“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. 

The “Insider Crowd”

The “Insider Crowd”

By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi (originally published on 18 Nov, 2019)

So there’s this amazing group of people, all pretending “to know” having the “inside story”  on what’s going on in Pakistan. Boldy they claim to have been informed by “someone” who is an “insider.”  Often this implies a senior politician, a cabinet minister, a senior bureaucrat, a High Court or Supreme Court judge and that clincher of all clinchers, a “very senior serving military general” and one that even tops that “a senior officer from Aabpara”.

I became acutely aware of this sickness in the last 5 years as I ventured into the shark infested waters of political activism. Especially last one year when I was active in Pakistani media. Mainstream and Social Media have unleashed this cruel monster of unbelievable pathetic political discourse and opinions which haunts Pakistan 24/7. Pseudo analysts like me and pretentious TV anchors, sit on top of this dung heap, attempting to bless their highly questionable narratives with this “stamp of authenticity” of getting it from an “insider”.

Flaunting words like “Pindi” “Islamabad” “Boots” “Aabpara” tapping their shoulders to imply military rank etc. Their statements usually start with a phrase ” a very senior person told me…..”  Many amongst us are victims of the massive power of Social Media to build completely fake narratives, mixing half truths with outright falsehoods and pressing our political, religious, ethnic hot buttons, to power a very believable perspective.

Then we have these legions of politicians, business people, serving and retired bureaucrats, retired military officers who meet the same people saying the same things everyday in the same clubs (Sind Club, Boat Club, Karachi and Lahore Gymkhana, Punjab Club, Defence Club, Islamabad Club, Press Clubs etc etc). Please excuse me if I’ve missed your club. These people, after hearing the same thing over and over again,  actually end up believing what they’ve been saying to themselves and to each other.

One person, a highly successful businessman,  in particular continues to share his “inside nonsense”  with me, despite having been proved wrong every single time over the last 5 years.

Such is the power of a false narrative and how intelligent, educated, successful people can lap up this gutter crap! Not surprised this happens. Just look at Trump’s America. 97% of Republicans still believe he’s a great guy!  So why wouldn’t people in Pakistan lap up this garbage about Nawaz and Zardari being innocent.  That Bilawal and Maryam are great leaders. That the Army is calling the shots and Imran is a puppet.

But there’s a more dangerous crowd!

Today a large group of  people, with seriously dubious credentials and  backgrounds and integrity, credibility and ethical issues, have somehow catapulted from nowhere into a positions of influence & wealth, which itself is highly suspicious and are at the forefront of spewing this nonsense. You usually find them projecting themselves on Social Media, rubbing shoulders with power brokers, politicians, government officials, worming their way into military circles and portraying themselves as “insiders” with high level contacts with “Pindi” etc.

These types are very dangerous and most subversive because they deliberately use their platforms, forums, groups and positions to sow dissension, create confusion and spread fear and negativity.  Many are ripe to be turned by foreign intelligence agencies because of their clout and influence, their absolute absence of patriotism and their lust for wealth!

Then we have this smirking, smug, patronizing group of intellectuals, social activists, many still waging the “Cold War” against “Zia’s Army” and still not understanding that this is not your Dad’s Army.  That the institution is changing and will continue to change as civilian institutions become stronger. This group fails to understand that the shadows of 33 years of military rule cannot be undone in a few years. And that the rape, loot and plunder and near total destruction of civilian institutions at the hands of ZAB, Benazir, Nawaz, Zardari, will not be fixed in a few years. That Imran is hamstrung by a near bankrupt economy a devastated public sector, an incomptent and corrupt bureaucracy, an entrenced elitist mafia which is fighting back.

That change will take time!

So here’s the list of things I’ve heard in the last 5 years.

1. Zardari will be President. Deal done with Gen. Bajwa.

2. Shahbaz Sharif will be PM. Deal done with Gen. Bajwa.

3. National Government for 3 years. Gen. Bajwa will head it.

4. A coalition government with Zardari as President and Imran as PM. Gen. Bajwa has agreed.

5. The Army will never allow Imran to become PM.  “They” are scared they won’t be able to control him.

6. Gen. Bajwa is Nawaz’s man. Just wait. Nawaz will never go to jail.

7. Saqib Nisar is Nawaz’s man. Just wait. Nawaz will never go to jail.

8. The Army installed Imran. Just wait and see. (Wait for What?)

And now.

9. Imran is a puppet. All decisions are made by Gen. Bajwa.

10.  Fazlur Rehman’s Dharna was sponsored by the Army. Just wait and see.

11. The Army has decided that Imran has to go. Just wait and see

12. Finally. “Pindi” facilitated Nawaz’s departure. ( Seems it was true)

Well folks here are a couple of things as an “outsider”.

There is no “They” “Pindi” “Boots” “Aabpara” “Military Establishment”.

There is just one guy! Yes! One guy! And he’s called the Chief of the Army Staff. What he says, goes! Period! And today, that guy is Gen. Bajwa.

