On August 18, Imran Khan completed one year in office as prime minister. Although a year is not long enough to pass a conclusive judgment, it is enough time to gauge the direction a government has taken and assess whether it will deliver on its promises, and if it is moving in the right direction at all.
Regardless of how the 2018 elections played out and the not-too-secret manipulations of miltablishment for Imran’s selection for the victory stand, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) secured nearly 32 percent of the total votes in the general elections and 149 seats in the National Assembly. They then formed a coalition government.
It will be unfair also to not acknowledge Khan’s two decades of political struggle finally culminating in his forming the governments at the centre and in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Even though he was aided in his victory in the elections, Imran had some distinct advantages which entitled him to a fair chance to prove his mettle. Being largely untested in the political arena had created some hope. He was also untainted with any serious charges of corruption and enjoyed complete support of the military. The judiciary also appeared sympathetic and there were no destabilising suo moto notices as before. Having made right noises about issues that resonated with the masses, the youth and the poor wanted him to give him a fair chance. Seldom before has a politician entered office with such a credible reservoir of goodwill of the public as well as of state institutions.
One year down the line, the score card on fulfilling the promise of ushering in a welfare state a la Madina and altering the economic, foreign and security policies for this purpose, however, is dismal.
Claiming to put economy on right track, the government presented three budgets, including two supplementary ones, in one year. After months of indecision and foot-dragging, the government finally knocked the door of IMF- but the damage had been done.
The inappropriate sacking of the finance minister in the middle of international negotiations, sending home of an advisor on the economy on the basis of his faith and repeatedly shuffling the economic team betrayed complete unpreparedness and lack of a solid plan of action. As a result, the economy plunged headlong: the rupee fell from 120 to 160 to a dollar, inflation rose to double digits for the first time in over a decade and interest rates soared phenomenally. All this shrank the space for businesses and contracted job creation. The promise of creating 10 million jobs or building five million houses appeared a farce.
Poverty levels increased. One year ago petrol was available at Rs95 a litre when international prices were over 72 dollars a barrel. As international prices have come down to 67 dollars a barrel, it is at 118 rupees a litre. Foreign debt multiplied as the stock index plunged from 42,500 to under 29,000 in one year. The promise of bringing back 200 billion dollars allegedly stashed abroad by corrupt politicians turned out to be a joke.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor seems to have been put on the back burner ever since the IMF revealed for the first time that it got all the information about CPEC loans from Pakistan that had long been denied to it.
The basic contours of foreign and security polices not only remain unchanged but have been further entrenched. Policies are framed without parliamentary oversight and accountability, Foreign Office is completely side lined and state craft is driven by unaccountable backseat drivers. Non-state actors continue to be admired and eulogised, if not aided and abetted. The recent remarks by a federal minister that the victory of Taliban in Afghanistan is a victory for Pakistan, even with the sword of FATF hanging, say it all about the safe havens for non-state actors.
Pakistan’s international isolation has never been as great as it is today. Make no mistakes about it; Foreign Minister Qureshi’s letter to the United Nations Security Council calling for an emergency meeting of the council was not even considered. Then China urged an informal, closed door meeting of the council to consider whether a formal meeting should be held on Kashmir. The informal gathering of the council members said “no.” Not a word about Kashmir’s annexation.
On the security and foreign policy front, the first year of Imran Khan’s government may be thus summed up: India called the nuclear bluff and annexed Kashmir as Imran remained busy in hounding political opposition, stifling democratic freedoms, legitimising non-political forces, delegitimised political parties and legitimising politicization of state security institutions. How?
Bypassing the constitutional National Economic Council (NEC), a new body National Development Council was set up and the army chief was also put in the economy’s driving seat. The army chief was recently given a three-year extension. Imran went back on his own public pronouncements that extensions ill-served the institution of the army, publicly opposing General Kayani’s extension and declaring that as PM, he would not extend tenures of the army chief or the ISI chief.
When the former army chief General Raheel Shareef announced, 10 months ahead of retirement, that he would not seek an extension, Imran tweeted on January 25, 2016, “The nation’s respect for General Raheel has gone up after his statement refusing to accept extension in service.” What made him think that public respect will be enhanced this time is not explained. It is significant that General Raheel had not been publicly offered any extension and soon after his declaration to reject assumed extension, he went on to become commander of the Islamic coalition forces against Yemen.
The photos of the press conference of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi published on eve of the first anniversary speaks loudly about the militarisation of politics and politicisation of the military. A major general, in uniform occupying centre stage, addressed the press conference jointly by FM Qureshi and Chairman of Kashmir Committee Fakhar Imam. Deserving a place in a national archive of embarrassment, this picture will sum up, even in a distant age and clime, how politicians and political forces were delegitimised and the security establishment legitimised in the promised “Naya Pakistan.”
The author is a former Pakistani senator. Views are personal.
This article was first published on The Friday Times.