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Promises and compromises

Let it not be construed from this writing that one is trying to sell hopelessness and nostalgia. Let bygones be bygones if the future offers us something qualitatively different.

But the problem is that, as the events unfurl every day in the political and economic spheres, we unfortunately experience more of the same – or even worse – with a slightly different nomenclature and façade. And this isomorphism in the mode of governance is what everyone laments.

We surely do not know much of Imran Khan’s compulsions and constraints but what he says and does is not what was expected from him given his long-drawn political struggle for change. Perhaps we deluded ourselves by expecting him to do the impossible. Or perhaps he portrayed himself as larger than life, someone who would do wonders in days and weeks and fix all state institutions with the stroke of a magic wand. In either case, the outcome so far has been largely depressing.

The first question mark on Imran Khan’s vision of ‘Naya Pakistan’ appeared when the so-called electables, with their past tainted by corruption and shifting loyalties, flocked or forced to join the PTI. Even ordinary voters wondered how people with proven incompetence and dishonesty would help us realize the dream of Quaid-e-Azam – the dream we had long forgotten or which we did not believe in after the 1971 tragic re-partition of Pakistan.

But Imran Khan, by successfully incarnating the founding leader and Allama Iqbal, assuaged his followers that if the leader at the top is competent and honest, the entire system of governance would respond as the leader wished.

This was his trickle-down theory which states that what a leader stands for ultimately transpires into the actions of followers/subordinates throughout an organization/country. Given his personal integrity, his trickle-down theory was accepted by many despite its unfounded assumptions (including the passivity of followers and the existence of an enabling environment).

After winning the elections, which the mainstream political parties believed to have been snatched away from them on and before Election Day, the real test of Imran Khan’s leadership was his team selection. As a charismatic leader, he always distinguished himself as someone who always thought big and put the right in place to make the impossible possible. But the formation of his team at the centre and in the two provinces (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab) reflected considerations other than merit.

The two chief ministers of these two provinces were the least expected candidates to run governments better than their predecessors. One still does not understand the underlying logic of this bizarre selection, except accepting the presumption of placing someone who could be controlled from Islamabad and made a scapegoat in case of failure.

By looking at the 100-day plan, one believed that the least the new government under PM Imran Khan’s leadership would be able to do was to put the country back on track. This country – which is sixth in population but 147th in human development, rich in natural resources but 173rd in GDP, founded in the name of Islam but rotten to the core in corruption – has never been ruled with a strategic plan. The PTI, too, lacks a clear roadmap about the goals it had set in its 100-day plan. Most of its policies are no more than a long wish-list.

The most puzzling aspect of the current governance model (if there is any) is learning by doing. Instead of finding indigenous solutions to the country’s socio-economic problems, the prime minister is trying to replicate the governance models of other countries (China, Turkey, and Malaysia in particular). Every country is unique and has to be managed in a way which ensures sustainability and brings about the desired change.

We must all be kidding ourselves if we are led to believe that Pakistan will transform into a developed economy and a vibrant society any time soon. Governing a country as diverse and strategically positioned as Pakistan is a monumental task. An inclusive, accountable and effective government requires, inter alia, institutional reforms that reflect the local and global changing landscape.

Quick fixes and a hero-driven culture – the two most practised approaches in Pakistan – have happened to have a short-lived analgesic effect on state and society but they have essentially hindered institutional development.

Imran Khan’s dream of transforming Pakistan into the state of Madina is undoubtedly praiseworthy. It would certainly revitalize the nation’s spirit at a time when different ethnic groups and minorities do not see any silver lining. It is also important for tolerating tactical mistakes made in pursuit of strategic goals but it becomes useless when people find a disconnect between words and deeds.

Let us hope that PM Imran Khan is in the driving seat and his vision is still believable and fresh. For this to happen, he should now invest more in implementing his vision with clear action plans and milestones rather than blaming the previous governments for every political and economic failure. He should by now own the system as it is and introduce economic reforms before things get out of control.

The writer teaches at SZABIST, Islamabad

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