Or, more of the same?
It has been more than two weeks since the general elections were held. Imran-led Pakistan Tehreek-e -Insaf (PTI) emerged as the largest party in the Centre, also sweeping the polls in KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and winning enough seats to be in a position to form a government in Punjab with the help of independents and allies.
But the presumptive ruling party is yet to get its act together. A sense of indecision and procrastination pervades the party hierarchy. Thankfully after toying with many possible dates we are told now by the PTI spokesperson that the Khan will finally take oath as prime minister on August 18.
However, it is yet to be decided who would be the PTI’s nominee for the coveted post of chief minister of Punjab. Aleem Khan, a property tycoon and the front-runner candidate for the top post has apparently lost out, owing to an ongoing probe in his business practices by NAB, the accountability watchdog.
Apparently the presumptive prime minister has finally decided to live in the ministers’ enclave in Islamabad after first deciding to make the sprawling Punjab House his official residence. Notwithstanding the talk about austerity why doesn’t the Khan simply move into the relatively modest purpose built prime minister’s house? Perhaps relying too much on his newly acquired spiritual sense, he reckons that the building is jinxed?
Another given is the former Engro boss Asad Umar as the new finance minister. In the backdrop of a floundering economy it was the right move to immediately name a finance minister.
Apart from some interviews in the media and addressing a seminar via Skype Umar is yet to come up with a comprehensive plan to fix the economy. He has spoken about urgently negotiating a $12 billion bailout package with the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
He has also revealed a disturbing statistic about the state of the economy. According to him the current account deficit has burgeoned to $2 billion a month from $2 billion a year when the PML-N government took over five years ago.
Asad Umar also believes that Pakistanis have stashed away $200 billion abroad and that he intends to form a task force to bring the money back where it belongs. When general Musharrf ousted Sharif in 1999 in a coup de tat he was fed the same yarn by then Governor State Bank Mohammad Yakub.
Thankfully after toying with many possible dates we are told now by the PTI spokesperson that the Khan will finally take oath as prime minister on August 18
He was advised to shake up top Pakistani businessmen and force them to cough up the stolen money. That is what he did. Sarwar Road police station in Lahore became an abode of incarcerated businessmen, including the Saigols, the Sharifs and Iqbal Z Ahmed.
Soon the usurper dictator realized that it was a wild goose chase. He not only released the businessmen but also co-opted them in his efforts to rebuild the economy.
Soon it will also dawn upon Umar that the Pakistani economy is afflicted with serious structural problems that cannot be fixed by mere gimmickry. The other day he participated in a seminar in Islamabad where there was talk of adopting a trade and economy based foreign policy.
Some at the conclave were of the view that the military was the main hurdle in such basic changes in our economic and foreign policy paradigms. Umer thought otherwise. He reckoned that the army could be easily co-opted taken on board before making such moves.
The PTI is taking the reins of the state at an inopportune time. Not only the economy is in a mess, Islamabad’s foreign policy options have also become extremely limited.
Hence it will take a herculean effort by the Khan to build a new Pakistan from the ashes of the old. At the most he can do is to set the direction in the first 100 days of the PTI rule.
Unfortunately, in the short run no quick fix solutions are in sight to revive the economy. There is nothing innovative about borrowing from the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Virtually every Pakistani government including the last PML-N government has done so, albeit with mixed results.
The PTI chief throughout his last five years in the opposition had been tainting the PML-N government for doubling the national debt. He had promised the electorate to break the begging bowl. But ironically he will have to beg more in order to pay debts accrued by the previous government.
The Saudi backed Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has promised 4 billion dollars to the PTI government. Some other friends might also cough up to fill the large financial gap.
Dealing with the IMF is going to be an uphill task. The biggest contributor to the international lending agency, the US has already thrown a spanner in the works by linking the IMF loan to repayment of CPEC loans to China. President Trump after drastically cutting off economic and military assistance to Pakistan has decided to shut the traditional military training programs for Pakistani military officers.
All this does not auger well for the new government. Merely keeping its head above water would entail some tough economic decisions. These could include reduction in subsidies, downsizing in state owned enterprises with all the appended consequences and increased taxation affecting the common man.
Ironically successive governments have postponed these difficult decisions. But now the chickens have finally come home to roost. It has fallen upon the PTI government to take the hard-nosed difficult decisions it had so vociferously opposed while in the opposition.
But as long as New Delhi is allergic to even mention of the ‘K word’ in its interactions with Islamabad, the issue cannot be simply put on the back burner
In the backdrop of recent events it is stating but the obvious that relations with the US are at an all time low. The kind of cooperation Washington wants from Islamabad to extricate itself from the Afghan quagmire is simply not possible for Islamabad.
Pakistan is also stuck in between the incrementally escalating Sino US rivalry. But does Imran Khan have the will or the capacity to persuade the military leadership to outgrow obsolete security and foreign policy paradigms?
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the PTI chief in order to facilitate him. This was followed up with a visit from the Indian High Commissioner to Bani Gala. Good intentions to improve bilateral relations were expressed from both sides
Obviously foreign policy dictated by economy and trade entails better relations with India. Open trade with our neighbours including New Delhi, Tehran, Beijing and Kabul can transform the region and will immensely benefit Pakistan.
The main stumbling block however remains the intractable Kashmir issue. China in the past has advised Pakistan to establish trade and economic ties with India while still keeping Kashmir on the negotiating table.
But as long as New Delhi is allergic to even mention of the ‘K word’ in its interactions with Islamabad, the issue cannot be simply put on the back burner.
Nonetheless it is a test of the Khan’s leadership how he is able to break the present impasse. If he goes for traditional solutions applied many times in the past, he is bound to fail.
If he goes ahead with an agenda of real change he will meet resistance from a strong opposition and even from the ubiquitous establishment. His litmus test will be to bring them on board, provided he has the will.