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Friday June 21, 2024

Essential reality check

By Farhan Bokhari
April 06, 2022

As Imran Khan seeks to boost his sagging credentials following this week’s controversial ‘no confidence’ push in the national assembly, the prime minister’s record in government has been far from unblemished.

In sharp contrast to the claim of a ‘foreign conspiracy’ hatched to remove Khan from power, the prime minister must also acknowledge the many shortcomings surrounding his rule that eventually pushed his credentials from north to south in just under four years. In brief, the cricket star turned politician must embrace a much-needed essential reality check as Pakistan lives with the fallout from fast growing uncertainty on many fronts.

The matter of a foreign government’s push to enforce a regime change can not be taken lightly by any country including Pakistan. In the prime minister’s own words in a TV interview, he became aware of such a plan in August last year – the period when the Taliban returned to rule over Afghanistan following a quick retreat by US forces. That significant event right next door to Pakistan also triggered claims by Western officials of Pakistan’s collusion with the Taliban to facilitate a victory for the latter in Afghanistan. It also coincided with increasing complaints from senior officials of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI, drawing attention to US President Joe Biden not having called the prime minister after arriving in the White House. To this day, that call is still waiting to take place.

But Khan’s eventual political fate cannot remain detached from his government’s controversial domestic track record since coming to power in 2018. In sharp contrast to Pakistan’s outlook just four years ago, the country’s mainstream households, notably low-income ones, are today visibly worse off. The journey from 2018 till 2022 led by Khan’s PTI has witnessed sliding living conditions, notably rising prices of food commodities across Pakistan. Though Khan and has fellow PTI leaders have repeatedly pointed towards exogenous factors, essentially fast rising global commodity prices, much has also gone wrong across Pakistan.

Just months before Sunday’s vote of no-confidence, a rare shortage of stocks of urea in December hit the wheat crop at the time of its plantation late last year. In an unprecedented and miserable turn of events, wheat growers were forced to either buy stocks of urea at exorbitant rates on the black market or simply sow their crops by using urea below the recommended volume or simply not using urea at all. In the coming few weeks, the size of the next wheat crop from across the country will determine the extent of the damage done due to the government’s failure to provide stocks of urea in time.

The urea episode spoke volumes over a wider crisis of government caused in large measure by a failure to stem the worsening quality of governance across Pakistan. This was especially evident across Punjab, a province with a population of more than 125 million or home to roughly 60 percent of Pakistan’s population. Khan’s repeated refusal to replace former chief minister Usman Buzdar in spite of the latter’s widely known failure to successfully run Pakistan’s proverbial heartland, not only spelt disaster for the country but also badly exposed the prime minister’s repeatedly demonstrated ego in the face of calls for policy shifts necessitated after repeated setbacks.

Away from Pakistan’s rural heartland, other areas of failure have been driven by two ill advised legacies. On the one hand, the decision to grant a raft of incentives for the construction sector failed to provide a broader impetus to the economy. Instead, incentives anchored upon an amnesty for new investors in the construction sector from ever revealing their source of funds, only facilitated a fresh source for de facto money laundering, If indeed the objective was essentially to revive the economy with benefits of that revival going to a larger segment of society, Khan’s oversight of the construction sector simply failed to create that very effect.

On the other hand, an increasingly weakened government administration under Khan’s watch has left little to show by way of tackling inflation that swiftly targeted middle and low income households. For years, Pakistanis under successive governments have found themselves at the receiving end of cartels backed by unscrupulous traders.

Prior to Khan’s arrival in 2018, he had unleashed a wave of powerful messages promising to create a new reality for the people of Pakistan. Fondly known as ‘naya’ or new Pakistan, the image of a promising future was anchored on a new reality driven by greater economic and social justice. Tragically today, that image promised in 2018 lies completely in tatters.

Irrespective of Khan’s political fortunes in the coming times, mainstream Pakistanis are well within their right to reach a sorry conclusion: the PTI and Khan are just another addition to Pakistan’s political landscape.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs. He can be reached at: farhanbokhari@gmail.com