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Saturday May 28, 2022

Scepticism growing

By Editorial Board
May 15, 2022

When a former prime minister stands in front of a large rally and says an ‘atom bomb’ falling on Pakistan would have been better than a ‘government of thugs’ being allowed to take over, you know things have gone well beyond repair. The PTI and its leader are not coming slow, including on the question of the ‘neutrality’ of the establishment. This despite the fact that the ISPR has – once again – made it quite obvious that the military is not amused by the growing political comments on the institution. The message seems to have gone unheeded though, as Imran in a recent meeting with journalists, ‘revealed’ that he had been receiving messages from the establishment but had – bizarrely – blocked some numbers until elections were announced. We are now firmly in a political twilight zone: former blue-eyed boys ready to go to any extreme to get back power and hoping for a ‘revolution’ that hangs essentially on a demand of intervention and non-neutrality; former dissenting voices trying to keep a stitched-up coalition alive; and an economic situation that just keeps giving out bad news.

While the political rants continue, PM Shehbaz Sharif seems to have been MIA the past few days. The PM is expected back soon, after a stopover at the UAE, but this has been somewhat curious behaviour for a man who has just taken over a country caught up in an extremely turbulent situation. It has also become painfully obvious that the new government seems to not have done its homework. One wonders what they had planned would happen once Imran was ousted from power. They knew the economy was in a bad shape; they knew Pakistan cannot function without an IMF programme – no matter how unsavoury it may be – and they knew any government taking over would have to go for tough economic decisions. Finance Minister Miftah Ismail’s statement that the economy is in a bad shape is not much of a revelation. In fact, this was the peg the PDM and the PPP had used to go for a vote of no-confidence: that the PTI had managed to sink Pakistan’s economy, and that the PTI had come to power without any economic strategy in mind. Unfortunately, much of the same can be said for the current government.

While the boat of early elections most likely has sailed by now – though there are still those that think even now an election can be called – it is time for PM Shehbaz and his team to start acting like a government. For starters, it would be a good idea for the prime minister to return to the country. It would be a better idea to not make it seem like every decision being taken has to be rerouted via London. Both optics and good governance demand at least this. Despite the toxicity in rhetoric, and his recent bizarre statements and behaviour, there is little doubt now that Imran’s narrative is not just strong, but has managed to capture public imagination as well. He is holding rallies and is ready to take names if need be – or at least that’s the message the PTI is painstakingly sending out to power stakeholders. This also may explain some of the rumours about institutional differences arising due to Imran’s statements. Under such circumstances, a government running off to London does not give much hope. Neither does the fact the important seat of power that is Punjab has been effectively without a functioning government for near two months now. Reports suggest the cabinet will be formed soon but it just adds to the growing scepticism on whether the coalition government ever really had a plan beyond a vote of no-confidence. If it’s not ready to take the tough calls that come with the job, one wonders why it decided to choose this time to take charge. In this, the PML-N’s thinking – as articulated by Rana Sanullah on Saturday night – that ‘tough decisions’ will have to be taken by all parties in the coalition and not just the PML-N points to a far wider problem of parties leaping ahead into election thinking without focusing on what the country needs in the immediate: a stabilized economic outlook.

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