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April 24, 2019

As the dream crumbles


April 24, 2019

It was only a matter of time before the bubble would burst. That it would take just eight months was unthinkable. The recent cabinet reshuffle, especially the removal of Asad Umar as finance minister, has sent shockwaves even among diehard PTI supporters.

Asad was the poster boy for the PTI – the one who was to convert Imran Khan’s fantasy dream of Naya Pakistan into reality. It was never going to work, though; the model of Naya Pakistan was built around simplistic assumptions such as: tax collection would double to Rs8 trillion simply because people trusted Imran Khan and therefore would line up to start paying their due taxes. Or that foreign exchange reserves would go up in large numbers because Imran’s fan club outside Pakistan would start remitting billions of dollars. Reason: he is not corrupt and will not plunder the money.

The assumptions continued with: annual money laundering was approximately $10 billion (according to Imran Khan, of course). All of that would be saved because the corrupt rulers responsible for said money laundering would no more be there.

Most importantly, plundered money amounting to $200 billion stashed outside Pakistan would be brought back. With this money all our foreign debt would be repaid and Pakistan would still be left with $100 billion. With no more foreign debt to pay and foreign reserves going up by a colossal $100 billion, the PTI promised the following: there would be no taxes in the country for 10 years; there would be no price increases for 10 years; there would be so many jobs within the country that no Pakistani would need to seek work outside Pakistan. The current PM also assured people that prices only increase because of corruption, so as such there would be no price increase once he were in power.

All of the above was not only simplistic but totally unrealistic as well. Equally laughable were some of the other commitments made by the PTI. Promises like giving one crore jobs over five years and making 50 lakh housing units simply did not make any economic sense.

Coming to the recent cabinet reshuffle, the prime minister has stated that the changes were necessary because of the non-performance of these ministers. So he has formally accepted that the economy was poorly managed in the last eight months – exactly what the opposition and independent economists had been saying for months. But the big question is who is responsible for the poor state of the economy – the finance minister or the prime minister or both?

In cricketing parlance, the captain must take the full responsibility for bad performance. More so, since it was Imran Khan who had selected Asad Umar as finance minister. He made us believe that Asad had the ability to solve Pakistan’s complex economic challenges. Now the PM suddenly realizes that the post of finance minister must be occupied by an economist, and since Asad is not one, therefore the change. Is this not a monumental blunder? For six years, Asad was touted as the solution to all our economic problems. Then suddenly after eight months into office comes this realization. Who is to be blamed? Surely, the prime minister.

Somewhat related is the case of (former) petroleum minister Ghulam Sarwar. The prime minister informs Mr Sarwar that he is removing him from the petroleum ministry because it’s very technical. So, eight months after the appointment, the prime minister realizes that the petroleum ministry is too technical and that Mr Sarwar is not fit to handle it. Having miserably failed as the petroleum minister, he has now been given the aviation ministry – which is as technical as the petroleum ministry.

The Prime Minister has also failed to inform the nation why Mr Fawad Chaudhry has been moved from information to science & technology. If he had performed poorly, which the PM maintains, then what justification is there to give Chaudhry the very technical ministry of science & technology?

More fascinating is the appointment of the new finance and information advisers – both former PPP ministers during 2008-2013. The PTI leadership, especially the PM, has been very critical of the PPP’s performance. And they haven’t just been talking about the PPP’s poor performance that but also about the loot and plunder of our finances during the last PPP government. Yet the person who managed the finances at the time has been appointed finance adviser. How will Imran Khan justify this appointment?

Former PPP and Musharraf loyalists now dominate the new cabinet. In the process, the PTI’s ideology has been completely forgotten. And the PTI faithful are wondering what the struggle was all about.

It took 22 years for Imran Khan to sell his dream of Naya Pakistan. But it just took eight months for the dream to crumble in front of his eyes. Will he recover from here or will he be a lame-duck PM simply trying to survive his remaining 52 months? Whether he remains in office for the next 52 months or not, Imran Khan’s dream of Naya Pakistan is truly dead and buried – and with it the hopes and aspirations of millions who believed in him.

The writer is former governor Sindh and former minister for privatisation.

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