Promises to keep

August 06, 2020

Does Prime Minister Imran Khan wonder when he looks at all the video clips now constantly played over the media, depicting promises made by him in the past. These promises speak of drastic changes...

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Does Prime Minister Imran Khan wonder when he looks at all the video clips now constantly played over the media, depicting promises made by him in the past. These promises speak of drastic changes in the country – of a new Pakistan.

The clips now played again and again have become something of a joke. We wonder what the PM and his team make of these embarrassing snippets. Certainly, there appears to have been a great deal of overconfidence involved and there is also that stubborn streak for which Imran is known. This can prove to be both a strength and a weakness.

The State Bank of Pakistan in a public report has stated openly that the delay in obtaining the loans from the International Monetary Fund which eventually are to be acquired to bail out the country's economy caused considerable harm. In matters of governance, the same stubbornness which served Imran so well on the cricket field and as a fundraiser has not helped him manage the more delicate art of negotiation and compromise. Ironically, he had sworn he would not as leader of the country make the same mistake as those of the past.

The issue of past mistakes had in fact been the focus of the PTI campaign in the long run up to the 2018 poll. It appears however that beyond thinking of the many wrongs the opposition inflicted on the people of the country, Imran Khan and his team had not at any point considered precisely how they would fix matters.

For some months, blaming all that went wrong on previous administrations was a ploy that worked fairly effectively. But it cannot be used indefinitely. The government now has only about three years to mend the country and put in place the new nation it had promised. This is not a great deal of time. After the first two years things have to move once more into campaign mode with more promises and more pledges.

In the past, people had seen the working of two political setups over the last two elected periods. They had seen the two parties which ran them several times before. Now they have seen a third. Will they now believe promises again? Are surveys which show that even those who voted for the government have changed their opinion accurate?

There is also a question whether people are ready to forgive broken promises and shattered hopes. Many believed this could be the turning point for Pakistan. Continuous inflation, unemployment, evidence of Incompetence at every point and other issues may have changed the way the look at things.

It is now too long into the tenure of the PTI to blame everything that goes wrong on previous administrations. Yes, they may have contributed to the problems over the years by completely failing to take steps which could stop the collapse of the country and the foundations on which it stood. But the current government cannot blame everything on the past. It needs to be explain why its own policymaking has been in so much chaos and why one minister after the other steps out of the door. There have been so many fiascos, involving the BRT in Peshawar, the affair of Pakistani pilots, the crackdown on the media by a prime minister who had promised unprecedented freedom, and the failure to manage Punjab, previously considered the country's best run province.

They have also been other issues. These have ranged from open disagreements between ministers and advisers to the more serious such as allegations of victimization under the guise of accountability. Even the higher courts have now made their opinions clear.

Mysteries too still lurk. After all, what happened to the large amount of narcotics former Punjab home minister Rana Sanaullah was reported last year to be carrying with him and which was confiscated allegedly on the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway by ANF? What happened to the video of the incident that was believed to have been shown to the most senior officials of the land? As citizens, we deserve to be told.

Perhaps the real question for all those who voted for the PTI and others who for the sake of the country wished to see it succeed where others had failed is if there is enough time available to put things right. Some aspects of governance such as the Ehsaas Program have been positive - - even though this is really a continuation with some expansion of the BISP. Other projects of immense significance for the future such as the national curriculum have still to be fully unveiled, though a fierce debate on them has already begun.

In areas such as health and sport we have seen very little effort to bring about anything resembling change. In fact, some would say that in sports things have worsened significantly due to a lack of any real interest on the part of the Pakistan Sports Board, the ministry concerned, the lack of funding available and the closing down of departmental sports depriving players of what limited money they had access too to sustain themselves and their talent.

So, are solutions available? Perhaps, but only if the government and its mentors are willing to go after radical change. This is what people expected from Imran Khan, and this is what he must deliver. His experience must have taught him over the last two difficult years that he cannot deliver alone. A team has to be built – and not one made up only of 'experts' flown in from overseas, but of people who genuinely care. The prime minister has to make it his primary concern to find such people and bring them into the core of his administration so that the future can offer hope and genuine change to the people. After all, this is what was promised to them in the long years before 2018.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.


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