Amid split mandates and allegations of rigging and street protests, Elections 2024 are likely to lead to further instability in the immediate term.
Published February 18, 2024

Let me first thank those who have voted for the party I lead. This is a trust that places an onerous responsibility on me and the team which will help me lead the government.

Millions of new voters have voted this time. Millions more will be voting in the next round. Sixty-four percent of Pakistanis are younger than 30 and 29 percent are between 15 and 29. They have new aspirations and are frustrated with how this country has been governed. This makes my job even more difficult. Not only must I lead under trying circumstances that call for major changes in the governance paradigm, the situation also demands a healing touch.

Not everyone has voted for my party. We have a sizeable opposition in the country, both inside and outside parliament. It is the opposition’s legitimate task to hold the government’s feet to fire. Equally, the only way to run the country is for the Treasury and Opposition benches to agree on a minimum of some basic principles — essentially, points of convergence on how, together, we can move forward. The situation calls upon all the political players to avoid political differences to grow to the point of enmity. Divided we all fall.


I would like the Opposition to create a shadow government with cabinet portfolios, where Opposition shadow ministers can consult with, criticise and help my cabinet ministers in the performance of their duties. A similar coordination is imperative between my office and the Leader of the Opposition.

Such coordination is essential for two other functions: legislation and committee work. For too long we have shied away from legislation and relied on ordinances to run this country. If we, as members of parliament, don’t accord to parliament the importance it must have, we cannot expect others to have trust in its functioning.

Amid split mandates and allegations of rigging and street protests, Elections 2024 are likely to lead to further instability in the immediate term. Nevertheless, what would a Pakistani like to hear from any incoming prime minister? Ejaz Haider imagines his ideal inaugural speech, as the new PM takes charge of a country beset with political polarisation, a struggling economy, civil military imbalance, legislative logjams and a crisis of governance…

The tradition of making important decisions outside parliament and using it to rubber-stamp them has to stop. All political parties, when in power, have generally tended to sideline parliament, sometimes in partnership with the army and sometimes to legislate through ordinances on their own.

Legislation at the federal level is a vital and primary function of parliament. It impacts the people, their lives and livelihoods, their interests, their rights, laws that flow from it, court adjudications and governance itself. It cannot be trifled with.

This is where multi-partisan parliamentary processes come in. It’s the job of parliamentary committees to debate bills threadbare, with input from external experts, when required, before returning them to parliament for a vote.

Legislation must be guided by the imperative of policy continuity. Most of our governance problems can be traced back to policy flip-flops, which is why it is essential to spend time on legislation, so the process can contribute to the formulation of good, sensible policies that can sustain beyond any government’s or leader’s tenure.

 Observers at home and abroad always eagerly watch the prime minister’s first address to the nation. Prime ministers have, in the past, used their inaugural speech as a way to lay out their government’s plans for stability | White Star
Observers at home and abroad always eagerly watch the prime minister’s first address to the nation. Prime ministers have, in the past, used their inaugural speech as a way to lay out their government’s plans for stability | White Star


I must also say something about the Prime Minister’s Office and the work of cabinet ministers. The prime minister should be available twice a week to answer questions from members of parliament. I will do so throughout my tenure.

There’s also an unfortunate precedent of cabinet ministers not attending parliament sessions regularly. Prolonged absences by top elected members of government reduce the importance of the very institution that gives them the authority to govern. I shall instruct cabinet ministers to be available once every week, to apprise parliament of their work and answer questions. 

I believe that the real job of cabinet ministers is to keep the prime minister informed of the situation as it stands, not put a gloss on it. To say that all’s well when it is not, is disingenuous at best and a betrayal of trust at worst. The ministers — and for that matter all those in a position to advise me — must, therefore, ensure that they report to the prime minister on the basis of facts, not fiction. 

Sycophancy is a reaction to insecure leadership. Our system suffers from it and it has become addictive. When a job gets done, it’s a duty fulfilled. No more or less. I am more interested in knowing where we fail and why. Governance in our context has to be about bitter truths, not sweet pills.

I will nominate three senior cabinet ministers (in addition to their portfolios) to inform me and the cabinet, at every meeting, where we are lacking and lagging. What needs to change. They would wear the black hat and be the cabinet’s ombudsmen, without any fear of consequences. 

The tradition of making important decisions outside parliament and using it to rubber-stamp them has to stop. All political parties, when in power, have generally tended to sideline parliament, sometimes in partnership with the army and sometimes to legislate through ordinances on their own.


Truth will be this government’s motto. For years we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we are too important for the world to ignore us. That we can keep up our bad practices, continue to govern poorly and extravagantly and nothing will happen. That is a lie and I stand here today to say it as it is. Unless we interest the world positively, we will be left stranded by the wayside. 

Pakistani governments have habitually lied to the citizens to generate false hopes or mask their failures. The picture is not rosy. With us, you will hear things as they are and we will ask people to guide us on what to do.


We have another bad tradition. To deflect blame, we speak ill of the previous governments. In the past some years, there has also been much talk about accountability. Opposition leaders have been branded as looters and pillagers. The truth is that accountability has become a joke in this country because it has been used primarily for political persecution. Every political party in power has done this, only for the same process to haunt it when it is out of power or out of favour with the military.

