Performance of PTI Regime in Its infancy
Asif Haroon Raja
Imran Khan (IK) has leadership qualities, has charisma, is populous, has no corruption scandal or foreign assets, he is adept in fund raising and in making thrilling speeches, is a go-getter, but has no experience of governance and is therefore prone to making mistakes. His critics equate him to Peter Pan, inclined to imprudence and impatience. There have been several slipups in the very initial weeks after taking over power. These missteps are providing ammunition to the opposition and IK’s critics to fire derisive salvos. Let us recount the major mistakes committed by the new regime so far:-
In the pre-election era when IK was frenetically striving to wear the crown, his first blunder was marriage with Reham Khan. Once he got rid of her at a heavy cost, he got inclined towards Ruhanyat (Mysticism) and fell into another psychological snare after he dubiously married Bushra, a Peerni (mystic) and an ex-wife of Khawar Maneka with grown-up children.
His marriage is morally, ethically and rationally specious and has given a handle to his detractors to beat him with. She wields strong influence over him particularly because Bushra claims to have a big role in the fulfilment of IK’s life-dream. We saw IK bowing and touching his forehead at the doorsteps of a Khanqah in Pakpattan at the bidding of Bushra and her ex-husband.
She has already begun to meddle into the state affairs as was seen in DPO Pakpattan Rizwan Gondal’s case, who was posted out by IG Punjab at the behest of Chief Minister (CM) Punjab and prompting of Bushra. If this trend continues, it will not augur well for IK. One can only hope and pray that notwithstanding the significance of mysticism in South Asia’s religious scene, it doesn’t prevail upon the decisions of policy makers. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s firm action may put sense into the heads of power wielders.
The first slip-up of IK after taking over was his choice of persons on key positions and making of the cabinet comprising great majority from allied parties and only three from PTI. It indicates as if he wants to build New Pakistan with old masons with a tainted past still believing in the merits of old Pakistan. It has given reason to IK’s critics to say that old wine has been put in new bottles. It is feared that IK will remain under the influence of Gen Musharraf’s cronies, making that much difficult for him to bring back Musharraf through Interpol, wanted by the courts to try him on charges of treason, murders of Benazir Bhutto and Akbar Bugti, Lal Masjid case, and corruption. Some say that the IK’s cabinet is the new King Party of Musharraf.
Ex-Director JAG retired Col Inam-ur Rahman has brought to the notice of NAB that Musharraf has stashed $2 billion and 15 crore in offshore banks and maintains accounts in 7-10 foreign banks. He has given the list of his assets in Pakistan as well as high-price plots he had doled out to other generals during his rule. It is widely believed that he was and still is protected by the Army and induction of Farogh in Law Ministry will further provide him the safety valve.
While the people were expressing their amazement over the selection of federal cabinet members, appointment of unassuming Sardar Usman Buzdar as CM Punjab, who can hardly read, write and comprehend and is devoid of leadership qualities, personality, drive and initiative, shocked them. In a case of murder of six persons in Taunsa in the local elections of 1996, he and his father were named in the FIR. The trial court in DG Khan had declared the two as murderers. Buzdar clan gave Rs 75 lacs as blood money through Jirga to the aggrieved party to settle the case out of the court. Usman joined PML-Q in 2001 and in 2013 joined PML-N. In the last elections, he jumped the wagon of PTI.
Hailing from most backward area of South Punjab which is devoid of water and electricity is no criteria and justification to let Buzdar rule the most challenging province which acts as the centre of gravity for any government. One must not overlook the fact that Buzdar family has been holding all important posts at Union Council levels in DG Khan, but failed to provide basic facilities to their region.
Speaker Punjab Assembly Pervez Elahi described Buzdar as a poor man deserving support. He probably doesn’t know that the assets declared by Buzdar are worth Rs 2.50 crore in addition to three tractors and two cars.
It is gossiped that Jahangir Tareen, who had been debarred from holding public office for life by the apex court and his review petition is under consideration, he is eying for the slot of CM Punjab and will edge out Buzdar once he gets clearance from the Supreme Court. He and Aleem helped by Governor Sarwar and Pervez Elahi are the de-facto rulers of Punjab while Buzdar is just a puppet.
The other slipup was the appointment of Prof Atif Mian as one of the members of 18-member Economic Advisory Council (EAC). Atif belong to Ahmadis sect, which was declared non-Muslim minority by the Parliament in 1974. He has been casting aspersions on CPEC and advocating revision of agreements. He has now been excluded on account of pressure from the Far Right, particularly Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labaik, which embarked upon a road march from Lahore to hold November 2017 like protest dharna in Islamabad. In itself the exclusion of Atif may not make much difference to the working of EAC, but its ramifications are significant for the new regime struggling to gain a firm foothold.
The matter of CPEC, seen as the economic lifeline and a game changer for Pakistan, became touchier when the government hinted at revisiting all the agreements related to CPEC, and even suspending it for one year. This line was reported by Financial Times which quoted Razaq Dawood, appointed as adviser to PM on Textile & Industry, as a strong advocate of revision. It has raised many eyebrows since it is in sync with the agenda of Indo-US-Israel.
