The first few weeks remained tough for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The government has taken some exceptional measures in a short period but they were eclipsed by issues, which were of its own making, and the media highlighted them to an extent that recovery looked difficult.
The federal cabinet has taken unprecedented steps in the weeks since the installation of the new government. Discretionary funds for politicians have been abolished and ministers will no longer be allowed to travel first class or get treatment abroad. The funds were previously available to presidents, premiers and members of parliament. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government spent Rs51 billion in discretionary funds during the past year. Former President Mamnoon Hussain, who was rarely seen at any ceremony, spent Rs90 million from the fund. Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to use only two vehicles and he is living in the military secretary’s house instead of using the Prime Minister’s House. Auction of 102 luxury cars of the Prime Minister’s House is also part of the austerity drive. They will be auctioned on September 17. The government also plans to cut the number of employees in the Prime Minister’s House. The total strength is 524 and most of them will be sent to other departments.
Another step which brought the PTI’s government to the limelight, not only at national but also on international level, was to pressurize the Netherlands government to halt a blasphemous caricature contest. Imran Khan came to the Senate in support of a resolution against the profanity and delivered a speech that was heard loud and clear everywhere in the world. The government also launched a tree plantation drive, under which 10 billion saplings would be planted in the coming years. Pakistan is facing a serious challenge from climate change and the campaign will create awareness about environment issues in the public. Imran Khan and his party have already planted over one billion trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under the “Billion Tree Tsunami” project during the last five years. On the first day of the countrywide campaign on September 2, 1.5 million saplings were planted in just one day.
The prime minister has also set up a fund to build dams to meet water requirements of the country. In a brief televised address, he appealed for donations to the dams’ fund, set up by the Supreme Court. “Our debt today stands at Rs30,000 billion but the biggest problem we currently face is the water crisis. When Pakistan came into being, every Pakistani had 5,600 cubic metres of water. Today, it stands at only 1,000 cubic metres. The country would face drought-like conditions by 2025, if immediate steps are not taken,” he said. Besides, the government has formed a task force comprising officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and intelligence agencies to bring back corrupt money, stashed abroad by Pakistanis. It will enforce an anti-corruption rule, which offers informers 20pc of the recovered wealth.
In another landmark decision, the government has decided to introduce uniform curriculum, not only in public and private schools but also in seminaries. It will be an uphill task for the government to satisfy clerics and private school owners. The government will also establish an orphanage in the federal capital to offer shelter to homeless beggar women and children and provide assistance to Pakistanis languishing in prisons of foreign countries so that they could be reunited with their families.
Against all the achievements, the PTI government remained the butt of criticism by the media and analysts. Imran Khan’s use of a helicopter to travel between the PM House and his residence in Banigala kicked up a storm. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry added fuel to the fire when he told a news channel that the cost of flying the helicopter is as low as Rs55/km. It created a heated debate in the media for several days. The debate had hardly fizzled out when a picture of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar appeared on social media in a helicopter with his family. Earlier, the chief minister had used an official helicopter for his private tour to Mian Channu in Khanewal district to offer condolences to a friend on the demise of his father. The media also reported that a minor had died during his visit to a hospital after she was refused entry to the hospital.
Punjab Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan attracted bad press by using indecent remarks against film and stage actors at a public forum. People from all walks of life slammed the minister for his indecent remarks. Banning display of, what he said, indecent film signboards in and outside cinema halls, Chohan said, “I will ensure that actress Nargis becomes Haji Nargis and Megha goes on fasting for 300 days a year instead of 30 days in Ramazan.” The footage of the minister’s speech went viral on social and electronic media. Both Nargis and Megha responded sharply to the remarks. Nargis told a private TV channel that the minister should have chosen decent words while speaking about a woman, who had left the showbiz industry and was leading a peaceful family life abroad. Megha also appeared on a private TV channel and said the minister should be ashamed of his language about her. The minister had to apologize to them and Prime Minister Imran Khan also reprimanded him for his reckless remarks and hinted at replacing him. The transfer of a Pakpattan police officer, allegedly at the behest of Khawar Maneka, former husband of Imran Khan’s wife, also maligned the image of the party.
The government and its ministers have settled down after heavy criticism. Besides the media, they were themselves to blame for it. They had started talking too much after coming to power. It appears they have learnt their lessons and become cautious. They will have to concentrate on their work to fulfill their tall election promises. Their actions should speak louder than their words, because they have no option for failure.