Thursday May 23, 2024

Promenade for power without a proper plan

By Aamir Ghauri
October 09, 2018

Imagine a newly contracted employee demanding of the employer a free run for 100 days before his/her performance is called into question. Even a half-intelligent employer could possibly start thinking of the first firing opportunity.

Imagine a head of an organization or a company seeking similar latitude at the time of joining. Not only would he/she become a butt of all sorts of jokes within the organization, but they could definitely lose respect as a team lead.

Now raise that bar to the highest level and think of a head of a government demanding similar leniency from the country’s media, knowing fully well that the media is already down and out due to crippling and coercive working conditions.

Worry would be the only expression because the party that is now tasked to run Pakistan has been making us believe that they have fielded a better team and carry better plans in their bags – not only to re-rail the country on the road to prosperity but also to free the masses from the clutches of the decades-old status quo.

Imran Khan was sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister on August 22. Forget how he achieved the political nirvana; he is supposed to prove the hopeful right and the hopeless wrong. There is no harm in waiting for another 50 days to experience the miracles, hopes of which have been sold publicly and privately for years. Fears, however, are creeping in fast of lasting damage to Pakistan’s internal and external affairs due to the way the incumbents have started their innings.

There was tentative clarity about what was expected of the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government – that they would fix a nose-diving economy, put into place infrastructure to rid the country from acute power shortages, arrest the terrorism monster that had tormented Pakistan for well over a decade, improve on internal governance, and brush up Pakistan’s softer image abroad.

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has none of these tasks to undertake. They rode on the Tabdeeli steed for years, shouting slogans of culling corruption wherever they found it once in power. Their cheerleaders also made their followers believe that corruption only existed within the opposite camps.

A cursory glance at the working of the PTI governments at the Centre and in Punjab so far offers little to celebrate. A rushed disposal of eight black beasts, whose milk had whitened or lightened millions of tea or coffee cups of the prime ministerial retinue, for a paltry Rs2.3 million, and raising another Rs200 million by getting rid of a few motorcars whiling away in the PM House junkyard are the only original star acts. The government’s austerity drive may raise a few more millions here and there, but would it be enough to underpin the trembling, crumbling edifice called the federal government?

Many remain unsure why Imran Khan needed to introduce terms like ‘Naya’ to Pakistan’s political jargon. Pakistan needed reformation through evolution, rather than revolution sans solutions. Demagoguery in a dilapidating democracy remains a dangerous tactic.

Promises and propaganda borrowed from non-political sources can distort skimpy gains towards building a functioning polity.

Gloating about “selective” accountability that is yet to complete its judicial course, bureaucratic postings and transfers based on questionable intent, and dismantling departmental or organizational heads after declaring them as “darlings” of the erstwhile rulers would buy momentary support from party loyalists. It would not translate into lasting or meaningful “change”. Chances are that the changes being hastily introduced would be quickly reversed once the PTI government is shown the door. That has been Pakistan’s style of politics.

A crusade against corruption is commendable. However, it remains a tedious process. Laws are either archaic or anarchic. Courts only crawl and litigants languish for decades. Corruption is pandemic and those bragging about controlling it are either fools or foolhardy. That does not mean the menace should not be curbed. It would be curbed through institutional consistency rather than cosmetic posturing called plea bargains or backdoor deals.

Cacophony about accountability does not allow governments to pursue a policy based on principles. Politicians in power remain above the law and those in opposition face endless charges about their questionable pasts. Resultantly, nothing gets resolved. Investigators follow leads based on presumptions. Their knowledge of foreign lands and laws remains frivolous or flimsy, hence the repetitive mockery in the name of judicial action for accountability.

It is sad that the PTI remains a naïve political player, despite wandering for over two decades in the political wilderness. The party seems clueless in power. Long briefing sessions aimed at knowing the challenges and possible responses make good copy for the government’s PR spin masters. But the public won’t accept them after a few weeks.

It is a shame that the expatriate Pakistanis have neither registered for voting nor have they emptied their bank accounts to help Imran Khan. Helping his effort to build a cancer hospital was a cause worth donating for. Handing him dollar upon dollar to run a nuclear state is not what they would opt for. It’s like helping a beggar who is not ready to admit their addiction to beggary.

While the prime minister is being briefed on important subjects of statecraft, his team is running helter-skelter, like those in the previous governments, begging for dollars. Donors are only a few and they are asking questions and tightening their conditions for largesse. Imran Khan used to say he would never beg from international institutions. Once in government, his finance minister seems to know no other way to run the state thanto beg.

Presenting plans is easy. Putting plans into practice is painful, especially when those at the helm are either clueless or clumsy. Hoping that these pied pipers would lead us all to Shangri-La would be futile. But let’s remain hopeful for another 50 days that those who promised us an Eldorado would soon find their feet on the ground, and move beyond retributive rhetoric of imprisoning the previous rulers for destroying the country through corruption.

People often start forgetting slogans when their stomachs start churning. The time of joy is over. The time to get the job done is now.