NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 18

Winds of change

It appears the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), for the first time during its last 18 months in power, has indicated that it is serious about putting an end to the control, if not rule, of Mafiosi over the state by bringing to light reports of an inquiry commission probing a recent artificial sugar and wheat crisis in the country.

If reports, in a number of Pakistani media outlets are to be believed, a number of close aides to Prime Minister Imran Khan, including Jehangir Tareen, and Ministers, like Khusro Bakhtiar, have been found involved in the recent artificial sugar and wheat crisis in the country, spiraling up their prices and making the lives of people miserable as they are key staples.

Jehangir Tareen has also publicly admitted that he did not have close relations with PM Khan any longer while the latter has demonstrated his resolve that anyone found involved, whether from his own government and party, would not be spared and brought to justice. It means that winds of change in the higher echelons of power have started to blow; however, one is not sure if these are the winds of a “new Pakistan” promised unceasingly by Mr. Khan before the July 2018 national elections. Only time would reveal. Nevertheless, the revelation of the wheat and sugar inquiry commission report by the government, despite the alleged involvement of the close advisers and ministers, is really an important development. It has significant implications for the political system and the governance apparatus of Pakistan.

Noticeably, if Jehangir Tareen is found involved in the artificial sugar and wheat crisis in the country along with certain ministers and then dealt with according to the relevant laws, it would be a big success. Here, an unrelated matter must also be brought to the fore and that is PM Khan’s undue reliance on unelected and unaccountable advisers and Jehangir Tareen is one of them. Another example is Zulfi Bukhari, a totally unknown and inexperienced person, who allegedly mismanaged the matter of the return of Pakistan pilgrims from Iran, which caused the spread of the coronavirus in the country. In the aftermath of the development, a shaking and pruning of the federal cabinet by PM Khan was imminent. Here, it must be recalled PM Imran Khan has replaced elected ministers with nominated experts as advisers and handed them over the charge of different ministries. Important ministries, like finance, information and health, have been placed under unelected advisers.

The appointment of unelected advisors as heads of different ministries by PM Khan has put serious questions marks on the functionality and relevance of the political system as important parts of the system are being run by people who are not part of it. Recently, during the hearing of a suo motu case of the government’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in the country, judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan raised serious questions about the performance of Dr. Zafar Mirza, who has been in-charge of the federal health ministry for around a year. Last year, the Prime Minister had also made some important changes in his cabinet and the most important of them was the change of his Finance Minister, Asad Umar, National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination Minister, Aamir Kiyani, as well as the Minister for Petroleum, Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Now Asad Umar is back but with a new portfolio. Insofar as the political merits of the recent and previous changes of ministers and advisers are concerned, they were necessary due to a continued economic meltdown in the country as well as the ever-rising prices of wheat, sugar, natural gas and medicines. There are also other unelected advisers to the Prime Minister, like Dr. Ishrat Hussain and Abdul Razaaq Daud, who are looking after important portfolios in the federal government but inconsequentially. PM Khan has withdrawn one portfolio from Daud recently and now he is only looking after commerce.

As mentioned above, the appointment of unelected and inexperienced advisers has put huge question marks over the feasibility and strength of the entire parliamentary political system of the country. If a political system cannot produce figures that can run important ministries, how could it be called a relevant let alone an efficient system?

The political system of a country is crucially important for organizing society and responding to needs of the people and the provision of an environment which is essential for social, economic and physical development of the country as well as the welfare of citizens and their personality development. It is the structure and functions of the political system and its institutions that condition policies and governance within the state. Hence, the system of government or political system ought to be meticulously designed so that it is effective and efficient in achieving its objectives that, inter alia, include the stability of society through ensuring social control, security of citizens, the provision of basic amenities and social services and guaranteeing the fundamental rights of the people and achieving development in all spheres of human activity.

Our constitution provides for the parliamentary system of government in the country. The country is once again at the crossroads of its largely chequered history, whereas the political system, despite its relative continuity, has generally been unable to fulfill its basic functions and achieve its fundamental objectives. It is up to the people to agree what kind of political system the country must have but a large majority of politicians and political parties, who claim to be representatives of the people, for decades have considered the parliamentary system the best option for the state and its residents. They have been against any other political system, specifically the alternative proportional representation and presidential system. The foremost criticism by the Pakistani political parties of the presidential system of government has been its “undemocratic” nature. The fact of the matter is that generally the presidential system, which is in vogue in many countries of the world, like the greatest democracy America, and extensively democratic Germany, has proved more democratic than the parliamentary system in place in many countries, like the largest democracy India or the oldest democracy Great Britain.

PM Khan and his government have many flaws and shortcomings in their policies and approach to put the economy on the right track and come up with good governance strategies in other respects; however, if we look deeper into our economic and financial woes the roots could be traced back to the inception of a real parliamentary system in 1970s, when Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto came up with his nationalization policies, followed by pseudo “Islamization” of the economy by General Zia in 1980s, public-private partnership of Benazir Bhutto in late 80s and mid-90s and privatization and deregulation policies of Nawaz Sharif in 1990s. Importantly, in all three dictatorial regimes of General Ayub Khan in 1960s, General Zia and General Musharraf in 2000s, all of them led a fundamentally presidential system and the economy performed far better. However, the fundamental problem with the military regimes was their dictatorial character due to which the structural and systemic flaws of the country could not be addressed. The elected governments could also not fix the economy once and for all due to myopic and self-centered policies of the rulers.

If the winds of change in the Pakistani political system have really started blowing, then they must bring down and set up many other things with them.