Fewer places to hide

Published January 6, 2019
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

WELL, that’s probably not the start to the new year Imran expected. He’s been getting it in the neck from all sides and you almost — almost — feel sorry for the chap. Until you remember that his mistakes are everyone else’s pain.

Welcome to 2019.

Pretty much where 2018 ended and already it looks like it’s going to be a long, long year.

Listen carefully as the fuel and energy crisis suddenly spiked this week and you can hear a slight change in the critics’ focus: Imran himself.

On to the energy crisis. Shortages and gross inefficiencies are a fact of life here — and not even from the distant past. From Jan 16, 2015, in this newspaper:

“The twin cities and adjoining areas experienced a petrol shortage on Thursday for the third consecutive day. Motorists were seen shuttling between filling stations in search of fuel.

“Most filling stations suspended sale of diesel and petrol and long queues of cars and motorcycles were witnessed at the few stations where fuel was available. The long queues also caused traffic jams on many small and large roads.”

From Jan 17, 2015, in this newspaper:

“The country is left with oil stock of less than three days and its import has totally dried up as the Pakistan State Oil defaults on its payments and says it will need at least Rs100 billion and eight weeks’ time to retrieve the situation.

“According to PSO officials, no oil consignment has arrived at any port in the country for the past two weeks, whereas usually six to eight ships, each carrying 65,000 tons of oil, come to the country in a fortnight.”

From Jan 18, 2015, in this newspaper:

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the suspension of three top officials of the petroleum ministry and the PSO chief on Saturday in connection with the week-long petrol shortage in Punjab.

“On his return from Saudi Arabia, the prime minister called a meeting to review the crisis which has virtually paralysed life in Punjab.”

Now all we have to wait for is Imran to suspend a few bureaucrats.

Here’s the kicker from that farcical fuel shortage in fortress Punjab of the Sharifs, a farce that broke out a year and a half into the third term of an illustrious team:

“Asked if the federal petroleum minister would be shown the door if he was found responsible for the problem, [Musadiq Malik, the PM’s spokesperson] said: ‘A thorough investigation will fix the responsibility.’”

For the few who remember, the minister was Khaqan Abbasi and somewhere between him and Dar lay responsibility for the massive fuel shortage in wintery Punjab. Dar kept his job and went on to preside over the loopiest economic policy in a generation. Abbasi kept his job and went on to become PM. Musadiq is a senator.

But enough of the past.

Thus far, if there’s been a strategy evident — an Imran approach, as it were, to the politics of governing — it’s been to let people around him squabble and fight with each other. Ministers and advisers and sundry hangers-on sniping and undercutting may not be great for governance, but it has an unspoken benefit:

The ones squabbling among themselves are too preoccupied to have a go at the boss.

Most cabinets are full of opportunists and pretty much are a nest of vipers. There are only so many big jobs and even the most bloated of cabinets will have a bunch of folk unhappy about a bunch of things and either wanting someone else’s job or needing to cover up their own mistakes.

But Imran has an additional problem: he’s had to lash together a cabinet of Johnny-come-lately electables and PTI originals, with few big posts for the originals and significant questions of loyalty and competence of the electables.

It can seem distracting and is disorientating to have a shambolic cabinet lurch from crisis to crisis, and one round of infighting to the next, but for Imran that has to be better than the alternative: his own team turning on him and selling him out to the public.

The PPP and PML-N have been cleverer in their relentless focus on Imran, but PPP and N-League attacks are hardly going to hurt Imran. The PPP and N-League attacking Imran probably strengthens the PTI and energises Imran.

But listen carefully as the fuel and energy crisis suddenly spiked this week and you can hear a slight change in the critics’ focus: Imran himself.

Not the jokers and clowns around him, not just the inadequacies of his team, but the inadequacy of the man at the top itself. And not that the jokers and clown haven’t tried to distract this week either.

It makes a kind of sense.

Twenty-fifteen was four winters ago and the next three were an improvement on this one. Plus, the first five months of era IK, Aug-Dec, were relatively mild weather-wise. But now it’s a second calendar year, a first winter and a sudden energy crisis as far as the average consumer can tell.

They’re just fewer places to hide.

Punjab and KP, the twin pillars on which the PTI government is electorally built on, are shivering in the dark. It’s a relatively quick matter to pour more money into the system to make it belch out more electricity and gas.

But if Imran has been watching carefully, he would have noticed that it’s brand Imran that has also taken a hit this week.

There are fewer places left to hide.

It’ll be interesting to see what Imran does next.

The writer is a member of staff.
Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2019


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