By Arif Nizami
Need for a reset
Soon to be approaching, the first 100 days in power of the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government are reportedly going to be observed with much fanfare. But is there much to cheer about, here?
Perhaps it’s a mixed bag with more negatives than pluses. In any case Pakistan is a country between the proverbial rock and the hard place where incumbency rarely brings dividends. Hence to expect wonders from a government ushered to power for the first time to perform wonders in the first three months of its tenure is asking for the moon.
Nonetheless by now the direction for a future course of action should have been set. The manner of doing business of the PTI government is quite distinct from its predecessors. It simply does not believe in molly coddling the opposition.
That is why so far as Khan is concerned: plague on both the houses. For him the PML-N his erstwhile nemesis and the PPP are corrupt and effete and hence the leaderships of both parties belong in the slammer. The sooner the better! It is openly claimed.
It is another matter however that those who left PML-N and the PPP to join the king’s party before the general elections overnight became squeaky clean. Most of them are now enjoying perks and privileges of power.
The PTI’s strategy is simply to go after the opposition by painting them black. Various spokesmen of the party brazenly claim that to eradicate corruption being their main election plank, they cannot easily back down after assuming power.
Despite the fact that historically there are deep fissures between the PPP and the PML-N the ruling party simply refuses to exploit them.
The Khan perhaps reposed to his critics has tried to make a virtue out of necessity. Answering to criticism of frequent ‘U-turns’ he claims a leader who does not take U-turns according to circumstances is not a ‘real leader’. Shockingly he laments had Adolf Hitler had taken U-turns he would have succeeded.
This an odious claim to make and betrays an utter lack of knowledge of history. Is the PTI chief suggesting that had Hitler succeeded, fascism would have ruled the world? Invoking Hitler’s name is not a politically correct statement to make.
The prime minister does not seem to believe in divide and rule. Despite the fact that historically there are deep fissures between the PPP and the PML-N the ruling party simply refuses to exploit them. That is why by default the leadership of both the opposition parties in the parliament have been forced to close ranks if for nothing else, merely for the sake of survival.
The PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s recent address in Badin should be read in this context. He chose to speak in Urdu rather than his native Sindhi pointing out that he wanted Islamabad to hear him.
Perhaps Zardari was trying to convey to the powers that be in Rawalpindi rather than Islamabad that, “leaders created by you cannot run this country.” He lamented that had ‘they’ supported their government as well, things would have been different.
A beleaguered Zardari embroiled in freshly reactivated corruption cases has obliquely addressed the ubiquitous establishment for the first time since his intemperate remarks during General Raheel Sharif’s tenure as COAS back in 2015. Post these remarks he went into self-imposed exile.
Obviously the PPP co-chairperson is trying to remind the Army leadership that although it is fully backing the PTI the government has so far failed to deliver. It is also an implicit admission of the fact that Khan is enjoying seamless relations with the military, which had eluded both the PPP and PML-N governments.
But credit goes to the PTI government as well. Unlike its predecessors it has so far not opened unnecessary fronts with the military. It is trying to do its job within its own constitutional ambit. And likewise the military is doing the same.
Federal Information minister Fawad Chaudhry has earned the unsavoury reputation of being the proverbial bull in a china shop, thanks to his unrelenting verbal attacks (bordering on the personal) on the opposition. When the chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjarani recently barred an astringent Fawad from the Upper house for refusing to apologize to the opposition members, the PM threw his weight behind his minister.
And why wouldn’t he? The strident line taken by his ministers has his sanction and approval. The Khan himself does not miss an opportunity to lambast his opponents in the harshest of terms.
The information minister has announced that the federal cabinet has approved a sum of Rs230 million to retire the outstanding dues of the media houses. However rather sanctimoniously he added that that the media owners should stop depending on the government but instead review their respective business models.
The media is traditionally dependant on the government as well as the private sector revenue to stay afloat. With the private sector in doldrums the significance of government advertising for the media has increased manifold.
But ironically the PTI government has virtually shut down the tap. Why doesn’t Fawad Chaudhry lecture other industries in the private sector that are heavily dependent upon government policies, subsidies or even doles?
Perhaps the PTI government has a bone to pick with the media, especially the large swathe that whole-heartedly supported the PML–N government and was showered with government advertisements in return. But why should the rest of the media suffer on their count. The government’s advertising policy should be fair and equitable for all.
Why doesn’t Fawad Chaudhry lecture other industries in the private sector that are heavily dependent upon government policies, subsidies or even doles?
The biggest challenge facing the PTI government in its first 100 days is that of fixing a tattered economy. But so far it has only achieved mixed results.
The manner in which the rupee was allowed to go in a free fall and unprecedented hikes in electricity and gas tariffs has led to a fresh wave of inflation. The burgeoning fiscal and current account deficits have not helped matters.
Uncertainty is the scourge of economic growth. The officially created ethos that all businessmen are corrupt unless proven otherwise, coupled with a bellicose NAB (National Accountability Bureau) has negatively affected the already adverse investment climate.
Last month saw foreign direct investment (FDI) falling a whopping 55per cent on year on year basis. This is no surprise when local investors are being hounded why would foreigners be investing in Pakistan? In any case cost of doing business in the Islamic Republic of is one of the highest.
In the meanwhile the prime minister and his economic team have embarked on a begging expedition albeit with mixed results. It is yet not clear to what extent are Saudi Arabia and China chipping in. Although the IMF (International Monetary Fund) has completed its deliberations with Pakistani officials it is yet not clear what is the size of the proposed bailout package and on what terms.
The self-created 100 days benchmark should be a good opportunity for the PTI government for introspection and course correction. Perhaps Khan should consider outgrowing his perennial opposition mode and switch over to the much needed governance mode.
The PTI government should also strive to evolve some kind of a modus vivendi with the opposition in the parliament. No meaningful legislation can take place in the present acrimonious atmosphere; being the government PTI will ultimately be the biggest loser in the bargain.
On the crucial governance front the prime minister rightly defends his choice for chief minister Punjab. According to him hitherto virtually unknown, political novice Usman Buzdar will prove to be his Waseem Akram, the former highly successful captain of Pakistani cricket.
But the jury is still out on whether Buzdar yet struggling to perform – while competing with other power centers in Punjab – will be able to deliver. Punjab being the jewel in the crown will be crucial for PTI’s political fate.
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.