Warning signs

February 12, 2020

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The writer is an author and journalist.
The writer is an author and journalist.

IT is a deadly mix of incompetence and superciliousness that defines the crisis of the PTI government. The disarray is ominous. It is not just about bad governance; the rot is all over. It is like a rudderless ship about to hit a rock. But the captain’s faith in the occult is unshakeable. Frightening, indeed.

There had never been much hope that ‘Project Imran Khan’ would succeed, yet few had expected the collapse to come so quickly. It has left the patrons reeling. They seem to be stuck in a situation from where they find it hard to extricate themselves. An inept protégé is fast becoming a liability. What next?

It is evident that the PTI government has neither the vision nor the capacity to deal with the multiple challenges faced by the country. The limitation of a former cricketing hero with no prior work experience is scary. Imran Khan’s biggest problem perhaps is his very narrow perspective of statecraft.

He lives more in the past and seems to have little understanding of present-day challenges. His sense of self-righteousness has further blurred his worldview. It is disastrous when mediocrity combines with stubbornness. The messiah complex makes it more difficult to accept reality.

There had never been much hope that ‘Project Imran Khan’ would succeed.

No wonder the PTI government has lurched from crisis to crisis since coming to power some 18 months ago. It is now struggling to keep itself afloat with coalition partners hedging their bets, and discontent brewing within party ranks. It is true that the PTI has never been a well-organised political party; it consists more of an amorphous crowd of Khan’s fans and political turncoats.

But the power tussle between various interest groups within the party has intensified with the worsening crisis of governance. The revolts in the KP and Punjab governments are a manifestation of the growing disarray. More alarming is the open polemics among federal ministers and party leaders. It is apparent that the prime minister is unable to resolve the internal power battle. The situation is fast becoming untenable.

Indeed, the economy has remained the Achilles heel of the PTI government since it came to power. But the situation seems to have worsened with the rising cost of living affecting the common people and the spectre of growing unemployment adding to public discontent.

Undoubtedly, Imran Khan has inherited many of the existing economic problems, but his policies too have added to the crisis. The twin problem of inflation and declining economic growth is generating an explosive social and political situation, which the government seems unable to deal with.

Opening shelter homes and giving free meals to a few thousand people is not going to solve the problem. The real issue is economic growth and generating employment that the government is not focused on. It is not just about managing the current account deficit, but also improving economic governance. Over the last 18 months, the FBR has seen three chiefs. Rumours are rife about yet another change in the economic team. One is not sure how frequent changes without a clear policy direction can make any difference.

What is most disturbing is the virtual collapse of the administrations in Punjab and KP. But the prime minister is not willing to change his handpicked chief ministers despite widespread criticism of their performance within the party and outside. The recent rebellion within the party in Punjab exposes the vulnerability of the provincial government.

Read: The problem with Buzdar

There are some strong indications of the opposition PML-N, which is the single largest party in the provincial assembly, gearing up to unseat the Buzdar administration. With the easing of pressure, the PML-N now feels much more confident in moving against a fragile government with possible support from some alienated factions of the ruling coalition.

The suggestion that the security establishment may not come in the way has surely emboldened the opposition. The release on bail of many top PML-N leaders facing NAB investigation is seen as a sign of the shifting political sands. The PML-N vote for the extension of service for the army chief has reinforced the widespread perception of its possible rapprochement with the security establishment.

Given how power politics is played out in this country nothing can be ruled out. Any political change in Punjab could have a domino effect. For the PTI government that relies completely on the establishment’s support the development should come as a warning if the prime minister can read it. Time is slipping away for the PTI government.

With the extension issue resolved, the army chief is likely to be more assertive. The failing governance and inability of the government to address critical economic problems have already given much greater space to the military. The generals may still not want to let their ‘project’ fail completely.

Yet no one would like to get stuck in a blind alley. The failure of the Imran Khan government would also be a failure of the establishment’s own political experiment. Any new experiment will have its own perils. The security establishment is also largely responsible for the current political instability. Political manipulation has distorted the democratic process and it cannot be corrected through the military getting more deeply involved in political matters.

The gravity of political and economic challenges faced by the country needs a consensus on key issues by all mainstream political parties. The major responsibility for reconciliation lies with the PTI government. The politics of confrontation has weakened the political forces and allowed the security establishment a greater political role to play arbiter.

Unfortunately, there is no indication of Imran Khan changing his hard stance and reaching out to the opposition parties. His tenor is getting harsher, and he doesn’t realise that things are slipping out of his hands. His government stands on very fragile ground and the coalition partners are raising the stakes — this is a sign of things to come. The PTI government cannot deal with serious economic problems on its own in an atmosphere of political instability. Greater reliance on the security establishment doesn’t provide a solution.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100@yahoo.com

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2020