“Ambivalence” – An interim perspective on PM Imran Khan’s performance

“Ambivalence” – An interim perspective on PM Imran Khan’s performance (published on 07 Dec 19)
By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi

Not sure if there’s such a phrase as positive ambivalence.  Something bordering on lack of clarity with some glimmers of hope. Or negative ambivalence with confusion wrapped in pessimism!

Been back and busy seeking insights, views, opinions, perspectives from a wide cross section of people.  Politicians from across the spectrum, members of our rich, corrupt & spoilt elite, crony capitalists, comrades in khaki, business people, social activists, technology gurus, serving and retired bureaucrats and that most important stakeholder, the salt of the earth, the person on the street. So has anything changed for the better since I was here 6 months ago?

And that’s where the “ambivalence” comes in as I attempted to seek answers. Has PM Imran, finally come of age?

Does he now understand the science and art of governance enough to provide the kind of leadership expected from a PM? The kind of leadership that goes beyond long lectures and motivational talks during cabinet meetings. Is he less stubborn around issues which bedevil even his closest advisors and confidantes.  Buzdar and Firdaus Awan being two such enigmas.

 The former in whose hands lies the political fate of Imran and may I daresay the future of what may be our best fighting chance for our country. Or Firdaus, a face that “turns off a million TV sets”. Somebody who does an outstanding job, much superior to anything Ahsan Iqbal and Maryum Aurangzeb  can ever do, in destroying Imran’s and his Government’s image.

Is he beginning to make the right people choices in appointing quality people, at least in positions over which he has total discretionary powers? Or is the cronyism we’ve seen in some cases of appointing friends to head crucial government bodies coming to an end with horror stories of one such crony usually found inebriated night and day? Or putting square pegs in round holes.

Will his flagship programs like Ehsas for poverty alleviation, Naya Pakistan Housing, Kamyab Jawan, and the most recent one on Digital Pakistan be game changers, or flashes in the pan?

I attended the last event and expected a bit more, beyond the rhetoric of a Digital economy, which for the last decade or so is fairly common knowledge. When are we going to move beyond the *”what is the problem”* to *”here is how we’ll fix it”* or better *”here’s how we’ve fixed it”.* Has Imran seriously begun to look at the negative impact many of his cabinet members have on his and his Government’s image? Is he serious in bringing sweeping changes and bring better people from his party into the cabinet? Is he becoming more statesmanlike or still stuck in his Dharna mode?

Are we seeing a tapering off in the angry, harsh, conflict laden rhetoric that he employs in his various speeches or is it becoming more shrill, negative and counter productive, which he thinks plays to his constituents? Are we seeing any early signs of green shoots after nearly 17 months in power? Are the economic and business indicators of reduction in the current account deficit, fiscal deficit, increase in exports, a rocketing stock market, Moody’s outlook change from negative to stable, Internationally a “buy” advice on the Pakistani Rs, with anticipations of a stronger Rupee in the forthcoming quarters, harbingers of a genuine recovery based on strong fundamentals or are flashes in the pan?

Has governance in Punjab and KP improved?

In 17 months have we seen any structural changes and improvements in health care delivery, in the manner in which the police deals with people, in quality of education, in the judicial system, especially the lower judiciary? Is there any evidence of improvement in government processes resulting in more efficient and effective delivery of public services? Does the common person feel any change? Any change, at all! Will Imran’s latest experiment in Punjab, as I’ve heard, of handing over pretty much all administrative and executive powers to the newly appointed Chief Secretary and IG, be successful in improving good governance in Punjab?   And will he continue in his stubbornness to impose Buzdar on a hapless, Punjab.

Is the tax reform resulting in behaviour change of people paying more taxes? The evidence says, yes!  Has political interference stopped or significantly reduced in the functioning of the police and bureaucracy ? Has the Zardari / Nawaz culture of friends and family members accompanying state delegations on foreign visits stopped, especially to China? I’ve seen disturbing evidence of such people accompanying the PM to China. Perhaps without his knowledge or perhaps with!

Do we see conflict of interest involving his cabinet members diminishing or do foreign firms find partnering with commercial concerns owned by advisors and people close to him, the easiest means to land lucrative contracts? Will the new NAB ordinance change the way people are arrested, investigated, forced to plea bargain, simply to get out?

I’ve personally witnessed a horror story of a man arrested without any complainant, who is being forced to plea bargain, because there’s no case which will stand up in court, and because of the very large percentage of the plea bargain amount, which officially goes to NAB staff. Will we see more genuine accountability and less victimization?

Will we see less double speak from the Government’s anti corruption point person, as we saw in the recent £190 million funds transfer from the UK, where he desperately tried to whitewash, “Angel” Malik Riaz?

How will the recent run in regarding the Army Chief’s terms of appointment, extension, with the superior judiciary, pan out?  How has this impacted civil military relations and Imran’s ability to govern effectively? How badly has the Army Chief’s reputation and his office been affected by this event?  Is the entire military leadership on the same page with their current Chief?

Is it more of the same, with an odd good thing here and there or are we seeing a weakening of the status quo?

Finally the universal messages I received. He’s working incredibly hard. Harder than any other person in his team! Excellent!  The question is. Is that enough The bigger question is. Does he have a team that can deliver?

In my humble view, Pakistan’s and Imran’s biggest challenge is still “Governance”. Nothing else.  We have to get the right people, make correct policies, fix processes. But as one senior government functionary told me, hitting me with an uppercut.  “Haider it’s easy to write analytical articles sitting comfortably on the sidelines and something entirely different to be in the arena!”. I agree. There’s much merit in what he says and perhaps also some merit in an armchair analyst, like me, asking questions to gain insights.

I also agree that the entire system is polluted and changing it is a Herculean task! And that Imran has limited choices! But having said that!  There’s nothing stopping Imran to up his own game and even more importantly bring in a much much better team, to give Pakistan a fighting chance!

All we wanted and still want from him were and are two things. Meritocracy and appointing the right people in the right places to deliver good governance.  For this ask from him I don’t have to be in the arena. All I have to do is look at the people he’s surrounded himself with! For these two things, he alone is responsible and answerable! Meritocracy and the right person in the right role!

This is what he promised. This is what he must deliver. 

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