Thursday Dec 27, 2018
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has been in power for less than five months, but its government has been subjected to strict scrutiny.
One reason is the ruling party and its chairman, Imran Khan, who put his government on trial by announcing ambitious goals that were to be achieved in 100 days.
Earlier during the election campaign, Imran Khan had made promises of making ‘Naya Pakistan’ by bringing a change in the lives of the people through good governance, anti-corruption measures, improved economy and delivery of justice. This was never going to be easy and the PTI government has found out the hard way that making reforms in Pakistan is quite challenging.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also gave targets to his ministers and monitored their performance. Though he gave the thumbs up to his ministers after review of their work, in marathon meetings in Islamabad recently, none was fired. The members of the cabinet have been kept on their toes as they realise that non-performing ones could be shown the door. Though in a lighter vein, the prime minister during his recent visit to Peshawar reminded the ministers that they need to perform well, as many party lawmakers were in the queue waiting to join the cabinet.
It is now widely believed that there was almost no ‘honeymoon’ period for the PTI government.
The first allegation it faced was that it came to power in a general election that was rigged. All the political parties that fared poorly in the polls claimed that they were made to lose to pave the way for Imran Khan to become the prime minister. The government agreed to form a parliamentary committee to probe the rigging charges in a bid to pacify the opposition parties. It also relented in allowing opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif to become the chairman of the national assembly’s key Public Accounts Committee, after mounting strong but unsuccessful opposition to the move.
Though Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) head, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, one of the big losers in the July 2018 election, tried hard to cobble together an opposition alliance to reject the outcome and demand fresh polls, better sense prevailed in the end as the two bigger parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N, having higher stakes in the existing democratic system, didn’t show much enthusiasm for the idea.
However, the concern in the PPP ranks about the likely arrest of their leader Asif Ali Zardari, on corruption charges, could become the catalyst for bringing the party closer to the PML-N, whose Quaid, Nawaz Sharif, was sentenced to seven years in prison on corruption charges on Monday. The two parties could still join hands against the PTI government and attract smaller parties to their side to start an agitation for making it difficult for Prime Minister Imran Khan to rule.
However, getting the people out on the streets barely five months after the general election won’t be easy as many would like to give the government more time to implement its reform agenda. Though it is true that the poor state of the economy and the inflation caused by increase in prices of essential items and utility services has caused disappointment among the people, the anger hasn’t yet reached the point of complete rejection of the PTI government and support for a protest movement that could cause chaos in the country.
Also, the main issue at hand is the plea taken by the PPP and PML-N that the accountability drive by National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and the cases taken up by the higher judiciary, are specifically targeting them and sparing the ruling PTI. This argument cannot inspire the common man who has always backed accountability of the high and the mighty and recovery of looted money.
The revival of the economy remains the most challenging task for the PTI government. Though the issue of balance of payments is being tackled by managing to get help from friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and China and negotiating a bail-out package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government would have to keep a constant watch on the situation as the economy is far from stable, and the high cost of living and lack of job opportunities are issues that could eventually drain support for Prime Minister Imran Khan. This challenge should also be seen in the backdrop of the overly ambitious PTI targets of generating 10 million jobs and building five million houses during its five-year term.
On the foreign policy front, Imran Khan’s peace overtures to India have been rebuffed. New Delhi wasn’t persuaded to resume the stalled dialogue on contentious issues with Pakistan, even by the PTI government’s landmark decision to open the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims from India to gain visa-free entry to the gurdwara in Narowal, where the Sikh faith’s founder Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life. It is obvious that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government, nearing the end of its term, and facing election in April or May next year, won’t budge from its stand to isolate Pakistan.
While Pakistan is moving deeper into China’s warm embrace and building better ties with Russia, its relations with the US remain frosty. However, an opening for improvement in Pak-US relationship is being created due to Pakistan’s positive role in facilitating peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the US in a bid to find a negotiated settlement for ending the 17-year long Afghan conflict. The next stage would be to persuade the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, but reaching a peace agreement and getting it implemented would require joint efforts by all stakeholders including the Afghan government, Taliban, US and its Western allies, Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran, India and some of the Arab states.
In its five-month rule, the PTI has worked hard to implement its manifesto, but it will have to work harder to make any real impact. The prime minister’s intentions are sincere and his approach is forward-looking. However, achieving success in the face of an unrelenting opposition and economic challenges would require a lot more from the ruling party than what one has seen to-date.
Yusufzai is the Resident Editor of The News International in Peshawar
Note: The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.