In just over two months since Pakistan’s parliamentary elections of July this year, the newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan has had to face an uphill task. The euphoria surrounding the victory of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has been replaced by a reality check.
Eventually, it has become clear to many across Pakistan, notably the PTI supporters, that running a country is far more challenging than attacks launched by opposition parties on a ruling regime. Though Imran has had a breather in the past week with a Saudi promise to lend $6 billion (Dh22 billion) to help Pakistan overcome a prevailing economic crisis, that alone will not change the country for the better.
In fact, the Saudi loan, along with loans from International Monetary Fund (IMF) and possibly China from whom Pakistan is expected to seek financial assistance, will only saddle the south Asian country with a bigger debt. Consequently, Pakistan will come under a larger debt burden.
Meanwhile, Imran has promised to press ahead this week with his recently-launched attack on corruption, the targets of which so far have ranged from prominent opposition figures to some of the most affluent Pakistanis. But the gap in this otherwise well-meaning exercise remains the matter of targeting figures close to the prime minister. Even after filling up that gap, a new and meaningful change to place Pakistan on a decisive path to reforms will need to be undertaken.
Time and again, many in Pakistan have heard the old adage referring to the country as a “poor land with some incredibly rich people”. That reference strikes right at the heart of Pakistan’s multiple dilemmas. The country’s elites in previous decades have ripped off public resources in more ways than one without giving back anything. It is therefore not surprising that across Pakistan, key fundamental service — notably health care, education and jobs — remain elusive for many.
Imran will need to embark upon a three-pronged action very soon if he wants to earn the trust of the Pakistani public for the long term.
First, as he pursues his promise of a relentless attack on corruption, it is important for the prime minister to oversee the targeting of individuals from his party and not just the opposition. On the contrary, merely targeting opposition figures will quickly make this long-overdue exercise only a half-hearted one, driven only by partisan objectives. It is possible that a credible anti-corruption campaign will encourage important and well-endowed prospective businessmen to refrain from investing in Pakistan. But the long-term benefits must not be ignored.
Second, as Imran gears up to lead Pakistan towards progressive change, he must take charge of his own government and that too decisively. In the weeks since Imran came to power, Pakistanis have been left with the impression of a ruling structure in some ways still reminiscent of its days in the opposition. Different ministers choose routinely to delve in inconsequential matters while others issue astoundingly outlandish statements. A very vocal provincial minister from the PTI in the Punjab province, for instance, chose to claim publicly that Pakistan last year saw up to $1,000 billion in money laundering. That indeed has baffled many knowledgeable experts who know that the actual scale of the issue, though very problematic, is far less than claimed by the minister.
Finally, Imran has placed too much on his plate, which he may not be able to swallow easily. As the country’s prime minister, it is incumbent upon him to simply focus on a narrow range of the most vital issues while delegating authority to the other members of his Cabinet. And if the new government’s ministers are incapable of taking responsibility, it’s vital that such non-performers must be dismissed immediately and replaced quickly by those who can deliver.
In view of Pakistan’s present challenges, the new PM can ill-afford the luxury of wasting time to delve in matters that do not pertain to the country’s present-day crises. And while his government was formed after eventually cobbling together a parliamentary majority, Imran can just not afford to delay setting his priorities right. That’s essential before the euphoria surrounding his election dissipates.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.