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October 7, 2019

The mayhem


October 7, 2019

Imran Khan has proved that he can make a great wartime leader. No other politician can weave such perfect narratives, communicate them so effectively and mobilize a sizable following. Many of his ardent followers already see him as the Ummah’s Churchill. Unfortunately, members of the Ummah have their own petty battles to fight and the two nuclear powers are in no hurry to go to war.

As the thunder of Imran Khan’s great speech at the UN recedes, the attention is back to his failure to handle the mundane job of day-to-day governance. The impression of incompetence is gaining ground and he is losing the match in an arena that has been emptied of his adversaries. In the absence of any opponent, it is Imran Khan versus Imran Khan, and Imran Khan the Prime Minister is beating Imran Khan the Messiah hands down.

Change in the federal and provincial cabinets is the media’s favourite solution as much of the blame is laid at the doors of ministers who are interested in everything other than their own portfolios; and all of them double as information ministers and social media enthusiasts.

The rumours of the impending massacre at the Minister’s Enclave were rife when a group of businessmen met the chief of army staff last week. Though not wholly unprecedented, it was seen as an unusual interaction which was meant to allow the business community to vent their frustration at the elected government and get some assurances in return.

For some weeks, businessmen have narrated an interesting and scary tale to the media. When looked at closely, this story shows what has gone wrong with Pakistan’s governance and what Kaptaan needs to do urgently. According to businessmen, they enjoy access to the prime minister. The good PM meets them regularly, listens to them patiently and then passes orders according to their wishes. However, these orders are never implemented. More meetings are held and more orders are passed only to be ignored by people down the line.

Dr Waqar Masood, a former finance secretary and seasoned bureaucrat, finds this a kind of situation he has never witnessed before in his career. “I have never seen orders of the prime minister getting flouted like this. How is it even possible?”, he told a television channel.

The very fact that businessmen see the PM again and again to influence policies in their favour shows a faulty mechanism of policymaking. It is now clear that when Imran Khan took charge of the country while standing on the top of a container full of promises, he and his team had not done any serious work on a single policy. He had no clue how all of these promises would see the light of day.

What is worse is that no serious work has been done in the meantime. This creates the scope for various stakeholders to influence policy in their favour by reaching directly to the top. This is an imperial way of governance that creates as many problems as it solves. Since such instant policymaking ignores the complexity and implications of a decision, they find resistance down the line and get thwarted.

The prime minister must correct this situation by setting the process of policymaking in motion. The institutions set up for this purpose must do their work more efficiently and make decisions by taking the interests of citizens and various stakeholders into account. The apex policymaking institution, the parliament of Pakistan, has been ignored the most.

This situation also brings Imran Khan’s own personality in the spotlight and reveals his strength and weaknesses. He is a big picture man. Except for the field of cricket, where he managed the team directly, he has always outsourced small details to other people. For example, in his charity work, he was mainly involved in raising funds while the hospital was managed and run by other people. He was lucky to have his cousin Dr Nausherwan Khan Burki on his side who did much of the hands on work. However, it was Brand Imran Khan that has kept it running.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he handed government to a very seasoned politician, Parvez Khattak, who, being a government contractor, knew the art of deal-making and working with the bureaucracy. Khattak tried to keep his boss at an arm’s length while making him happy through optics and helicopter tours.

To cover his lack of experience in public administration and lack of interest in detail, Imran Khan needs a deputy prime minister. Though there is no formal officer of deputy PM in Pakistan’s constitution, such an office was created in the past and can be recreated again. Though he has the albatross of the Peshawar Metro around his neck and NAB is following his tracks, Parvez Khattak can be the most suitable person for the job. He is the person who put Imran Khan in the PM’s Office and he deserves this prize the most.

While the political government must work efficiently, it is not enough to deliver good governance. Unfortunately, modern states are not run by political governments alone. They are run by complex bureaucracies. A well-oiled civil service is the key to effective governance. It is here that Imran Khan’s government has gone horribly wrong.

Pakistan’s bureaucracy was inefficient at its best. In the current situation, it has come close to becoming dysfunctional. With NAB’s ghost looming over their heads, no one wants to leave proof that they did anything good or bad in the service of the Government of Pakistan. As decision is the basic unit of administration, nothing works when decisions aren’t made. In fact, indecision is the worst form of decision. The elected government must provide effective leadership to the state functionaries.

NAB is not a solution to the problem of corruption. The problem of corruption can be solved only through making government transparent, ensuring rule of law and reforming institutions. Since corruption is so high on the agenda of the government, it must do some serious work to resolve this problem in a proper way.

Imran Khan should not forget that he was elected on a platform of reforms. Pakistan’s future hinges on reforming its institutions. If no reforms are made, it would only mean more deterioration by the end of his term.

Isn’t it ironic that while we were promised Mahathir bin Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew bundled into one redeemer, we are getting nostalgic about Shahbaz Sharif?

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan