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July 16, 2020

The dangers of incompetence

Opinion

July 16, 2020

We may not always realise this but even babies and animals can quickly recognise incompetence. They cry when they are picked up by someone without experience or in an awkward fashion.

As such it is hardly surprising that the people of Pakistan have begun to ask questions about the leadership ability of the present federal government. The problems began with a price hike that has continued to accelerate and the realisation that Imran Khan's vision of money pouring back into the country from expatriates was not going to materialize.

They also saw that the focus on delivering justice was in fact a kind of vindictive campaign against political opponents with no positive values attached to it. The manner in which this exercise has been conducted opens up still more doubts in the eyes of many citizens. They can see that the process which is being called accountability offers them very few benefits and leaves open questions about whether it helps the country at all with more and more divisions and more and more acrimony being created between political parties. Such divisiveness is not something we need at a time when a multitude of crises confront us all.

These crises are visible all around us. They have come one after the other and in various ways. Quite often they have been created entirely by the government itself. We have had to deal with the flour crisis, the sugar crisis, the petrol crisis, the continuing shortage of essential drugs and more. Along the way we have also faced one fiasco after the other, with the BRT in Peshawar still to be constructed and plans announced by the prime minister such as the promotion of tourism with social media influencers used to push the idea forward openly questioned in a situation where so few facilities and so little entertainment exists for persons coming in from other countries.

The focus of the government on using ordinances to pass legislation does not boost parliamentary democracy or show any respect for the house which elected the prime minister. Then we have had events such as the release of viral videos by young women who had apparently been able to reach the most secure offices of government. Ministers in Punjab who had demonstrated bigotry and terrible bias returned to office after a few months outside cabinet, suggesting the government in reality condoned their actions. And of course we have faced fiascoes of every kind, ranging from the frequent turnarounds made by the PM to open discord within the government and cabinet itself with some ministers speaking out openly about all that had gone wrong.

This is obviously not reassuring for citizens. Neither is the increasingly blatant clampdown on the media, the misuse of NAB which has shattered its credibility and the fact that the body is being used to follow a policy of vindictiveness and harassment rather than vanquish corruption across the spectrum.

Perhaps the worst demonstration of mismanagement comes in the handling of the Covid-19 crisis. There has been a failure to either keep town infection or ensure the economy was kept intact. Like other countries which failed to impose a quick and effective lockdown, Pakistan suffered badly with the lack of certainty and transparency over the figures being given out simply adding to the problem. Like US President Donald Trump who is being mocked around the world, the prime minister of Pakistan had initially insisted that the Covid virus was no more serious than a case of flu. Those who have actually experienced the ravages the disease can testify this is certainly not always the case.

As for the argument that only the elderly get seriously sick we should ask the prime minister if the life and welfare of these persons is somehow less significant than those of the young. The reality of course is that the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on people and especially the poor, who the prime minister said he was desperate to protect. Today they lose jobs by the hour amidst a collapsing economy and can turn only to overcrowded, poorly equipped public-sector hospitals as the seemingly unending pandemic continues. The promised safety nets have not worked, white-collar workers are desperate and the much touted `Tiger Force' seems well camouflaged.

While one thing after another goes wrong, and the effort, deliberate or otherwise to ground the national carrier succeeds, we can only wonder how things could have gone so become quite so chaotic. It is easy to blame past governments. But it is now obvious that during the 22 long years it spent planning for power, the PTI failed to devise any meaningful strategy. There is obviously far more to governance than a highly flawed and unjust accountability or the treatment of the opposition as inherently evil. Poor manners and street language do not help either.

No prime minister can excel at everything. Some excel individually at very little. But even such persons have succeeded by building good teams. In our current situation we lack a team. Unelected 'experts' flown into the country for a limited duration are always unlikely to perform. We are seeing the results of this right now.

Will the Prime Minister and those closest to him realize the dangers this presents in time? We are in fact already running out of time. The economy continues to fall back further and further from a position where it was already leaning precariously.

There is much else that has not gone well. We have not seen the development and progress that ‘Naya Pakistan’ had promised us, nor the justice we were told would be offered to each citizen. The reality is that we have seen just the opposite. The question now is, as ‘minus one’ and other formulas have spoken of, whether we can save our country before further damage is done. For this, there will need to be an acceptance that parliament is not a boxing ring but a place to talk meaningfully with the opposition and to offer them the respect they deserve as persons who commanded a very large number of votes.

The PTI can see its allies walk away. It should be pondering why this is happening, and rather than simply directing blame elsewhere take a retrospective look at itself, at its leadership, at its flaws and at least make some effort to remedy what has gone amiss so that the farce we confront today can be resolved and a government able to perform built. This in the first place needs the ability to accept criticism and acknowledge fault. Whether the current leadership possesses these qualities we simply do not know.

In the coming months, we will need to find out. People everywhere are already angered by all that has happened. The past two years have been difficult ones. The exhilaration many felt when the PTI first came to power has vanished. From this point on, it will be a long climb uphill if the leadership is to save itself from the growing anger of the people.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]