AT PTI’s six-month mark, I had analysed its record with the lens that the quality of outcomes a regime achieves depends on the quality of its strategies which in turn depends on its team quality. The main outcomes a regime achieves relate to citizen welfare via the five governance functions of ongoing service delivery, projects, policies, legislation and institutional reform.
Six months was too short a period to judge its work in terms of citizen welfare or even the five functions. So I focused on the weak quality of its team then to predict that it would fail to not only achieve its promises but even match the last two civilian regimes widely linked with sleaze and ineptitude.
Today, my prognosis stands validated. The team even now suffers from infighting and ineptitude and cases of sleaze have also emerged. It resembles not a cohesive national team but a disjointed and weak World XI team. The PPP and PML-N had team issues too. But at least most of their key cabinet nominees were party stalwarts.
In the PTI, many key positions belong to recently inducted electables or unelected advisers who lack party loyalty, eg interior, finance, law. Pervez Khattak, Asad Umar and Shah Mahmood are exceptions. But here too there are issues of party strife as the last two are seen as strong contenders in any minus-one move. The large numbers of inept unelected advisers have helped nix the myth of the edge of the presidential system that rests on the logic that unelected ministers will be more competent.
The PTI’s record is just as bad as that of its predecessors.
Then here is the influx of non-civilians in key positions even beyond the cabinet. Some present this hybrid “command and control governance” as a possible future way. But others recall how such influxes earlier led to takeovers. Given their training and ethos, non-civilians are unsuited for civilian tasks. The influx reflects desperate attempts by alleged selectors to shore up a weak team. Finally, there is the captain whose honesty was supposed to be the big PTI edge and key to rapid progress. But his honesty hasn’t compensated for his own incompetence and the apparent dishonesty and ineptitude of many within the party.
With these huge team issues, outcomes have naturally been poor. But it is still unfair to judge the PTI on proxy public welfare indicators like jobs and growth rates since these were dented first by the slowdown phase started under the PML-N and later by Covid-19. So one can only review its work on the five governance functions. Institutional reform was the big hope from the PTI. But whether it is FBR, bureaucratic or police reform, it has failed as badly as others. In fact, it has created more institutional instability by making frequent changes in many top posts, eg FBR head.
It has passed some legislation but none have been as crucial as the 18th Amendment and Fata merger bills passed by the PPP and PML-N. In fact, it seems bent on rolling back the 18th Amendment. In the area of projects, the Peshawar BRT project is a constant blot while work has also slowed down on CPEC projects. The PTI has failed to unveil out-of the-box economic policies for increasing tax and export revenues and revitalising industry. Finally, there is little improvement in daily service delivery in critical areas like health, education, etc.
Thus, in all these five areas, its record is as bad as or worse than those of the PPP and PML-N. The PPP has clear capacities in legislation work and the PML-N in project work but major gaps in other areas. With the PTI, it is hard to identify even one area of competence. They are also issues of illegitimacy (given the controversies around the 2018 polls) that didn’t plague the PPP and PML-N. We are then in reverse gear compared to the 2008-2018 era where at least clear political progress occurred with the 18th Amendment, free polls, and less victimisation of the media. Nor will it be easy for the PTI to improve its record in future even if it survives given serious issues of incompetence. The elected bench strength is largely weak and more influx of unelected civilians or non-civilians will not help. A minus-one formula could further diminish the PTI’s legitimacy as Imran Khan at least has some popular support and party command.
These failures don’t just reflect the failures of a party but the failures of the impatient worldviews of a large chunk of the middle class, which is constantly denigrating democratic processes and looking for unrealistic shortcuts to rapid progress. It also reflects the failures of political engineering by forces averse to democratic processes. It is only when the middle class and unelected institutions submit themselves to the will of democracy that we can start making political and economic progress.
The writer is a fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.
Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2020