Appointment of Razaq Dawood as PM adviser and his controversial interview to Financial Times concerning CPEC has raised a storm. Although he has rebutted portions of his interview which he says were wrongly interpreted, but suspicions about his motives are still lingering. He is chairman of Board of Governors of Deskon Companies since 2008, which deals in the fields of engineering, construction, power sector and chemicals. Deskon is among very few leading companies that has not been awarded any contract in CPEC. One reason is that it is selling expensive electricity to the nation.
Dawood had a grudge against the previous regime for not awarding him contracts, and now fears that with the construction of energy parks, price of electricity will fall, which will severely harm his profitable business. It is in this backdrop that he reportedly gave his views on CPEC, asserting that all agreements should be revisited and made afresh since these tilt heavily in favor of China. The matter has cooled down after the recent visit of Foreign Minister of China and both sides expressing their resolve to keep CPEC the highest priority project. Ongoing visit of Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to Beijing will remove all kinks and irritants.
Case of transportation of Prime Minister IK from his private residence to PM Secretariat and back became another contentious issue and became a hot topic. Fawad Choudhry made himself a laughing stock when he stated that it’s much cheaper to travel by helicopter. The stance of his decriers is that it runs contrary to his much publicized austerity drive.
Alleged misuse of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) official helicopter and KP Houses in Murree, Islamabad; callous remarks made by Punjab Information Minister Fayaz Chohan against film artists, use of official helicopter by CM Punjab and his family were other issues that were censured.
The new government was banking a lot upon recovering $ 200 billion stolen money, spending $ 100 billion on repayment of loans and the rest on welfare of the people. In the first cabinet meeting presided by IK, the amount of stolen money was reduced from $200 billion to Rs 80 Billion, meaning thereby $. 0.8 Billion.
What the detractors of IK and his party are muttering is that much against the tall claim that a change would start occurring from the day one and a difference will be discernible within 100 days of rule seem far-fetched since so far decisions taken are knee-jerk and many reversed. IK is named as “About Turn Khan”. They say that if the foundations of new Pakistan are being laid by the ones tied to old Pakistan, how a real change can occur? IK has asked them to grant him three-month time to make some change in the existing mindset which refuses to come out of the colonial era.
IK has inherited weak economy, mountain of debt and circular debt, $38 billion trade deficit, current account deficit, $2.522 billion debt servicing due to be paid by November, declining foreign exchange reserves, sick state-owned enterprises causing a loss of Rs 750 billion annually, and above all looming water crisis.
People have attached great expectations. Although IK is upbeat and is fully determined to convert Pakistan into a true welfare state, so far, symptoms of building a momentum for the ‘change’ cannot be felt or seen. Till now, he is involved in dishing out ministries to those who won seats, in forming task forces, auctioning cars and making scintillating speeches. Crackdown has started against the encroachers in the capital city, but across the board accountability drive has so far not been unleashed. Sindh which is a safe haven for the corrupt and criminals and is topsy-turvy, need immediate attention.
They say, the slogan of dam and a call made to the Pakistanis living in Pakistan and abroad to make donations is a distraction to keep the people deflected from real issues. What IK urgently needs is to avoid IMF debt trap and to seek a bailout package from elsewhere to make the wheels of economy churn forward and to carry out reforms. If his call for donations materializes and he manages to bring back portion of the looted amount, and the total amount collected is sufficient for the Diamer-Bhasha dam ($14 Billion), and for uplifting foreign exchange reserve to $20-25 Billion, he will be over the hump. However, there are still many a slip between the cup and the lip. Status quo lovers will leave no stone unturned to fail him.
IK announced the 100-day reform plan in May 2018, but he didn’t have an execution plan and he still doesn’t have it. PTI wizards should have framed an evidence based socio-economic policy framework suggesting clear-cut steps to remove the snags and uplift the economy, and the same should have been put into motion soon after the oath taking ceremony.
There are more of dramatics to earn kudos and less of real-time actions. EAC team is still twiddling their thumbs. Till such time IK sets aside political expediency, nepotism and favoritism, and inducts right persons for the right jobs, and welds a highly educated, professional, experienced, honest, patriotic, motivated and selfless team with a missionary zeal, no worthwhile results would accrue. Exploiters from other parties will have to be gradually weeded out or sidelined.
Conviction of Nawaz Sharif (NS) by Judge Bashir has evoked mixed feelings and many legal wizards have opined that it was an erroneous judgement and sooner than later the case will be dismissed.
NS, Maryam and Safdar were released on parole for five days to attend last rites of burial of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz on Sept 14 and the Soyem. Funeral which was heavily attended saw emotional scenes and political sloganeering. What is evident is that NS popularity has not dimmed in Punjab. Kulsoom’s tragic death has softened the hearts of chronic haters of NS. Bail to NS and Maryam, or their acquittal by Islamabad High Court in Avenfield case are some of the possibilities being aired.
Rumor mill has also churned out the story of Saudi mediated and Establishment-govt-judicial backed NRO, by virtue of which NS and Maryam would be allowed to fly to Riyadh and stay out for next ten years in return for NS coughing out $10 billion and KSA placing $ 20 billion in Pak banks. This amount is badly needed by present govt and so is the riddance of NS, who is a ticking bomb. NS had refused to sign the parole and later to seek extension. Will he accept NRO or prefer dying or languishing in the jail is anyone’s guess. While NS political career may be over, Maryam has the potential and scope to bounce back.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member PESS and TJP. [email protected]