PTI in driving seat

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  • Time to deliver on the big promises

The first step by PTI has been taken. It has managed to break the status quo, crashing through the so far two-party system and getting into the driver’s seat. This done, the onus is on PTI to deliver in an extremely difficult position inheriting colossal debts, weak institutions, corruption rotting the base of the society, economic and diplomatic challenges to name a few.

PTI now faces the challenge of delivering what it promised in its election campaigning in terms of attention to issues and prioritising areas of work that need urgent address. At the end of the day whatever the government does must trickle down to make Pakistan stronger internally and externally as well as providing a better quality of life to the common man.

False steps are to be expected but if taken need correction with immediate effect instead of sticking to a wrong decision. One glaring example is appointment of Atif Mian as member of the Economic Advisory Council. A correct decision towards making an inclusive government with representation from minorities and ethnic groups, the decision was reversed upon hue and cry raised by extreme right religious factions. Weak governance has allowed space to be created for extremist groups with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party bagging 2.2 million votes. The decision by PTI was too early in the day to open confrontational fronts but the reversal gave the political opponents the opportunity to criticise the government with rushing through with a decision it could not then take a stand on.

Awarding ticket to contest by-elections in NA 131 was another challenge. Imran Khan had earlier announced the contest will be by Waleed Iqbal. However it was awarded to Humayun Akhtar Khan, former Pepsi bottler who had lost in the same constituency on PPP ticket forfeiting his security. The race for the seat between Imran Khan and Saad Rafiq was close. Waleed Iqbal reportedly enjoys a good support from PTI workers in the constituency whereas Akhtar has had no presence at all. Awarding him the ticket may be equivalent to handing over the seat on a platter to PML-N stalwart Saad Rafiq.

Creation of broad based committees for every issue in more cases than not comprising of members having supported status quo is unlikely to deliver. Appointing two to three focused individuals well versed in a field is a better idea of getting solutions crystalised in form of doable policies. By the same token, needed cabinet appointments of those who can deliver need to be made instead of increasing numbers placing burden on the national exchequer. The Punjab government with a strong opposition has already ballooned to 44 ministers. Numbers do not increase quality.

Placing a low bar on taxation on people as reported being suggested in the coming mini-budget may suffer from the same malaise

Maintaining a workable relationship with military is important. Pompeo’s visit and Premier Khan meeting both him and US Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford with his team along with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa, ISI Director General Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and some other officials was a smart move. It sent a clear message of both the civil and military being on the same page. The practice of meeting the civil and military leadership separately led to space easy to lead to a misunderstanding between both. However, it cannot be a one-off smart move that’s needed for an ongoing smooth relationship. It is something PTI needs to work on an ongoing basis.

PTI must do what its predecessors did not do. That is to discuss issues in Parliament and take decisions based on consensus. Taking decisions outside the august body with a selected few is demeaning to the institution. As promised PM Khan he must twice a month present himself to answer questions raised on the floor.

Pakistan is under pressure for being placed on Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list. It is a challenge for the PTI government and the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to manage to get Pakistan off this list. Continuation of this placement will have nation reflecting upon Pakistan’s financial institutions as having ‘deficiencies’ leading to check money laundering and failure to prevent terror financing, making funding by international financial institutions tougher on Pakistan. The decision making of FATF is vague and not as transparent as they should be in terms of stating specific steps it requires Pakistan to undertake. This is something the current political dispensation needs to address. The geopolitical and geo economic world is a complex one. The fact that this movement to place Pakistan on the FATF grey list was sponsored by US, France, UK and Germany is a comment on the changing geopolitical world scenario.

Pakistan and America both understand a working relationship with each other is important for achieving a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan. Erroneously perhaps, USA thinks Pakistan has the same clout with Taliban that it had during the era of creation of Mujahedeen under General Zia ul Haq with CIA funding. This is just not true anymore. Dealing with US and coming on the same page to achieve positive results will be yet another challenge for the government.

Khan had pledged to create 10 million new jobs – for this industries need to be robust as well as the agricultural and service sectors to be able to create these jobs instead of cutting back on costs. Bringing in investments and expertise as promised will take time. Investors will sit on the fence and play the ‘watch and see’ game to observe how he handles the inherited issues. Confidence has been eroded by the previous governments because of their poor performance and Khan is an unknown quantity right now. He will need to address issues at hand and give the investors time to gain confidence. Building five million homes for the poor too needs well thought out policy, funds and above all; transparency in implementation.

The step to deal with pushing forward the projects for building dams has already been taken by CJ Saqib Nisar is opening a fund account. Response has come but it is not phenomenal. The issue being the same; lack of confidence owing to past bad experiences.

Placing a low bar on taxation on people as reported being suggested in the coming mini-budget may suffer from the same malaise. Once registered as tax payers, there may be a fear of the bar being raised by current or subsequent political dispensation.

The foremost task seems to be confidence building both nationally and internationally with a focused and committed team. Once this is achieved with focus, commitment and support of a team other steps will fall in line.