- Fresh challenges ahead
Khan at the beginning of the second year of his tenure seems to be a little more decisive. Taking multifarious U-turns bordering on the tentative had become the hallmark of his style of governance during first year if his rule.
Some hard-nosed decisions were urgently required as soon as he took oath on August 18 last year, his primary task being to jump-start the stalled economy.
Partly owing to preconceived naiveté and partly because of inexperience initially he miserably failed on that count. By the time he realised that Asad Umar, his pre-selected economic czar, was not up to the job it was already a tad too late. The past year was embarrassingly a period of record borrowing in the country’s checkered history.
Umar whose own exposure limited to heading the food and energy conglomerate Engro (from where he was eased out) prevailed upon the prime minister not to go for an IMF (International Monetary Fund) bailout package. By the time Khan realised that he was privy to bad advice considerable damage had already been done.
It is no secret that it was the military leadership and sane advisors like Jahangir Tareen who finally persuaded the prime minister to let go of Asad Umar. Here also the military leadership and Khan’s friend and contributor to the party kitty the enigmatic Arif Naqvi helped him in locating the right economic team.
The military facing multifarious regional challenge has a stake in a robust economy. That is why the unprecedented step of nominating the COAS in the newly constituted high-powered National development Council was taken.
Now Pakistan is in a $6 billion IMF programme, and the economy is showing slight signs of stabilising. However shoe on the other foot, the oft-levelled criticism is that Islamabad signing on the dotted line has completely kowtowed to IMF conditionalities.
The economic team duo comprising of advisor to the PM on finance Hafeez Sheikh and State Bank of Pakistan governor Reza Baqir have both served in the IMF or the World Bank. This criticism is however somewhat exaggerated as both now work for the GOP (Government of Pakistan) not the other way around.
But Khan instead of refusing to shake hands with the opposition leadership should make a concerted effort to bring them on board
Perhaps the most decisive step taken by the prime minster at the very start of his second year was giving a three-year extension to the COAS. This was not unexpected but announcing it more than three months prior to the end of General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s first tenure; it was obvious that Khan wanted this behind him as he embarks on a road to consolidation.
In any case, by virtue of the extension of the Army Chief’s tenure, it entails a seamless military-civilian relationship close to the next general election provided they are held on time. Nonetheless a lot can happen between now and by the time General Bajwa is through his second term.
This diarchy of sorts is the new normal in Pakistan. For the time being the principal of civilian control over the armed forces has been put on the back burner.
In any case despite protestations to the contrary it has rarely been operative in the Islamic Republic. Khan unlike his predecessors was quick to acknowledge and accept the stark realities of Pakistan’s present power structure.
The military leadership is on-board on virtually all-vital national, security and foreign policy matters. Luckily, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, the prime minister enjoys an excellent working relationship as well as a personal rapport with the military leadership.
But this cohabitation has its downside as well. The military that is supposed to keep out of the civilian fray is perhaps to some extent unjustifiably blamed for some of the failings of the civilian government.
For example, critics of the newly formed civ-mil nexus blame the shrinking civilian space and erosion of civil liberties and freedom of press on this very count. That is why the prime minister should be doubly careful in nurturing a tolerant ethos of his government hitherto somewhat lacking.
While the government enters its second year there seems to be a belated realisation that it has gone too far in its “ehtesab” (accountability) mantra. So much so that a pervasive feeling has being hoisted by its own petard, has crept in.
That is why the narrative that it has nothing to do with the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and its relentless drive against politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats has been abandoned. Now, according to Law Minister Fargoh Naseem, the government has decided to amend the NAB law making it politicians specific.
According to the Law Minister the proposed law for obvious reasons will be enacted though an ordinance. This will however prove to be transient because as soon as either the National Assembly or the Senate is in session the ordinance will have to be approved as law by the legislature.
But why is the government so reluctant to catch the bull by the horns by bringing in a new across the board and equitable accountability law? For that to happen, some sort of modus Vivendi will have to be evolved with the opposition.
Perhaps a bipartisan committee of the parliament overseeing the accountability process is the answer? People like Shahzad Akbar advisor to the prime minister on accountability are doing more harm than good, as they are not answerable to anyone but the prime minister.
This should not mean that the opposition leadership most of it incarcerated should be let off the hook with one stroke of pen. However, the widely held perception that the present accountability drive is mostly politically motivated needs to be dispelled with actions rather than empty words.
Of course, in this time of external and internal crises calls by the opposition for shutting down Islamabad is not really an option. The out-of-job Maulana Fazlur Rehman is totally out of synch, trying to bring the opposition leadership to support his flawed agenda.
It was no coincidence that both Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto absented themselves from the recently held APC (All Parties Conference). But Khan instead of refusing to shake hands with the opposition leadership should make a concerted effort to bring them on board.
This is the real test of his leadership qualities. Bringing the military around to understand his political compulsions is also primarily his job description.
The apex court’s detailed judgment on accountability judge Arshad Malik’s video leak scandal does not put the controversial judge in a very good light. The Lahore High Court is to decide his fate.
The Supreme Court has passed the buck to Islamabad High Court declaring the matter as being sub judice, the disputed videotape having relevance to the criminal appeal before the court. But according to legal experts the accountability court convicting former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constitutes a mistrial.
The government and its backers and the relevant judiciary if in cahoots in the matter does not auger well for its independence and integrity, free from external pressures. This is another challenge for Khan.