Half-way mark | Pakistan Today

Half-way mark

  • Time for a reset

Prime minister Imran Khan’s recent lament that, “one should never come to power without homework,” can be generally perceived as an implicit admission of defeat. As if the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf) government is a mega corporation rather than a political party, for the umpteenth time ministers have been asked to fill a performance report.

The PTI crossing half way through its five-year tenure, the prime minister has reshuffled the cabinet four times in trying to find the right mix to click as a team. Ironically, Khan, while in the opposition had promised a lean and mean cabinet of about twenty people, but by now has expanded to fifty plus comprising a bevy of ministers apart from special assistants, advisors and ministers of state.

These include cronies who have no experience of governance whatsoever, overnight becoming experts in their respective departments.

The PTI had plenty of time to do its homework, and according to Khan had working papers on virtually every department. But what went wrong? While in the opposition more time was spent on political agitation and to get maximum numbers of ‘electables’ on its side in order to secure a workable majority in the parliament. Of course, this was only possible with a lot of help from powers that be who were overtly keen to get Imran in.

The prime minister has also complained that some members of his cabinet are not experienced enough. Unfortunately, facts do not support this contention. There are quite a few ministers that have served many a government in the past.

One such example is the minister for finance Dr. Hafeez Sheikh who is also heading the FBR (Federal Board of Revenue) and the Privatization Commission, and is sort of an economic czar. The ex-World Bank apparatchik held the same position under Zardari’s government. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has been a minister in different governments including the Sharifs. The list of such ‘experienced hands ‘is pretty long.

But even those who were thought to be brilliant in their field and were pre-selected as new blood somehow also failed to click in their boss’s eyes. Take the case of Asad Umer who joined PTI after heading a large corporation where he showed mixed results.  He was pre-selected as finance minister. After showing reluctance on the issue of Pakistan going in an IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme he was shown the door.

The prime minister seems to be quite impressed with the US presidential system. Citing  the US president elect joe Biden’s example, Khan in the same ceremony ,contended that the newly elected  president  gets two and a half months to prepare himself for the job and pick his team.

Admittedly the US presidential system is unique in this respect. Nonetheless it is flawed, as the Democrats found out to their dismay that Trump, the defeated incumbent simply refused to concede. To this day he is struggling not to hand over power.

The PTI had plenty of time to do its homework, and according to Khan had working papers on virtually every department. But what went wrong? While in the opposition more time was spent on political agitation and to get maximum numbers of ‘electables’ on its side in order to secure a workable majority in the parliament. Of course, this was only possible with a lot of help from powers that be who were overtly keen to get Imran in.

After being elected, the PTI government should have set its house in order to organize an efficient working machine to govern. But instead time was wasted on hair-brained schemes and satisfying naive preconceived notions.

The result is that half way through its term the government finds itself in a cul de sac.

The economy, despite claims that a turnaround is here, is in a mess. Current debt needed to pay old loans and interest has alarmingly increased. Inflation is sky high much to the chagrin of the common man.

A lot is being made of the consistent increase in current account surplus and a nominal increase in exports. These are positive signs but not enough to be perceived as an advent of spring after a long hot summer.

Khan has exhorted his team to show results in the second half of his government’s tenure. This will be difficult as the die is already cast. Barring a miracle, it’s too late in the day to change the ethos of the PTI government.

Despite the joint opposition (Pakistan Democratic Movement) putsch, Khan’s government is in no immediate danger. Unlike his predecessors, the prime minister has been shrewd enough not to lose sight of the ground realties.

Unless the prime minister wholly believes in the system, it will become increasingly difficult for him to run things and also to take his team along. Khan, many a times, had shown his preference for the presidential system. Somehow, amongst the elite, a strong centre with a directly elected president is the answer to Pakistan’s manifest problems.

‘Man, on the horseback- Ayub Khan’, the former dictator is idolized that in his tenure Pakistan made tremendous economic progress. The fact that we lost half the country in the process is conveniently papered over.

After trial and tribulations we have come to the conclusion that a federal parliamentary and democratic system works best for Pakistan. Former military strongmen general Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf, in order to perpetuate themselves, destroyed the democratic parliamentary nature of the constitution. Their predecessor Ayub simply did away with the parliamentary system replacing it with the presidential form of government.

The eighteenth amendment of the constitution consensually adopted during the PPP’s government in 2010 was an attempt to correct the anomalies introduced by past dictators in the constitution.

Since Khan came to power, a clear disdain for the Eighteenth Amendment is expressed by the prime minster and his backers. Somehow an impression is being deliberately created that thanks to this amendment all resources have been shifted to the provinces, impoverishing the federal government in the process. The perverse logic being applied here is that the money transferred to the provinces is some kind of dole not their right.

As the prime minister has quite candidly admitted that his government has not much time left, concerted efforts should be made to manifestly improve governance. He neither has the majority nor the consensus to change matters like tinkering with the federal parliamentary nature of the constitution.



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