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May 5, 2021

Unstructured government

Opinion

May 5, 2021

Firdous Ashiq Awan is known for her theatrics. On one occasion, she came out of a blood donation drive only for Pakistanis to discover that the event was fake. On another, she rode a motorcycle borrowed from a rescue 1122 rider, only to be filmed during the stunt. Now, yet again, the Awan from Sialkot was seen using her karate chops surrounded by officials to amply demonstrate her martial arts skills.

But this time around, Awan, an adviser to the Punjab chief minister has not only outdone herself by her own previous standards. In the process, she has badly exposed a key gap in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s regime – the matter of a government with functionaries operating without a clearly defined structure.

Almost three years after Khan came to power, the matter of an unstructured government where one hand doesn’t know what the other is up to, is effectively haunting Pakistan right in its face.

On Sunday, Awan chose to publicly humiliate an apparently well reputed young government official in Sialkot, her home constituency, over so-called “third class food items” on sale in an officially sanctioned Ramazan Bazaar.

A video of the very public display of anger by Awan targeting the official, Assistant Commissioner Sonia Sadaf, immediately went viral on social media.

Behind the scenes, senior government officials in Punjab have reportedly been badly stung by this very sorry episode. Going by the track record of Khan’s PTI which rules over Punjab, it is likely that the first reaction by the ruling structure will be to proverbially shove the matter under the carpet.

And if there is action, in the extreme being Awan getting kicked out of her job as she seems to deserve, that’s unlikely to come before a significant public fallout over the matter.

The problem with an unstructured government, yet again exposed, is at least three-folds.

First, just as too many cooks get in the business of spoiling the broth, so do too many people assuming the role of policymakers and eventually leading some to work at cross-purposes with others. Before her appointment in Punjab, Awan’s tenure as information minister in Islamabad abruptly ended after the prime minister seemingly concluded that she was not up to the task.

Following the Sialkot episode, Awan continues to defend her very sorry conduct without accepting that her ugly public spat with a government official has badly tarnished her government’s image. Instead of a public display of anger, Awan should have sent her complaint in writing to the chief minister urging the chief executive of the province to investigate the matter before taking action. Humiliating the young public servant in full view of TV cameras was just not warranted and that too over the matter of food items rotting away in Sialkot’s scorching heat.

Second, an unstructured government always runs the risk of losing clarity in pursuing objectives at the center of its own interest and in the larger national interest. With decision-making devolved to individuals who are just not up to the mark, it's certain that they lose sight of the bigger picture. Fundamentally, this is a key challenge facing the Khan government. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that well over two years after coming to power, the ruling structures at the center and Punjab are still trying to set their course for the future.

Finally, an unstructured government must inevitably fail in tackling challenges at the center of the big picture. In Pakistan’s case, the country is confronted with a host of challenges, internal and external ones. Without the necessary clarity on how best to solve them, it is hard to imagine exactly how a course for the future will be carved successfully.

Awan’s ugly display of unwarranted anger has added yet another dimension to the fledgling ruling structure in Punjab – a province which is home to almost 60 percent of Pakistan’s population. Under the leadership of the visibly underperforming Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, the PTI’s government in Punjab is seen to be lacking a clear initiative to tackle key challenges. A failure to take Firdous Ashiq Awan to task will only once again highlight the ineptitude of Pakistan’s ruling structure.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.

Email: [email protected]