Thursday November 30, 2023

From problems to progress

October 18, 2018

We wonder if some self-reflection is taking place within the PTI over the results of the by-polls held on Sunday. The results from the polls on 34 national and provincial assembly seats are, in many ways, telling.

The PTI suffered a major blow in the National Assembly, where it holds a tentative majority, losing five seats to the opposition. The most significant of these losses came in Lahore where Khawaja Saad Rafique beat PTI candidate Humayun Akhtar. The party also lost its seat in Bannu, which had been won by Imran Khan in the general elections only two months ago.

The provincial assembly result also shows that opposition parties – from the PML-N to the MMA and PPP – retained some hold on the popular mandate, with the PML-N, despite the vilification it has recently faced, winning six of the 11 PA seats contested in Punjab. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, six seats were won by the PTI, two by the ANP and one by the PML-N. In Sindh, the PPP unexpectedly won both seats while in Balochistan one of the two seats was won by the BNP and the other by an independent.

The PTI’s top command should be pondering these results that have emerged so soon after a general election in which the party claimed a distinct popular mandate. It is possible that people are already beginning to question the PTI’s credibility as it seems bent on achieving impossible feats within the shortest period of time. Planning appears to be taking place for the party’s first 100 days in power rather than the five years for which it will remain in power.

The best example of this is the promise that five million new houses will be constructed in the country. Experts on TV talk shows and other forums have naturally questioned where the resources for this massive project will come from. Even ordinary people have asked the same question. It is an obvious one in a country so starved of resources. Despite the many assurances made by Imran Khan before and after the elections that the government wouldn’t turn to the IMF, the PTI administration has been forced to do precisely that.

There was simply no alternative, with traditional allies – including Saudi Arabia and China – not offering to bail us out and some uncertainty over how much has been generated from the $1,000 that each overseas Pakistani was asked to send home. The two-week deadline set to retrieve the millions of rupees that were allegedly whisked away abroad in ‘corrupt’ money has also not been met.

Imran Khan has set up several advisory teams. He needs to give them time to think, plan and then follow their advice. After all, no man can be an authority on all matters. The extremely low voter turnout for the by-polls also suggests that people may already be somewhat disillusioned with a government which has vowed to bring about Naya Pakistan within days. Naturally, this could never have happened.

We would all like to see a government, possibly any government, succeed. Pakistan desperately needs this. A setup that is able to put the country back on its feet will be enormously beneficial to every citizen and also to the image of the country. The tsunami-like approach that Imran Khan has adopted, jumping from one issue to the next may reflect his pre-election slogan, but we should remember that a tsunami essentially signifies disaster and chaos. We certainly don’t want this.

The bureaucracy has already refused to cooperate with the PTI government in bringing about the set of reforms that it wished to impose on the civil services. Senior administrative officials are believed to be equally displeased with the manner in which governance is proceeding. There have been limited signs of major success so far – though small measures, such as making helmets compulsory for motorcyclists in Islamabad and improving the enforcement of traffic laws, have made some difference.

But in a country beset with so many major problems, these are simply minor issues. After all, the PTI had 22 years to plan for the day it came into power. We wonder how the party spent this time. The decision to close down more INGOs immediately after assuming power hardly sends out a positive message to the world. Many of these organisations were doing excellent work in humanitarian areas and cannot be instantly replaced by local entities. Such policies ought to be weighed to ascertain their pros and cons before the government decides to go ahead with them.

The PTI has in its ranks a number of people with superb credentials to manage affairs. They should be used. Perhaps a few of the country’s most important problems areas should be tackled first and people must be shown that some difference is being made. Given Imran Khan’s elaborate promises, this is of considerable importance to his party. Without this, people will lose faith in the party – just as they have done in other parties that have failed to deliver. Subsidising food prices could be one simple step that will help millions.

The economic team and others on the PTI panels should consider how this can be achieved. Models that exist in other countries should be studied and adapted. This one step will bring massive popularity for the government and help it take its next step with more confidence and stability.

There is little doubt that the intentions of Imran Khan and at least some key members of his team are good. This in itself is important. But along with good intentions, we need sense and order. Changes have to be made one at a time and problems need to be addressed methodically. The constant U-turns simply create confusion and have already generated a record number of jokes at the government’s expense.

It needs to respond to these by asking itself why people continue to vote for the PML-N even though the party no longer holds power and has no ability to manipulate results. The ruling party must accept its own failings and carefully consider how to manage the complex problems of a country that is caught in a crisis.

The demands being placed by the IMF will make things more difficult. But the challenges have to be met and the hope that issues will simply vanish by winning an election should be put aside. Winning is perhaps the easiest step in any democratic exercise. It is the ability to run the country, especially when problems exist on so many fronts, which is the harder task – one that Imran Khan and his team will need to find a way to manage. So far, they are faltering in this regard.

While it is too early to make any assessments about the PTI government, which has been in power for barely two months, it isn’t too soon for the government to start showing that it is capable of bringing about major changes and acting with the sagacity needed to achieve this. Cosmetic change has little meaning in a country where foreign policy dilemmas exist, people lack basic amenities, and a lot needs to be done to change the course of events.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.