Is honesty enough?

Updated 30 Nov 2019


IMRAN Khan has become a past master at deciding which court he will appear before. He has done this previously by questioning judges’ impartiality, and by threatening to launch a dharna, or sit-in, with his cohorts behind him.

But now that he’s been anointed prime minister, he can no longer indulge in such tactics. When it seemed that the Election Commission would soon be ready to give its verdict on the long-pending foreign funding case that has been hanging over the PTI since the last election, a jolt of electricity passed through the party leadership.

The government spokeswoman even asked: “What’s the hurry?”

Actually, we have been waiting for a verdict for five years now. Obviously, the time is ripe for a resolution on the sources of funding of the PTI’s election finances, and Khan’s request for secret hearings has been rejected, as it should have been.

Now even a senior secretary fears NAB’s shackles.

The reason the ECP has not accepted the request for secret hearings could have something to do with the way he has treated the judiciary. But now, as prime minister, he has had to change his tune. So where’s his sportsman spirit? He couldn’t get away with constantly questioning the impartiality of the umpires on the cricket field even though he is known to have indulged in roughing up the ball on a couple occasions.

Increasingly, he comes across as a leader who, instead of analysing a problem to look for a way around it, tends to throw his largely incompetent staff at it.

One example is the ‘take-no-decision’ movement now being practised by the bureaucracy. Frequent speeches trying to reassure the bureaucrats of non-harassment by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) seem to have fallen on deaf ears because the civil servants just don’t believe that they will get any protection from the government. So what is the solution?

There was a time when this country’s bureaucracy, never the swiftest to start with, at least cantered along at a respectable pace when pressed in response to a ministerial whip. No longer: now even a senior secretary fears NAB’s shackles and a visit to the accountability bureau’s detention facilities.

So as NAB’s jails fill up and projects fall further and further behind, many people are beginning to ask: ‘is this the “new Pakistan” we had voted for?’ These are people who once said ‘he has been around for just a year. And there has been no corruption, so let him be.’ OK, but as we look across the mounting problems, we see no capacity to overcome them.

And yet, the corruption at the clerical level continues barely unchecked. This is considered part of the salary package and remains untouched. Try and register a property in your name and watch the mouths open wide. Obviously, some government offices haven’t yet joined the ‘naya Pakistan’.

Something else that this government has contrived with little reason is the hounding of an honourable and upright judge of the Supreme Court. Qazi Faez Isa is an outstanding judge, but is facing a presidential reference which has been taken up by the Supreme Judicial Council.

Justice Isa is the author of some blistering judgements; one was on the bomb blasts directed at lawyers in which scores were slaughtered in Quetta, and the second on the Faizabad dharna. In the latter case, while the nation was appalled by the violence committed by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), it was even more shocked when a senior officer of the security forces handed out cash to the protesters.

At the time, Imran Khan hardly criticised the TLP, but now he is at the receiving end of similar bouncers from another set of mullahs led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. And yet by surrounding himself by several media advisers, he has distanced himself from the ground realities of the day. After all, it is the job of spin masters to keep the bad news from their boss. Only the good news makes the cut.

If he reads the newspapers, he would discover that the ban of all things Indian, including life-saving pharmaceutical products, has badly hit patients who can’t afford the very expensive European and American drugs. So instead of punishing India, it is Pakistanis who have been punished.

There’s something to be said about forming committees to check the situation and render advice, instead of just firing from the hip. And this was surely one occasion.

A change of governance style can still take place as the prime minister learns that being on dharna is very different from running a country of 200 million. Patience and hard work are key. But can he make this transition?

However, having put so much of himself in this effort, and having invested such political capital into this bid, I do wish he learns the art of leadership: after all, he is honest….

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2019