Failure to learn?

September 23, 2020

Prime Minister Imran Khan and his coterie of ruling politicians have made an oft-repeated fatal mistake. Following the opposition’s gathering in Islamabad on Sunday and their subsequent notice...

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Prime Minister Imran Khan and his coterie of ruling politicians have made an oft-repeated fatal mistake. Following the opposition’s gathering in Islamabad on Sunday and their subsequent notice to launch a fresh anti government protest, leaders of the PTI (Pakistan ‘Tehreek-e-Insaf’) have attacked their patriotism.

On Monday, PTI leaders condemned the opposition’s call effectively as a breach of loyalty to the country. Pakistan’s history has witnessed similar instances of official failure to read the writing on the wall, well ahead of time.

Today, it’s a familiar story that’s being played out yet again. It coincides with an ongoing tragedy surrounding Pakistan’s journey to an increasingly uncertain future. Notwithstanding the increasingly vocal opposition, the PTI must reckon with its increasingly lackluster track record.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-year tenure has witnessed a consistent failure to live up to the public’s expectations. Since the PTI’s election in 2018 amid repeated promises to lay the course for a new Pakistan, the country has tragically gone in a reverse mode. In an oft-repeated popular outcry, Pakistan’s rulers have failed to deliver on the PTI’s core promise of laying the foundation for a system of government based on justice and fair play.

Though Pakistan’s progress has been held back this year on account of events unleashed by the coronavirus, the country’s outlook was already dismal even before that tragic event. Beyond the official promise of rooting out corruption, there has been a palpable failure to translate that commitment into a happier mood surrounding daily lives across Pakistan.

Ordinary Pakistanis continue to go from one state-provided institution to another with utter frustration, rubbed on their wrong sides in daily lives. The promise of a characteristically new Pakistan has failed to bring either fresh opportunities or relief or both to ordinary citizens.

And improvement, if any, such as fewer hours of electricity loadshedding on a daily basis, has more to do with a visible slow down of the economy and a fall in demand for energy, than a visible and sustainably growing increase in supply of electricity at the heart of a growing economy. Meanwhile, mounting reports of growing sectarian unrest in parts of Pakistan have unleashed a terrible new angle to the inherent instability surrounding the country.

In this sorry journey, institutions responsible for facilitating investors ranging from tax collectors to service providers show few changes than two years ago when the PTI arrived on the ruling scene. Perhaps one of the biggest downside risks to the economy comes from PM Khan’s failure to focus on areas that matter the most.

Just last week amidst much fanfare, the prime minister presided over a fancy ceremony to launch a new plan for the establishment of a robust housing estate just outside Lahore. The plan has been widely publicised as a cornerstone of the otherwise fanciful and controversial launch of a new window of opportunity this year – a policy that allows money laundering if investors were to invest in the construction sector till end 2020. Stakeholders in this area will not be required to disclose the source of their money, irrespective of where it came from.

Meanwhile, the heart of Pakistan’s economy which rests in its agricultural sector continues to suffer badly. In a visible glimpse of the centrality of this sector to Pakistan’s economy and overall prosperity, last years’ public riots over mounting prices of sugar and wheat should have been an eye-opener. Those riots amply highlighted the critical position of food security notably for a country faced by more than its due share of tough challenges.

Going forward, the opposition’s agenda, no matter how self-centered, must not be the pivotal challenge for Prime Minister Khan’s government. In sharp contrast, the future of the PTI rests on its own performance and ability to deliver or lack of it.

Following a hard speech against the ruling structure delivered by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday, there is a danger that many in the PTI might counsel for revenge. Others were quick to denounce the entire opposition as deeply unpatriotic. That in itself is an unforgivable folly.

Prime Minister Khan and the PTI must immediately and sharply look at their own track record to assess exactly why the popular mood across Pakistan has increasingly turned against them. And few politicians in modern history have managed to turn the public’s mood favourably once the streets have turned against them.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.


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