Second Start

Spearhead Analysis – 19.04.2019

Some off-road vehicles have a feature called ‘second start’. You activate that when the vehicle is stuck and you need a burst of power and traction to extricate and continue. The PTI government just nine months into its five-year tenure has felt the need for a ‘second start’ type boost and has reshuffled key cabinet posts and inducted a bevy of technocrats to get out it of its difficulties and move forward.

To be fair to IK (Imran Khan) it must be noted that he had said that he would review performance and make changes if required. And he has done so. There was a clamor from financial and economic analysts criticizing the finance minister and asking for a change that could deliver. The financial and economic indicators were plummeting. So an experienced internationally known technocrat has been brought in to replace the finance minister. The health ministry needed to be rescued from policies that were sending drug prices sky-rocketing and pharmaceutical companies up in arms. So an internationally known and experienced technocrat is the new ‘Adviser’ on Health issues and the minister has been given another portfolio. It is the same story in the Petroleum and information ministries. The Interior ministry was with the Prime Minister himself with a minister of state handling it. Now an Interior minister has been appointed who is former military and his experience includes stints in the ISI, as Director General (DG) anti-narcotics, as the DG Intelligence Bureau and as Punjab’s Home Secretary—impressive credentials for an important job that includes implementing the National Action Plan (NAP). So the second start feature is fully activated.

There was much criticism over the choice of the team that IK had selected and unkind comment on its ability to deliver on the PM’s vision of poverty alleviation, wealth creation, employment opportunities, bureaucratic reform and elimination of corruption. After nine months of being in power the PTI was looking at an environment of threats, extortion and fear with existing tax payers being hounded and threatened with audits if they did not shell out additional taxes, business people being harassed by FBR and NAB, rising inflation, rising unemployment, uncertainty in matters that had brought all economic activity to a virtual standstill and almost non-existent FDI and domestic investment. Course correction had become inevitable. The change in the team is the first step. The next has to be policy changes that will start changing the environment into one of hope, optimism and confidence especially if the deal with the IMF goes through and the FATF issue is resolved.

The previous PPP and PML(N) governments worked in an insecure and threatened internal security environment. The military acted with resolve and determination against threats to internal security so the PTI government came into a relatively calmer internal environment with time and space to implement its policies. For this an environment had to be created to ensure positive parliamentary activity and consensus on major issues. This has not happened so far. A state with nuclear weapons must not be seen as economically weak, politically unstable, internally threatened, with unsecured borders and alienated segments of the population vulnerable to external exploitation and manipulation. Fortunately, the military has extended its full structural and organizational strength to the government and this civil-military combine can confront the challenges and create the right environment. The recent stand-off and military clash instigated by India was a sampling of how civil-military harmony can work to deliver results. In the future the thrust has to be for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, a dialogue process with India, an end to militant extremist segments within the country and economic revival through clearly articulated policies.

Hope has been ignited and dashed expectations are rising again. Off-roaders don’t have an option if second start fails.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)