Tsunami’s toll

Published April 5, 2022
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

THE spell of the self-proclaimed PTI tsunami has ended as controversially as it had started. It is now the job of experts to assess the damage the tsunami caused over 3.5 years.

I have been tracking PTI’s record over 3.5 years regularly in these pages using an analytical lens that says that the quality of outcomes a regime attains depends on the quality of its strategies, whose quality, in turn, depends on its team’s quality.

Taking a look at the poor quality of PTI’s core team and bench strength, I had predicted in 2018 that it would do poorly not only against its promises but even the weak record of its two predecessors. That prediction has turned out to be true. The team suffered from the absence of a long-standing loyal core group which the PPP and PML-N have. Many of its core cabinet members had joined it in the last three to five years before 2018 after changing many parties. The competence of the captain and several key team members was also low and most of the few competent persons it attracted did not last long.

This poor team quality gave poor strategies and implementation in five key governance functions: legislation, policies, institutional reform, projects and day-to-day service delivery. The deep change that the PTI promised can come only from major work in the first three functions, though their fruits reach people only through the last two. However, without major work in the first three areas, project and service delivery initiatives usually fail. Hardly any major work was done in the three critical areas.

The PTI has wreaked havoc in key areas.

It passed more bills than PPP and PML-N, but no strategic ones like the 18th Amendment or Fata merger. The records of PPP and PML-N on policies and institutional reform were largely weak. The same is true for PTI. The PPP and PML-N can at least boast about starting CPEC, though not about implementing it properly. The PTI actually slowed down CPEC, and its politicised and frequent transfers of bureaucrats and frontal attacks on key institutions like the ECP, HEC etc. undermined institutions.

The party’s own key claims relate only to a few projects and services, eg: tree plantation, Ehsaas, Sehat cards and Covid-19 handling. But a neutral and thorough evaluation is needed of these initiatives to gauge their true worth as some concerns do exist, eg the impact of Sehat cards on the public health system and the extent of their usage by the poor versus the rich.

This mixed record on strategies resulted in poor outcomes in the five areas of economics, politics, security, external ties and the social domain. Economically, its track record at the end of 3.5 years across 15 key GDP, inflation, fiscal and external flow indicators is even worse than the unenviable records of PPP and PML-N 3.5 years into their last reigns. This is despite the fact that PPP faced tougher economic, political and external challenges and inheritances than PTI.

The difference in outcomes in other domains is even more stark. Externally, ties with key allies (the US, EU, China, Saudi Arabia and the UK) soured or did not improve and we remain on the FATF ‘grey’ list. Security has also deteriorated. Imran Khan’s retrogressive rhetoric on women’s rights, extremism and Western culture largely negated the impact of the few progressive pieces of social legislation passed under his government.

Politically, unlike the PPP and PML-N’s last wins, PTI’s win in 2018 was seen as manipulated by Pindi’s support, as a review of the EU’s election monitoring reports for these three elections indicates. Beyond the initial support, many think that PTI only survived for 3.5 years due to the constant propping up of its alliance by the establishment, an allegation borne by its quick demise once the establishment became neutral.

The crackdown on the opposition, media, civil society, free speech and key institutions and politically motivated accountability was far worse than during 2008-18. Imran Khan’s utter disregard for democratic norms, reflected best by the rejection of the vote of no-confidence and dissolution of assemblies, has put us behind by a decade politically.

Thus, the tsunami wreaked havoc in all key areas even compared with the unflattering records of the PPP and PML-N. But the biggest comparative damage was in fatally wounding democracy. Yet PTI is a political reality driven by two unfortunate, though intractable issues. There is the establishment’s desire to keep pawns in reserve to undermine other pawns and more popular parties. Then there are the superficial views of large sections of our middle class that detests democracy, prefers hero-worshipping, eagerly cheers even illegal actions if by their hero and chases false messiahs and fake narratives. So while PTI’s immediate political fortunes look dim, I would not be surprised if, further down the road, we face another tsunami alert.

The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

Twitter: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2022

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