The mathematics of change

December 9, 2018

As PTI uses up the first 100 of its 1,825-day mandate, it becomes evident that the PM will need much more than a T20 type cricket approach to change Pakistan

The mathematics of change

The proverbial honeymoon period for the country’s newest government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is over. The rose-tinged glasses are off, the thrill of victory has subsided and reality beckons - PTI has used up the first 100 of its 1,825-day mandate. The jury may be out on how the Khan administration has really fared so far - the ruling party touts change while the opposition cries shame - but the question is whether there is enough evidence to weigh up PTI’s actualised potential to deliver on its promise of altering Pakistan’s destiny.

An evaluation of this kind - de-emotionalising the rhetoric of an election and paring it down to measuring the actual performance of the primary stage - is fraught with the risk of inadequacy in terms of proof of capacity. After all, it’s not the electoral performance of PTI but its first few months in office, planning to deliver on their promise that needs an appraisal.

The period of first 100 first days seems too cliched and too abstract a time period and notion to allow for jettisoning any lingering prejudice of detractors or the continued romance of supporters. After all who is the judge here - the parliament, the opposition, the media, the judiciary or the electorate? They all hold disparate opinions. In a 60-month governance mandate, why an evaluation of the first 100 days in office? Why not six months, or even a year, to allow a new government to find its feet, choose its priorities, craft customised solutions, put the money on it and prove its mettle before it is realistically ranked as worthy of the country’s trust or rejection?

Even accounting for the impatience of all the above potential judges, the Imran Khan government has but only itself to blame for offering its own customised template of judgement - the 100-day framework. All key parties including, among others, PTI, Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz (PML-N) of Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto, Awami National Party (ANP) of Asfandyar Wali and Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) of Fazlur Rehman, announced their party manifestos ahead of elections outlining governance priorities if voted to power. But it was only Imran Khan’s party that offered a 100-day governance roadmap.

PTI held as big and bashful a launch event on May 20, 2018, for its 100-day plan as it did on November 29, 2018, to outline the progress on it after completing 100 days in power.

This turned out to be PTI’s first major political mistake - boxing itself into a tight evaluation corner with a list of well-nigh impossible indicators under self-inflicted tight performance and evaluation deadlines. The PPP, which returned to power in Sindh, and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), which emerged as the winner in Balochistan, offered no 100-day governance plans and have thus escaped any early evaluations and primary criticisms while PTI is stuck framing itself in its stifling confines.

PTI held a big and bashful launch event on May 20, 2018, for its 100-day plan. That turned out to be PTI’s first major political mistake - boxing itself into a tight evaluation corner with a list of well-nigh impossible indicators under self-inflicted tight performance and evaluation deadlines.

But performance evaluations never really start late nor fade away early - that’s the nature of politics. Especially when parties such as PTI are the biggest consumers of their own exaggerated optimism, although they can be forgiven their first-time over-confidence. It is the first time PTI has the national helm and the first time Imran Khan has held an office. The astonishing capacity of PTI to confuse their naïve passion for politics with their own rhetoric and propaganda meant for others is what is chastening them.

The PTI functionaries are out of their comfort zone of being in the erstwhile opposition. Such is the scale of their back-peddling - going to the IMF, peace overtures with India, travels abroad aboard special planes, retaining VIP protocols, raising taxes, etc. - that they have literally made a virtue out of the ability to take ‘U-turns’ and the never-ending blame on previous governments for their own lack of adequate homework.

Their under-whelming strategies on the economy and over-whelming lack of coordination among key functionaries, borders on the cringeworthy. By Imran Khan’s own admission, he and his party still can’t believe they are in power - the prime minister’s wife needs to remind him to stop complaining and do something about anything, everything.

The pressure on PTI to emphasise they aren’t not going anywhere fast but rather headed somewhere in the direction offered by their 100-day plan, is immense and the ridicule they face on social media is so relentless that it is difficult to find its key leaders available to defend their performance.

Key PTI leaders who populated the media space before elections have gone missing in action. The likes of Shafqat Mahmood, Shireen Mazari, Pervaiz Khattak, Imran Ismail, Shah Farman, Arif Alvi and Asad Umar have gone quiet, seemingly locked up in their offices. Even Imran Khan has only recently started speaking, even if reluctantly. If Fawad Chaudhry didn’t speak as much as he does one would be forgiven for forgetting the PTI was in power.

The self-reported performance of the PTI in its first 100 government comes across more as a package of perceptions that the prime minister holds - into the weeds as he often is in the minutiae of intentions ranging from selling buffaloes as a means of saving public money and dreaming of an economic and social revolution through chickens and eggs to offset poverty - than the changed Pakistan he promised.

Tellingly, the PTI seems least unruffled and least vocal on reporting about its most challenging promises - bringing billions of dollars supposedly stashed away illegally abroad by mysteriously errant Pakistanis; dividing up Punjab into more than one province; legal and administrative merger of tribal areas into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and mainstreaming them socially; supervising a revolutionary and moneyed intervention of overseas Pakistanis into the country’s economy; sweeping reforms of the country’s legal landscape and civil services; and the equitable polity of dau nahi, aik Pakistan.

On these major promises, what PTI has practised in its first 100 days is different from what it promised. The prime minister’s special group interview with several TV anchors on December 3, 2018, was revealing in terms of both the intention and strategy of his party on his promises.

Meritocracy? The ‘Pentagon of Punjab’ comprising Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Aleem Khan, Jahangir Khan Tareen, Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi is hardly a meritorious model even though Khan insisted Buzdar was his best player - he actually called him ‘Wasim Akram-Plus’.

Legal reforms? The premier rejected a parliamentary entente with the opposition to get the raft of laws and constitutional amendments he needs to pass and instead vowed to operate through ‘ordinances’ even though he simply can’t. This is akin to allowing the opposition a veto to scuttle the heart of his ambitious political and social reforms’ agenda.

Creating a new province out of Punjab? That will almost topple his government in any rump Punjab and therefore take a significant part of Pakistan’s governance space from his purview.

In terms of populist appeal, the biggest promises the PTI made and which will be judged by his followers and supporters rather than the opposition are 10 million jobs and five million homes. How? When? Where? The government offers little clues. There is simply no money, even government functionaries now admit.

But perhaps most significantly, in the same interview with the TV anchors, the prime minister all but indicated a critical deficit of patience and political astuteness required to even launch, leave alone complete, a critical part of his agenda of accountability and rule of law. He declared his disdain for both the Supreme Court and National Accountability Bureau by saying they were not ‘behind him’. In almost the same breath he astonishingly claimed the security establishment was ‘behind him’ and his party’s manifesto and all but confessed he was not interested in taking the treason trial of Musharraf to a conclusion.

Also read: 100 days of promise galore

He was struck dumb by the prickly question of why he labelled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif a traitor for attempting to improve relations with India but boasts the rightful success of the Kartarpur initiative.

All said and done, the first 100 days for the Imran Khan government are over. It will need more than some cosmetic steps and a crash-and-burn T20 type cricket approach to change Pakistan. Before he delivers on his tabdeeli promise, the prime minister will have to change himself and his under-19 team. Even though there are another 1,725 days to go for him to come good on his promises, he is already trapped in a countdown.

The mathematics of change