- With fingers crossed
Change has finally dawned in our country. What was considered a wild dream, even as late as a few months ago, has turned into a reality. The center and two provinces including the jewel in the crown Punjab, have been captured by PTI. The heads of several stalwarts and party leaders have rolled unceremoniously. Mian Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law are in jail and their party is in tatters like a headless chicken, desperately trying to keep itself together. What a remarkable turn of fate and events!
Above all, democracy has now firmly taken root with the third consecutive transfer of power to elected parliaments. Fresh gleaming faces are preparing to prove themselves and Imran Khan’s first address as prime minister in his familiar belligerent style were received warmly by people at large. He has raised the bar of their expectations and instilled fear in the hearts of the corrupt. His legendry charisma, uprightness and popularity have attracted messages of goodwill from leaders around the world.
Change is indeed in the air. But the transition of Imran Khan into a statesman from the unguided firebrand opposition leader, missing no opportunity to demolish everyone in sight single-handedly, appears to be slow in coming. Bad habits die hard or perhaps the magnitude of his victory has overwhelmed him and caught his team and party unprepared for the task ahead. They need to get their act together fast, if they wish to honour the commitments their leader made to the people of our country.
The nation looks towards Imran Khan to heal old wounds and to bridge the deep divisions that plague it. Formidable domestic and international challenges have to be confronted head on and the course of a new direction has to be set in the first hundred days. He has a track record of years of dedicated work and accomplishments that have earned him the trust and faith of the people. He must take his agenda to the masses at the grass root level and mobilise their involvement with ownership and in full spirit. He possesses the capacity to do it.
The rural areas of the entire country are in desperate need of the government’s attention
It is quite apparent from the composition of the initial cabinet that pragmatism and compromise became inevitable in the number game of politics. Several tried and failed old hands have been inducted with important mismatching portfolios. Not only many of them will lack insight into the prime minister’s priorities, they may have a different approach to the assignment.
Hopefully, the cabinet will be expanded in due course with young talented and competent minds that share and believe with conviction in the vision of their leader. The experience of the old hands is redundant in this fast moving internet age that belongs to the youth. The country needs their dynamism, quick thinking and zeal to perform.
A question that is mind boggling both for the PTI and outsiders is what circumstances, compulsions or recommendations led to the choice for the chief minister of the largest province of the country. How did a new entrant to the party with little administrative experience and hazy credentials make his grand debut in a most demanding job? Is he a stop-gap arrangement, just a young showpiece pick from a backward area or will he be remote controlled? Or will he surprise everyone?
So far, cabinet decisions in public knowledge pertain to relatively insignificant actions such as a five day week, auctioning bullet proof vehicles, restrictions on foreign travel, appointment (?) of PCB chairman and putting names of the Sharif family on no fly list. The penny pinching populist adversity measures are only symbolic. They have been tried, tested, discarded and reverted at considerable expense a few times before. No mention has been made of unloading the bleeding public sector enterprises that could save billions each month.
The foreign office is already in a spat with the US spokesperson over mishandling the contents of a routine telephone congratulatory call to the prime minister by the US secretary of state, casting a shadow on his introductory visit to get acquainted with the new administration. Likewise, the misinterpretation of the Indian call for a dialogue with Pakistan has been embarrassing for the experienced foreign minister. Obviously, someone’s misplaced eagerness to claim early goodwill for the new regime from two important but currently hostile governments misfired.
It is imperative the government does not squander the honeymoon period. The clock is ticking. Inexperience will not be accepted as justification for a lackluster performance. Bigger issues need to be identified and placed on the table. Task forces and high powered committees must be constituted immediately, with the participation of technical experts, to study specific subjects and make recommendations within a stipulated time frame to be presented to the cabinet and parliament for deliberation and approval.
The top priorities of the government should be to reverse the direction of the economy to upwards from the present free fall and to fully implement the National Action Plan. These must be followed by the social sector programs such as education, health, bureaucratic reforms, environment and poverty alleviation and many others.
All economists of the country and related experts must be gathered for their inputs to stabilise the economy. External and internal finance, trade, exports, imports, Industry and agriculture must be separated as individual subjects and placed under independent and permanent specialised committees reporting directly to the prime minister.
Full funding must be allocated to the National Action Plan. Security and timely justice are the primary requisites for progress. The army has done its job admirably. The ball is now in the court of the civilians to maintain peace and order. Police and the justice system must be modernised and made people friendly and corruption free. Basic infrastructure is already here. It has to follow the Imran doctrine of honesty and sense of purpose.
The rural areas of the entire country are in desperate need of the government’s attention. The migration from rural to urban areas can be halted only if the countryside is made attractive to live with clean environment and all basic amenities. CPEC has made many far flung areas accessible. Major chunk of our PSDP should now go to rural development and towards these new areas.
It will be a folly to assume or expect that whatever Imran Khan has been promising as an opposition leader can all be fulfilled now that he is in power. He is well meaning but he is a democratically elected political leader with many constraints and not a free-wheeling dictator. May be the nation will forgive him for not succeeding to deliver all in the time schedule that he, more often than not, has been promising. May be the first time prime minister will learn to promise only what he can possibly deliver. We have to wait and see with our fingers crossed.