As months have rolled on, the gap between promises and performance of the PTI government has become wider. With the actual delivery much below the expectations earlier raised, the opponents have declared the government an abject failure and a total disaster.
But this is not the whole truth.
True, the PTI has not been able to translate most of its promises into action, but the situation is not as bleak as painted by the opposition. The incumbent government inherited an economy in the intensive care unit and, naturally, it will take some time to bring it back to life. The present phase is one of rescue after which real rehabilitation will start.
But before we go further with the present analysis, it needs to be put on record that the PTI had underestimated the enormity of the task lying ahead of it and made promises that did not match the ground realities. Its rallying cry was for change, for Naya Pakistan, for a society which will be different from the old corrupt and decrepit order under which the rich plundered national wealth and tyrannised over the poor and the weak.
This was a slogan that tugged at the heart strings of every Pakistani, who was totally disillusioned with the prevailing state of affairs: a corrupt lot ruling the roost and looting the national exchequer. The PTI manifesto promised to eradicate corruption and recover the plundered wealth stashed away in foreign banks. The economy was to be brought back to health, the rupee strengthened and a level playing field provided for businesspeople from around the world to invest in Pakistan. Poverty was be alleviated and the begging bowl broken. Referring to the teachings of the Holy Quran and Hadith, Imran Khan also promised to turn Pakistan into a welfare state, modelled on the city state of Medina, set up by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
Imran Khan sounded serious and sincere to the broad masses fed up with the shenanigans of the PML-N and the PPP, which misruled the country for more than 30 years. In his maiden speech as prime minister, Imran Khan laid out a 100-day plan elaborating on his manifesto promises. As an earnest of his intentions, he also launched an austerity drive, making a beginning with himself shifting from the regal Prime Minister’s House to a modest 3-bedroom bungalow.
But after about eight months in power, things have little changed from the old and have, in some cases, deteriorated to the disappointment of the people and even the starry-eyed young enthusiastic supporters of the party.
What went wrong?
The PTI committed two strategic mistakes and one tactical. To start with, it did not take a good measure of the magnitude of the problems that had built up during the time the PPP and the PML-N ruled the country. Secondly, it did not do proper homework as to how to apply the solutions if elected to power. As such, when it formed the government after winning the last general elections, it found itself at sea. It soon discovered that the problems were much bigger than it had imagined. Due to lack of pre-planning, it felt overwhelmed and committed mistake after mistake.
The first mistake was the team Imran Khan put together to affect the transformation from old to new Pakistan. Many of its members were inexperienced and raw and had little skill to handle the ramshackle administrative machine that goes by the name of the Pakistan government. The others were old foxes not really known for efficiency or integrity. But one cannot fault Imran Khan for this as he had little choice in the matter.
But the choice of Usman Buzdar as head of the Punjab government was a surprise to all, not the least to his own closest colleagues. He was not an ideal choice for the prickly job in a province long dominated by the Sharif family and a cabal of intriguing bureaucrats. Buzdar is not the kind of chief executive the province needs – hard driving, aggressive and overbearing. His style is laid back and he gives the impression that he is out of his depth. His many bloopers and errors of judgment have lost him the fund of goodwill he had started with.
What has really alienated the people is the PTI government’s failure to check inflation and prices of articles of daily-use. Rupee depreciation was inevitable. Rising oil prices in the world market are also beyond its control. But it has also not been effective where it could as, for example, taxing the rich and raising revenue internally to reduce dependence on foreign loans. The PTI has also not been able to reactivate district and tehsil level price control committees to curb price sharks and black marketers, who create artificial shortages to fleece consumers.
The PTI government is going through what can be best described as teething troubles. Nevertheless, it has initiated some fundamental reforms in the health, housing and educations sectors. A poverty alleviation programme has been put in place as the centerpiece of a comprehensive social safety net for the weaker sections of society. These are all steps in the right direction aimed at building a social welfare state. All said, eight months is too short a period to judge the performance of a government faced with clearing the backlog of the last 30 years. Given the enormity of the task, the government should be given at least two years to prove itself.