By NAJAM SETHI
The Pakistani PM has made a laughing stock of himself in governance, economy and foreign policy.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is being hauled over the coals for failing to match words with deeds in his first 100 days in office. Indeed, he has made a laughing stock of himself by justifying 19 controversial decisions and 35 U-Turns so far as tactical policy befitting “great leaders” like Hitler and Napoleon. Since he wittingly proposed the 100-day yardstick to measure his government’s performance, he has only himself to blame for this media onslaught.
The most urgent item on PM Imran Khan’s agenda is related to the crisis in the economy manifested by a yawning gap in the balance of payments, falling forex reserves and a plummeting rupee. As opposition leader, he had thundered endlessly against crawling to the IMF or foreign countries for financial bailouts. Instead, he had pinned his hopes on billions in donations from overseas Pakistanis and tens of billions from unearthing black money stashed abroad. The problem arose when, after assuming office, he persisted in his delusionary approach, and the situation went from bad to worse. When his finance minister, Asad Umar, dared to baulk, he was forced to eat his words. It was only when the army chief, General Qamar Bajwa, “launched” himself purposefully that Imran Khan reluctantly packed his achkan, dragged himself off to Saudi Arabia and China with bowl in hand, and Asad Umar sat down to engage the IMF, both making a bald-faced virtue out of necessity.
But even this belated dawning of “wisdom” has failed to yield the desired results. China is not even ready to reveal the nature of its help. The Saudis have made an insignificant deposit that doesn’t tally with the tall expectations of government. And the IMF delegation has returned to Washington without any commitment, leaving the PM and his FM wringing their hands in despair.
The second item related to the efficient and honest functioning of government. On that score, there is even more confusion and contradiction. Parliament cannot function properly without consensual committees to steer legal reforms and oversee public accounts. But the hounding of the opposition parties at the behest of the interior ministry and civil-military “agencies” directed by Imran Khan himself has log-jammed the core committees. Worse, the PM’s intent to run Punjab from Bani Gala via a weak chief minister in a sea of cunning contenders for power like the Punjab Governor and the Speaker of the Provincial Assembly, has deadlocked the bureaucracy and administration. The rapid postings and transfers of high and low officials at one power broker’s behest or another’s has led to lack of direction and motivation.
The third agenda item is foreign policy. Here, too, the government’s stumbling is embarrassing. When the need of the hour is to keep the American beast at bay so that it doesn’t waylay the IMF on its way to Pakistan or lean on the Saudis to put pressure on us, Imran Khan has tried to win cheap brownie points at home by counter-tweeting President Trump. On the Afghanistan front, the war of words and proxy terrorism continues unabated even as Islamabad vows to be part of the solution rather than the problem.
Now Pakistan’s reopening of the Kartarpur corridor to the Sikh shrine of Baba Guru Nanak is being billed as some sort of “peace breakthrough” in Indo-Pak relations. It is nothing of the sort. Like the IMF, China and Saudi Arabia “openings”, this initiative comes courtesy General Bajwa whose bear hug of Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu at Imran Khan’s oath taking ceremony in Islamabad put Indian PM Narendra Modi and Punjab state CM Amarinder Singh in a tight corner. Neither politician’s prospects are too bright in the forthcoming elections in Punjab state next year. Therefore, they have reluctantly yielded to the Pakistani proposal only to curry favour with tens of millions of devout Sikhs. It is a tactical and short term concession as the hard, anti-Pakistan statements from Amarinder Singh and the Indian FM Sushma Swaraj, coupled with PM Modi’s refusal to attend the SAARC summit for the third year running, prove. Indeed, even as the Kartarpur protocol was being signed, proxy terrorists were taking a toll at the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, SP Tahir Dawar’s murdered body was being handed over to the Pak authorities at the Afghan border, suicide bombers were striking in the lower Orakzai Agency and India’s brutal repression in Kashmir showed no sign of abating.
On the Pakistan side, too, General Bajwa’s initiative is tactical, aimed only at reducing current Indian hostility – in the form of armed conflict along the LoC and proxy terrorism across the country – that destabilizes Pakistan and makes Imran Khan’s job of focusing on government difficult. This is the same Miltablishment that winked at the Labaiq Ya Rasul Allah during Nawaz Sharif’s time and crushed it in Imran Khan’s, the same that kicked Nawaz out for wanting to promote peace with India and is propping up Imran now at Kartarpur.
The Miltablishment has put all its eggs in Imran Khan’s basket. It will take more than 100 days of incompetence to shake its faith in their chosen man.
This article was originally published in The Friday Times.