I bar my party members from denigrating leaders of other parties. I would request other parties to do the same. Viewers are sick of the TV talk show circus that thrives on political enmity and exploits the fissures.

This does not mean that there will be no accountability. There will be and there must be. But we have to restore the citizens’ faith in the system of accountability. I stand here before you to confirm that such accountability will begin with me. Our institutions of accountability will be truly independent and transparent, upholding the highest standards of integrity.


Let me come to the citizens. Have we ever asked how the citizens in this country live? How they interface with government functionaries and departments? If we do not know how government functionaries deal with the people, how can we improve the system?

Those in positions of power — all of us — use contacts to bypass the system. We seek preferred treatment, behaving like masters. Stories of gaming the system are a badge of honour among our elite. This amounts to living in two parallel universes. Going forward, we must all live in the same universe. Protocol and arrogance around elite existence in this country has to end.

No state can run without an efficient bureaucracy. My message to the civil service is simple. You are the backbone of our policy implementation process. But you too often act like colonial masters when dealing with the people. People are the bosses, and we are the servants. Never forget this.

Too often you also seek to serve political masters rather than keeping them efficient and honest. Yes, politicians have to be faulted for demanding personal loyalty. I won’t deny that. Which is why I will appoint the right man for the right job. If that person is not available in the service, we will hire private-sector experts.

The circumstances leading to this election have also cast a long shadow on the working of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Let this be the last election marred by allegations of rigging and fraud. The ECP will be made truly independent. I will ensure it, and in a way that no government of the time or the military can have any sway over them.

Those in positions of power — all of us — use contacts to bypass the system. We seek preferred treatment, behaving like masters. Stories of gaming the system are a badge of honour among our elite. This amounts to living in two parallel universes. Going forward, we must all live in the same universe. Protocol and arrogance around elite existence in this country has to end.


Let me now come to the persistent civil-military problem in this country. We have seen political engineering; we have seen governments hounded out. None of that has redounded to this country’s advantage, not for the politicians, not for the military. Equally, given the neighbourhood in which we live, the country needs a strong military.

I would like to point out that we cannot restore a balance in this area by weakening the military. Our effort, in cooperation with the Opposition, will be to strengthen the civilian side of the equation. For that we have to deliver for the people. And delivery requires closing ranks and working for the betterment of the country.

That said, the military has to live up to its projected image of a national force and respect the citizens’ mandate. The time for stale experiments must be over.

We will create a mechanism where the government and the military can interact transparently and we will seek their support wherever they have a comparative advantage. This will be a mature and positive conversation while I am in office. 

Beyond this, I firmly believe that overcoming Pakistan’s major challenges requires a broader national dialogue and reconciliation process that must include the entire political leadership and the country’s institutions without any exclusion or exception.

This is essential to build bridges across political faultlines, to counter security threats, resuscitate the economy and address societal cleavages. I will try my best to garner consensus for this necessary initiative.


Finally, let me point to six substantive policy areas for the country’s future, which will require sustained effort, including in their subsets.

Education and Health

First, education and health. There can be no development without an educated and healthy human resource. Pakistan’s National Security Policy 2021 spoke about the imperative of security to be citizen-centric. If the citizen has to be the focus, that discussion cannot be had without improving the education and health sectors.

Since our elites have begun educating their children in private schools and getting treatment in private hospitals, these sectors have become an afterthought for decision-makers. Investing in education and health will be this government’s top priority.

Doing so requires resources. That brings me to the second policy focus: the economy.

Tough Economic Decisions

Let me say upfront that Pakistan is in serious economic trouble by any metric. The reasons are many, and I will not go into the details here. But the point I want to make is simple: we will have to work very hard to get back on our feet. That requires taking tough decisions that will likely not be very popular. 

While we are answerable to citizens with aspirations, capabilities and rights, I am not here to talk about awaam ka dard. Not because I don’t care, but because this slogan has been a codeword for taking politically expedient decisions, filling public enterprises with political spoils, spending money on projects that do not help the country in the long run, and offering members of parliament lavish ‘development funds’ to spend on things they have no business overseeing.

While in this office, I am not running a party. I have to run this country. And it will be run on the basis of what’s good for this country, not what’s expedient for the party.

Look at Pakistan International Airlines or Pakistan Steel Mills. They have sunk. Ditto for poor governance in the power sector. For political gains, we set up inefficient projects that drain resources. We have been more interested in such wasteful spending than making our cities and towns liveable and educating our youth.

If my time in this office has to be of any value, decisions have to be based on merit. There is no other way to shrink the inefficient public sector, and without that you cannot address the perennial fiscal problem.

Pakistan is not a poor country, but our profligate practices have brought us to the point of near-insolvency. Governance requires a certain framework and hierarchy, but what differentiates authority from power is legitimacy and rule of law.

Too often we have hankered after power — at all cost. That must stop. My message to my party and to coalition partners is plain: this government is not here merely to exercise political power as an end. We are here to perform. That requires a sense of responsibility, not arrogance.

