INEPTITUDE is not a word one expected to associate this early with Imran Khan or with his PTI government. Yet, no better word comes to mind when considering their loss of focus, their rudderless policies, and their inability to recall most of the electoral promises made by the PTI over a year ago.
After 15 months in power, the PTI has found itself being buried deeper and deeper into the foundations of its own intentions. While its supporters are still able to detach loyalty to their charismatic leader from the palpable failures of his ministers, its detractors are increasingly dismayed at his refusal to convert the acid of revenge into the nectar of conciliation.
It is said that a fish rots from its head. That is true of every political party in Pakistan, save the PTI. In its case, the decay lies nearer its tail. No one can point any finger at Imran Khan personally. After years of a lifestyle Prince Andrew (known to the irreverent press as ‘Randy Andy’) has enjoyed, Imran Khan has set an example of reformed, chaste domesticity and of personal incorruptibility. It is this new high moral purpose that makes him so intolerant of the rapacious greed of his predecessors. He is determined to punish them to the grave — even if he has to forfeit responsibility for governing the nation.
Today, Imran Khan is fighting more Waterloos than Eton has playing fields. He has yet to choose his battles with sagacity. Was it wise to criticise the judiciary for allowing ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif to leave the country, when it was in fact he who permitted it? He left himself defenceless against the chief justice’s predictable rebuke.
If the PTI has nothing to hide, why the premature blush?
Might it have been more prudent not to have questioned the opinions of a plethora of qualified medical specialists who had examined Nawaz Sharif and given him a clean bill of ill health? After all, hundreds of less influential patients rely daily on the ‘flawed’ medical advice of these practitioners.
Should the PTI have expressed no confidence in the chief election commissioner, simply because the CEC has woken up (after five years of hibernation), and wants to hold daily hearings on the allegations of foreign funding of the PTI? If the PTI has nothing to hide, why the premature blush?
Did the prime minister need to learn from the chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Relations that army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa “had to go to China to control the situation after Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf ministers levelled baseless allegations regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects?” Has foreign policy become too serious a business to be left to the Foreign Office?
And is Prime Minister Imran Khan aware of the impression left in the malleable minds of the public after the COAS and the DG ISI have all too public consultations with him ‘on security matters’? If these were routine, then why report them? If they were extraordinary and confidential, then why disclose them?
Imran Khan, like his fellow Pakistanis, has accepted the civil-military nexus as a given. Indian governments never have. Pandit Nehru had reservations about meeting Gen Ayub Khan; Mrs Indira Gandhi responded to Gen Ziaul Haq’s overtures under duress; Atal Behari Vajpayee needed layers of reassurance before negotiating with Gen Pervez Musharraf; Narendra Modi’s BJP government has declared that it wants to know who it is talking to before opening any substantive dialogue with Pakistan.
Both the BJP government and the PTI government have some years ahead of them. It behoves them to talk. At the moment, though, each is looking at disparate horizons through their own telescopes, instead of through a common pair of binoculars.
It had been hoped that Indian yatris, who used binoculars to view Kartarpur’s gurdwara across the river Ravi, would access it through the newly constructed Kartarpur ‘corridor of peace’. The facilities on the Pakistan side have been designed to process 5,000 per day. To date, the total number of Indian Sikh yatris using the corridor, since it opened three weeks ago, has not exceeded 8,000. Goodwill crawls at the pace of a carapaced bureaucracy.
It is to Imran Khan’s credit that he refuses to be deflected by such disappointments. He is not daunted by a continuous erosion of his prime ministerial authority. He appears content to have achieved the highest level of his own incompetence.
Certainly, his colleagues do him repeated disservice. One adviser admitted recently that when prices of products, like tomatoes, soared to Rs400 per kilo, “the government could not give a time frame about when inflation will be controlled”. That is scant comfort to the public. Now, it cannot afford to throw even rotten tomatoes at the government.
The writer is an author and historian.
Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2019