IT has been the country’s first experiment with what many have described as hybrid rule. The past two years have been unique for many reasons. Imran Khan finally got the job he had coveted for so long. His journey from the container to the corridors of power was seen as predetermined. The project was to deliver a ‘naya’ Pakistan, an efficient administration and a corruption-free society.
Imran Khan was projected as the last best hope. After all, he had won for the country the Cricket World Cup and so could also lead us to the Promised Land, or so the logic went. A coalition of disparate groups was built to provide his party enough support in parliament to form the government.
Next came the real test for him to prove his mettle as a leader. He floundered. It was not only about his inexperience but also the team of novices that he fielded. A limited understanding of statecraft was obvious. So, it appeared, that some propping up was needed. The project could not be abandoned. It’s not surprising that the government has survived despite a very thin majority that hinges on the support of a few disparate political parties.
This situation was seen to reinforce hybrid rule. Many saw the imprint of the establishment all over. That may have given the government some semblance of stability. Yet the duality of power has its perils too. There is no one fully in charge. It causes more confusion and affects governance. That is what has happened over the past two years of PTI rule.
There is no sign yet of the government’s capability to take rational decisions on critical issues.
The balance sheet of the Imran Khan government on the completion of its second year in power has certainly not been encouraging. Governance remains the major problem area. The prime minister had promised to bring new talent to build a ‘naya’ Pakistan, but a bloated cabinet is completely opposite to the promise of delivering a smart government. Many in the prime minister’s collection of ‘talents’ only provide comic relief in times of crisis. The much-touted reform agenda is lost somewhere in the chaos.
Two years on, there is no sign yet of the PTI government having developed the capability to take rational decisions on critical domestic and foreign policy issues. The government’s increasing dependence on the security establishment for survival has further undermined its ability to improve and course correct. Consequently, the establishment’s extending shadow can be discerned in all dimensions of the state. It seems that the perpetual state of confrontation among political forces has allowed the establishment to play arbiter of political power in the country.
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With the prime minister reluctant to meet opposition leaders in order to create unity on key national security and foreign policy issues, the responsibility in this regard is often seen to be taken by the security agencies. One latest example is to get the opposition support for FATF-related legislation. In a similar context, it was not the political leadership that brought together the political forces during the Indian intrusion in February last year.
It is an open secret that for many years the security establishment has been considered the determiner of national security and foreign policy in Pakistan but that role appears to have become more pronounced under the PTI government. It was apparently for the first time in the country’s history that the army chief accompanied the prime minister to a meeting with the American president at the White House last year.
On various occasions, the military leadership has been involved in sorting out problems with other countries arising from some impulsive decisions taken by the prime minister or statements made by his cabinet ministers. Gen Bajwa flew to China to control the damage caused by a federal minister’s media statement only months into the PTI government. The most recent example is his rushing to Saudi Arabia after the foreign minister’s statement on the role of the OIC.
Curiously, now there seem to be closer relations between the establishment and the opposition parties too. It’s not surprising that the PML-N leaders have restricted their attacks to the PTI government and the prime minister, sparing the agencies. The PTI leadership may have delusions about the prime minister’s indispensability to the establishment, but it is all a game of thrones in the end.
The failure of the leadership was badly exposed during Pakistan’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. The prime minister had initially downplayed the seriousness of the infection declaring it a form of flu. The mixed messaging and rejection of complete lockdown in the critical initial period of the infection harmed efforts to contain the virus. Unfortunately, the government failed to unite the country in such challenging times. Instead, there were divisions and polarisation.
It was only after the military leadership intervened to form the National Command and Operation Centre that a more coherent national policy to deal with the pandemic was evolved. The organisation comprises representatives of the federal and provincial governments and the military. That helped develop a coordinated approach.
But the irony is that the PTI and its supporters genuinely believe that the government’s handling of the pandemic was an example for the world to emulate. With such self-praise, there is no room for introspection that could help rectify mistakes.
The selective application of anti-corruption laws has exposed the government to the allegation of a political witch-hunt. The government’s so-called drive against graft is, in fact, seen as a cover for its incompetence. There is as yet little evidence of corruption. The claim of a clean government is also questionable.
There is not much for the PTI government to show as it completes its second year in power. Six months on, it will be midway through its term, but yet there is no sign of the ‘naya’ Pakistan beyond the official rhetoric. It remains to be seen whether the PTI delivers on the promise of change. The stakes are also high for the establishment to see this project does not fail. Pakistan’s experiment with hybrid rule doesn’t seem to be succeeding. The PTI government may survive in power, but the real issue is what kind of political legacy it is creating.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2020