Undoing Elite Capture

This also brings me to the problem of elite capture. The truth is that the elites, which include political parties, the military and many in the private sector, have only cared about keeping their unsustainable lifestyles going. I am not being swayed by any populism here. Elites are important for any country’s prosperity, both in terms of intellectual capital and for generating wealth. Wealth generation is not a crime, it is necessary.

But when I mention elite capture, I refer to predation by extractive elites through a system which is configured to their advantage. For the elites to help in taking the country forward, they must be inclusive.

For decades, we have relied on external cash flows, taking money from the world and distributing it among the elites. This not only leaves the citizens without any benefits, it has destroyed our economy through rent-seeking.

At this point I must speak of another allied elite issue: staying in power at any cost. No one is indispensable. Political parties and organisations must have institutional bench strength. Extensions are not desirable and queer the organisational pitch.

So distorted have been our priorities that we celebrate when someone doles out money to us. Going begging has become so hardwired that, instead of lamenting the experience of dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other donors, we mention it as the star entry in our biodata. This government will work towards designing a real redistributive policy. If it hurts some who have become too used to usurping resources from the majority, so be it.

Regional Cooperation

Third, we must give up the pretence that our economy can somehow be put back on track while ignoring what is going on in our region. We can’t keep saying it while having a breakdown with three of our four neighbours. Regional diplomacy will be a key element of our foreign policy, and we must find ways to benefit from our location economically. 

Geo-economics will open up new economic space for us, a space that I want the private sector to lead and benefit from. Public sector will only facilitate the private sector and get out of the way. In today’s world, economic success equals facilitation of the formal, law-abiding private sector. And that is where we must begin. 

Local Government

Fourth, governance at the local level. I am not reinventing the wheel or putting forth a novel idea. Most functioning democracies have strong local governments. In this country, while the federating units have constantly agitated for devolution from the federal government, the provinces have refused to extend that logic to the local governments. It is my government’s agenda to change that.

We have had the desultory form of local governments on and off but they have been hampered by the provinces and remain fiscally dependent. There is a solid reason for empowering local governments.

Firstly, they are the most proximate to the citizens; secondly, service delivery and basic governance begins at the local level; thirdly, if the political parties have to have any future in this country, the leadership must grow from the local governments and be nourished, as people in leadership positions move upwards towards provincial and national legislatures; finally, new faces at the local government level is the only way for the parties to grow out of the stranglehold of political families and for people to begin believing that they have a genuine stake in the system.

Let me tell you why local governments are not empowered. The provincial and federal members of parliament, coming as they often do from among the local political families, are not really interested in policymaking at the higher levels. They remain invested in their constituencies and do the work that is the job of local government leadership.

The basic minimum for the local governments to work efficiently is to have their own fiscal resources. Of course, other checks are needed to ensure no one can rig the system. This government will work towards that end. My party will ensure that local government leaders do not come from the families that are elected to provincial and federal assemblies.

Judicial Reform

Fifth, and arguably a prerequisite to achieve everything else: justice for the citizen. Our justice system is politicised, compromised and swayed by powerful interests. If this government cannot turn this around, all else is worthless. If, in five years, Pakistani courts do not at least begin to provide justice that is blind to who it is servicing, we would have failed. It’s a tall order, but this is also a make- or or-break issue.

Negating Misuse of Religion

I would be remiss if I do not mention the most unethical and immoral aspect of our politics and society: the use of religion to advance our parochial interests. We pretend to draw inspiration from religion. In reality, we use it for political purposes and personal gains.

As pietism has risen, our ethical values have

dipped. Religion has been used regularly by politicians, the military and societal interest groups against political and other opponents. Resultantly, we have created a cesspool.

In some ways, it has also given rise to religious violence and some forms of terrorism. I will be dead honest. It’s not easy to correct this situation, because it has also seeped deep into society. But we will try our hardest to address it.

Let me end here by saying that Pakistan is not a failed state. But it is certainly an unfortunate state. Those entrusted with the responsibility to fix things have constantly disappointed the citizens. We are at the brink now. To change course, we must speak the truth, learn from past mistakes, cooperate across the aisle and treat the citizens with respect.

Equally, the government must govern and establish its writ within the constitutional-legal framework. This reformation must start here and today, with me.

In the spirit of this address today, I will also acknowledge that there are many things in what I have said that contradict our reality on the ground. Listeners can easily point to a number of aspects that are not aligned with where I have suggested we must go.

Others might laugh this off as yet another pro forma speech. I agree. We are far from the vision I have laid out. But that’s the point. I am saying we must change and change fast and I will do everything in my power to do that.

I will likely not achieve everything. There are too many entrenched interests, whose stranglehold needs to be broken. But the idea is to set the direction and start moving. To ensure that we do not just have a democracy in terms of a majority but a constitutional democracy.

We cannot afford to move from military dictatorships to civilian authoritarianism. At this point, I can only lay out the map. In the coming days, I hope my government is able to show you, through actions, that what I have said today will hold.

The writer is a journalist interested in security and foreign policies. X: @ejazhaider

Illustration by Radia Durrani

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 18th, 2024