One may have views about him, but from what I know and see, as an outsider, three things about him are absolutely crystal clear.

1. He believes in civilian supremacy and authority. Not now but ever since he was a young officer.

2. He has ZERO ambition to control government policy or take over.

3. Imran trusts him and both have a very strong personal and professional relationship.

 Imran has actively sought his and the Army’s help in rebuilding civilian institutions and providing interim support till these institutions become strong. Those who know Imran will vouch that he will never ever play second fiddle to anybody. He would much rather resign and leave.  Those who know Gen. Bajwa will vouch that Gen. Bajwa is genuinely and passionately committed to civilian supremacy and overlordship and will never overtly or covertly attempt to exercise control. He will only do what he’s ordered and asked.

Despite the fact that one wants the Army to reduce its footprint and influence, it will take time as they remain visible in helping build civilian institutions. My only plea to Gen. Bajwa. Do not allow corrupt serving Generals to go unpunished.  This is your Achilles heels. We must understand that the corrupt, elitist mafia that has reigned supreme in Pakistan is fighting tooth and nail to survive.  And their two biggest enemies and targets?

1. Imran and his reform agenda.

2. Gen. Bajwa and the Pakistan Army.

So their best strategy is to malign and bring into disrepute both individuals and their efforts. Hence my unsolicited advice to Gen. Bajwa.

There’s still time to not accept the extension even if Imran insists.

You’ve played an excellent innings. Leave at the peak of your career with honour, grace and dignity. Let the system continue. This will also take the wind out of every argument labeling Imran a puppet of the Army and Gen. Bajwa and the Army calling the shots. The Army has to make up for its sins of omission and commission. It is responsible for our state of affairs today and these corrupt politicians. Your not accepting the extension will be one such atonement!

Not that it will stop the Pakistani version of the “Trump” supporters to come up with something else.

A Final comment!

Every single time I’ve asked these “insiders” to name their “Pindi” source or other sources, the answer, vast majority of the time without fail is “Oh I can’t disclose it”. And the reason they refuse to share is because there is no insider source!  It’s the echo chamber echoing the same garbage!

People of Pakistan be careful. This is The Battle for Pakistan and our future.

Tread carefully Khan saheb! A short note!

 

 

By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi – 27 July, 2019

Khan saheb,

Our key challenges are

1. Economic recovery so our people can get relief from back breaking inflation, business confidence is restored, industry is revived, exports and taxes increase and foreign direct and local investments restart.

2. Rebuilding and strengthening state institutions and improving governance. This also means reducing corruption and holding crooks accountable. But this also does not mean we use heavy handed and harsh measures to crack down on political dissenters and low life’s, however third rate they may be. This also means the delivery of quality services to our citizens! Health, Education, Employment, Safety and Security etc!

3. Reforming the Judiciary and law enforcement agencies so our poor can get quick and real justice.

4. Strengthening the Executive and ensuring the Army’s influence is limited to its defined security related roles. So we’re not headed towards a dark dystopian, fascist future. This is a hugely polarizing phenomena in Pakistan even amongst your supporters!

5. Rebuilding our relationships with our neighbours.

6. Reforming our electoral and governance system to allow people of competence, skills, subject matter expertise into positions of governance, power, policy making and legislating!

This is crucial so that you and future administrators are not held hostage by the small corrupt coteries from which we elect our lawmakers and cabinets under the garb of parliamentary democracy! Something quite unsuited to us.

So that we have professionals making laws and policies and overseeing and managing public sector institutions with professional expertise.

So that Pakistan is saved from the “Elite Captured” claws of this small bunch of corrupt rich and powerful!

So we forever bury the Sharifs, the Bhuttos, Zardaris, Asfandyars, Fazlur Rehman’s and who they represent!

This in a nutshell is what we need, Khan saheb!.

Please do not open too many fronts to take your eyes off these goals.

Do not take on others Estates like the media. Now is not the time and place for this battle.

Like the rest of our society our media is also like a Mafia. Yes, they’ve been bought over by the corrupt mafias of the Zardaris and the Sharifs. Yes they must be held responsible through strong libel laws and strict punishnents!

But do not allow the kind of media optics and very poor handling of arresting and handcuffing a 78 year old journalist, on charges as flaky as a snowflake, despite his questionable character and third class attributes.

Do not allow the opposition to get to you, upset you, rile you with personal attacks and and use of words like “selected”. If they do, they’ve succeeded. Because it takes you away from fixing Pakistan.

Because our entire institutional infrastructure is dead, dysfunctional, corrupt, inefficient, ineffective, very weak, the task is huge, complex and very challenging.

But if anyone can begin to tackle it, its you, Imran.

You cannot afford to waste this great opportunity for the sake of Pakistan.

Tread carefully, Khan saheb!

Not fearfully, but carefully!

Salaams and Prayers
Haider Mehdi