Going round and round and round

Updated August 14, 2019

Email

IF the mass acceptance of Imran Khan was ever in doubt, the issue should have been settled on the evening of July 22, 2019, in Washington D.C., when the Prime Minister addressed a mass rally in the American capital in a sports arena jam-packed by Pakistanis who had come from all over the United States and even from Canada. But that was North America. Imran Khan had gone there for the first time as the Prime Minister of Pakistan and he was addressing a constituency — that of overseas Pakistanis — which had all along comprised Imran Khan’s and PTI’s supporters.

If support from this constituency was not forthcoming with similar enthusiasm before Imran Khan came to power, it was beca­use the overseas Pakistanis did not have much trust in the past gove­rnments.

Therefore, their response to Imran Khan at in Was­hington was a reflection of their confidence in the new leader and the fact that they believed in his ability to take Pakistan forward.

However, having completed a year in power, the government has yet to deliver on a lot of pre-election promises. It was being thought that all would be hunky-dory sooner rather than later, and the PM himself gave a deadline of 100 days in which the ruling party promised to deliver. The progress, to say the least, is understandably slow and the rot that seems to have blighted Pakistan through the past decades is not going anywhere soon.

The government is working overtime — at least the PM is — to put things right and to get over the myriad economic and administrative problems that the nation faces. With an economy which was practically dying and a highly corrupt taxation system, things had to be difficult, and they are. Big claims have been made about bringing in a clean tax regime but corruption has made such deep inroads that it will take some time before any modicum of integrity can come into the tax collection regime and the national economy can be put back on the rails. In doing so, the corrupt legacy of the past is a massive hurdle. These were times when little was done for the people. Only a few — the ruling class, the feudals and top business owners — had the opportunity to milk the nation and become super-rich overnight. They were free to loot the country as best as they could and stash the spoils of their ill-gotten wealth overseas in banks, in offshore companies and in expensive properties. Had the Panama revelations not been made, they would still be rolling in their riches.

From water crisis and population explosion to miserable education and health situation, the lingering problems gripping the country since its independence have largely remained unresolved. No wonder the country is wandering in the shadows of the past.

Pakistan’s economy went from bad to worse in these years. Since the rulers were busy in depriving the nation of its tremendous potential, administration of the country was a major victim. The plague of corruption made deep inroads into the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy and administration. Ill-gotten practices so deeply infested the national fabric that it became impossible for anything to be done through regular and honest means.

Punjab had its own dynamics where everyone though the ruling elite was not going anywhere and was deeply entren­ched to the extent that loyalties could not be shifted. Not much different was Sindh. Now, with a new government at the Centre having completed a year in power, solutions to the problems must start surfacing. And that is making people anxious to some extent.

The water crisis is one which is becoming serious for the country by the day. Previous governments never paid due attention as not a single major dam was planned or built. There was talk of constructing the Kalabagh Dam during General Musharraf’s days but inter-provincial politics had its own force. The sitting government did launch the ‘Clean Green Pakistan’ environment campaign, and could have the people’s attention to the key importance of water for the nation’s survival.

A similar point of concern is the national health and education scenario.

Both these subjects have been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment but it is clear that neither the provincial governments nor the federal government is paying much attention to either health or education. On the health front, the outbreaks of HIV/AIDS reported in parts of the country is just a tip of the iceberg and while these developments are certainly a depiction of the way matters were handled in previous years, it is now time for the government in power to take up these subjects in the right earnest and formulate meaningful health and education policies rather than fire-fighting in bits and pieces.

The media in Pakistan has enjoyed greater freedom of expression ever since General Musharraf freed the press and promoted a scenario in which anyone could start a TV or radio channel or launch a newspaper. This freedom was over-used — abused in certain cases – by some sections of the media. There has to be a balance between letting the media abandon all boundaries and mugging it all together.

So far, over the years, politics in Pakistan has revolved around personalities as do politics in most other parts of the developing world. This is a situation that PM Khan needs to be wary about because, so far, the politics of PTI has revolved around him only and there is no alternative leadership visible. He needs to start taking the first steps in this direction now.

When Imran Khan took over power in July 2018, the expectation was that things would change but there needed to be a realisation that this would happen gradually. There are some severe governance issues piling up and these will take time to address.

The elected government and the state institutions, including the military and the judiciary, must come together and make a joint effort to take the nation forward instead of letting the traditional politicians line their pockets in a game of musical chairs.

The writer is a senior journalist.