understandable.
But the markets have already shown skittishness at what has appeared to be indecision on the federal government’s part and could inflict further punishment if it is interpreted that negotiations with the IMF have reached an impasse.
The prime minister also said that the sums of recent aid committed by the UAE and China are confidential because those countries have demanded they be kept confidential. That flatly contradicts Mr Khan’s long-standing demand for more transparency in fiscal and international dealings.
Mr Khan has a commendable openness towards the media, both national and international.
In recent days, the prime minister has given several interviews and answered numerous questions. But Mr Khan must understand that his interactions with the media are evaluated in circles far and wide, not merely in the moment and by individuals he is directly speaking to.
The country needs policy direction and firm leadership to guide it through yet another phase of multidimensional crisis.
The self-imposed 100-day marker has now passed and there will be less room for error and excuse going forward. Instead of grievance, the prime minister should focus on what needs to be done at present.
Many of the government’s current problems are inherited; it should not add to that list by missteps of its own.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018