Lessons not learnt | The Express Tribune


Consider: Imran Khan’s major problem during his tenure as Prime Minister was at first economics which caught the whole PTI on the wrong foot – in fact they neither understood economics national as a whole nor did they know how to begin to resolve its distortions. Hence the hesitation whether or not to go to the IMF and the rhetorical slogans about the IMF have strangled the options of the PTI with contradictory impact on the economy. Mishandling of the rupee only added to the complications.

What seemed to be turning the economy around in the last two years of PTI’s tenure was the post-Covid first-year flex that provided the space for Pakistani manufacturers to benefit and when that waned – so as other larger economies emerged – more relaxed import-based growth became the driving force behind the current account deficit. None were sustainable over a longer period. The PDM government therefore suffered the consequences when the horses changed mid-term to replace the IK government. Selling a conditional performance of the past two years as a prescriptive policy without reporting the context is both underhanded and misplaced. PTI needs better thinking on the count and creating a real agency to fix a struggling economy. Instead, what is being sold are dreams without a plan. IK knows how to woo its fans but has yet to show if it knows what will bring the economy back in a sustainable way. The lesson learned from the desperation of his tenure seems to have gone unheeded.

Next, IK claims he must bring the corrupt to justice. There can be no more altruistic goal in a regime like Pakistan where power means pelf and a hand in the cash is as good as a hand in the cash. Unfortunately. But the means to this end remained unattended during IK’s full tenure. While judicial reforms were the glaring call of its intent as well as its political objective, little has been done to achieve the goals. Criminal justice continued as nonchalantly as it is – despite some exceptions in the constitutional judgment. The prosecution is apathetic and the powerful always get away with murder.

What could be greater than IK’s nemesis, convicted and incarcerated Nawaz Sharif, found cabinet approval to seek treatment abroad. He remains a court-proclaimed offender and mocks the compromised system of the country’s elites and powerful with his daily proclamations about politics from his refuge abroad. IK has not only been complicit in this charade, but has also been negligent in failing to improve the criminal justice system with the legislation and structural changes needed to deliver justice faster and cheaper; as actually fair and just.

IK’s inability to work in parliament with the opposition meant he was deprived of what was so fundamental to his belief system. Pinning it on others now or continuing to peddle it as a populist theme is pretty transparent and superficial. He sells the moon to his believers and they follow him blindly, but where does he conveniently put away in his rhetoric. Again, does he now fully appreciate the fundamentals of a parliamentary democracy where the key is to find common ground with the opposition for essential legislation or a mandate will be as fruitless and apathetic as it is proved for the PTI? Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?

We are a parliamentary democracy until we change the constitution with a two-thirds majority in parliament in favor of another more singularly dominated model of governance like presidential democracy, but that too will likely be challenged in court on the basis of the basic structure doctrine so clearly spelled out by the Indian Supreme Court as a priority guiding much of contemporary jurisprudence. If so, is there any new thinking within the PTI to get parliament to work with the opposition for consensual legislation, should the PTI return to power? On the contrary, the harangue framing everyone is the most common recourse alienating everyone and excluding even more firmly any possibility of reasonable and rational legislation emerging from a badly divided and fragmented House leaving governance in limbo. This will remain our debilitating situation; so poorly polarized is the political front.

Being restless and aggressive can be a good ploy on the sports field, but when it shapes mindsets and attitudes in a society, respect for the law is the first and most serious casualty. Without the rule of law, no society can function, no system can endure. Only the chaos persists. Perhaps there is a welcome benefit in instituting chaos, but when the genie came out, no one ever repressed it. A tsunami will then sweep away everything. Many are inspired by how the ZAB unleashed the power of the people, albeit not on this scale and in a population half the size of today, but when things started to go wrong, the ultimate recourse was martial law uprooting a system gone mad. The economy had been battered by its idealistic reliance on Islamic socialism – Islamic was for added flavor. Whether for power or for ideals, when the opposition rose up against Bhutto’s autocracy, there was little more than populist rhetoric in its portfolio to win support in powerful circles. The lessons of history must be carefully sorted for their relevance and considered in their full context. Does IK learn badly from history and who pushes him on this path?

IK’s last hurrah was against its army and its leaders. Little is known about what went wrong between them, but there were a few indicators that quickly culminated in a steadily growing narrative of US-inspired “regime change” – for popular resonance based on global examples. (Pakistan was too insignificant for that kind of US attention, eludes those who make up stories.) It also alleges a conspiracy to push former PTI allies (with only a few votes) to switch sides. and upset his tenure in power. Somewhere along there was a moment and a targeted advice to IK by a coterie to confront the United States, the military and the opposition in an artificial combination as co-conspirators to establish his image as a savior . A break is in order. If these allies were a manufactured electoral majority in the first place, he was on borrowed crutches anyway. When he decided to put his army and America on hold to imagine an evil and unjust cohort, he lost the right to expect others to hold his crutches for him. The allies changed sides and his time was over. Will he now reinvent his narrative without discrediting state institutions? Can he break out of the clutches of those who encourage him against the country’s military in a targeted campaign and force a confrontation with America in defiance of Pakistan’s critical national interests?

IK invokes national pride, dignity and self-respect as ideals he wishes to impart to his people. For that, he wants power. First, they are intangible notions impossible to evaluate and qualify numerically. Second, no one has exclusive rights to these attributes. And third, what better way than the Men in Greens to deliver it to their people with exemplary performance, dedication and sportsmanship. Those who let their bat do the talking win in the end.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 9e2022.

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