With the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government close to completing its two years in office, The News on Sunday asks analysts and commentators how they view the party's performance so far
Imran Khan’s government has suffered from a gap of both entrance legitimacy and performance legitimacy. The prime minister was never able to shed doubts about the dubious ways of his entrance into the office on two accounts: first, the input of the establishment – a nonpolitical actor – into electoral politics by putting together a team of potential winners; and two, the electoral fraud perpetrated before, during and after the polling.
Imran Khan has learnt to live with the fait accompli in terms of presiding over a quintessentially non-representative ruling dispensation. Secondly, his performance as a source of legitimacy has not only failed him as a populist leader but also failed the nation at large. There is an ever expanding crisis of governance characterised by a lack of control over the market dynamics – resulting in forbidding inflation and shortage of supply of essential items, diplomatic setbacks, shrinking scope of jobs and services, and now mishandling of the Covid-19 issue that has assumed scandalous proportions. To overcome a series of failures on all these fronts, the prime minister has opted for rendering the parliament redundant as a forum for engagement with the opposition on way to conflict resolution. Instead, he has chosen to tighten the noose around his critics’ neck. The NAB has initiated corruption cases against opposition leaders and put them behind bars. The PTI government has muzzled the voice of the media and pinned its failures on the shoulders of scapegoats -both past and present.
-Dr Mohammad Waseem
Professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences
There is no doubt that the PTI took over governance when the economy was not doing well and that since then they have faced major challenges in the form of a global slowdown and, more recently, a pandemic. Given the starting point and the enormity of the challenges faced, the fact that our economy is struggling is not surprising and the blame for this situation cannot be put only on the PTI government.
But the PTI came with very strong promises of reform. It promised fundamental reforms in governance, provision of justice, equity and law and order and eradication of corruption. The PTI had promised major investments in human development, especially health, education and skill provision, housing and employment generation/creation. Much more than anything, lack of progress on any of these fronts is what has been very disappointing about PTI’s rule. Governance is as before, if not worse; corruption levels have not shown any change; elite capture continues as before; and the government seems almost powerless when it comes to dealing with entrenched interest groups. And even after more than two years expenditure and/or budget priorities have not differed from previous governments at all and so all promises of housing, jobs, education, provision of skills, and healthcare have sounded hollow.
- Faisal Bari
Associate professor of economics and education at the Lahore University of Management Sciences
Imran Khan was brought in with great expectations among his mentors in the state institutions, and pockets of PTI voters. The cornerstone of his politics was his anti-corruption mantra. For many middle-class Pakistanis fed up with poor governance and a dysfunctional polity, it was indeed a very attractive slogan. So was his promise to bring back Pakistan’s stolen wealth from abroad. Many well-meaning young, urban, Pakistanis fell for his populist politics.
But there is little disagreement now that his government has consistently over-promised and grossly under-delivered. As a result, Pakistan’s economic mess has deepened, foreign policy has floundered and political polarisation has worsened.
Like many before him, Khan used the ‘accountability’ slogan to pressure the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to launch a political witch-hunt against his opponents while cases and inquiries against many of his close aides and allies accused of large-scale corrupt practices were dropped or shelved.
And so, two years into his government, after consistently presenting himself as holier than thou, Khan stands widely exposed. He has shown himself to be incapable of bringing the country together on economy, external challenges and more recently, on the coronavirus crisis. His administration has been marked by immaturity and ineptitude, in large part due to the sort of toxic and outlandish characters Khan relies on to project his performance. Inevitably, the incompetence of his team has meant ceding more and more civilian space to the military.
The only exception to this, in my view, was during the Indian airstrikes in Balakot in February 2019. With the parliament and the military fully behind him, Khan’s speeches and measured response appeared prime ministerial for a change. But it didn’t prevent the overall disappointment with his government’s performance.
It didn’t have to be this way. Despite winning a blatantly manipulated election in 2018, Khan could have chosen to embark on a different path by working with his political opponents to bring about the kind of reforms he has long argued for. Khan’s government is now on a tight-leash. If not for the country, for his own survival, he may still have a chance to mend his ways and engage with his opponents. He should realise by now that his strength also lies in the parliament, not in the hands of a few.