By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi – 25 July, 2019
So first the euphoria!
Never felt so good, so proud, head held high, to be a Pakistani as we did watching the Khan weave his magic in all his public interactions in the US.
The Presser with Trump; The Fox Interview, the USIP Dialogue, the Talk at the Capitol and of course the “Dharna at The Arena!
And in his private meetings as well!
The World Bank President went away in awe as quoted by an insider
* …..The (IMF) President is happy with the discussions….. felt that there is a genuine leader who cares about the country…..*
This is the impression Imran left people with. A genuine leader who cares about his country
I think this is perhaps his second “finest hour” since his election as PM!
This is what he does best when he speaks from the heart, with honour dignity and huge amount of self respect.
This is what he does best. Articulating an uplifting powerful message and a wonderful vision of the future!
So were there any tangible outcomes from the visit.
Perhaps a few by my count!
1. A strong personal relationship and direct communication between Imran and Trump. Hopefully ensuring that Trump and his administration are not misled about Pakistani actions or intentions by the anti Pakistan lobby, especially the Indian lobby!
2. In 3 days he’s quite literally changed the perception about Pakistan in a large part of the US administration, especially with hawks like Pompeo and Lindsay Graham, in the US Media and perhaps even amongst think tanks and opinion makers. Something we’ve not been able to do in decades.
3. A possible resumption of $1.3 billion US annual aid, enhanced trade and investment, and repayment of outstanding Coalition Support Funds, estimated at $9 Billion, owed to us by the USA. I think CSF repayment and aid will likely follow a successful deal with the Taliban and the USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan
4. Renewal of military ties!
But perhaps an invisible benefit is the ouster of India from the Regional policeman role, given to it by the USA, especially in relation to Afghanistan and USA withdrawal.
Mediation on Kashmir? I’d not take it seriously!
As the joke doing the rounds when Trump asked Modi “Yo Mo you should relax more…you got bad bad body odour” (this after the embrace) Modi replies “I do meditation in Kashmir” “Oh, Mediation on Kashmir” said Trump…No..no Meditation says Modi.
“..Mediation, Meditation same thing says Trump” and the rest, as they say is, history!
But here’s a word of caution about Trump! Imran probably already knows this but worth reiterating.
Trump is known to be all sweet, honey and charming face to face, and then can bite back via a sarcastic tweet and throw his best friend under the bus.
Tillerson, Mattis and scores of other corpses litter the White House as Trump ruthlessly dumps people he finds no longer useful to his interests or serve his objectives.
He’s a “man of the moment” and clearly relished the limelight which he got from Imran’s visit and used it to greatly benefit his domestic electoral agenda.
He has a two point interest in Pakistan.
1. Save American money, by pulling out of Afghanistan and save American lives from Terrorism in mainland USA, after the pull out.
For this he needs our help in getting the Taliban as part of a stable Afghan government, post USA withdrawal. It also gives him huge political and electoral mileage.
2. Sell as many American goods and services to Pakistan to help create more jobs in the USA and dilute Chinese, political and economic influence over Pakistan. Also giving him domestic political benefits.
Both helping him in his relection campaign in 2020.
But the Afghanistan withdrawal and post withdrawal stability is the Crown Jewel, Trump desperately needs for his re-election. Chinese influence, vis a vis Pakistan for now takes a back seat, for a while!
The more realistic the expectations Pakistan sets with him about what we can or cannot do in Afghanistan, the greater the possibility of remaining on Trump’s right side!
So there you have it on the US trip and Trump!
Imran shouldn’t get too overawed or taken in by Trump’s charm. He has the values and ethics of a Cattle Rustler!
And now to the realities facing PM Imran at home!
1. The Economy. Especially Industrial and agricultural growth, exports and increased revenue. Reducing 1.7 trillion of circular debt, 1.4 trillion of state subsidies to high loss incurring and mismanaged State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s). This is a make or break factor. Existential if we fail. People are under back breaking high prices!
One leading private sector businessperson whose huge empire pays all taxes and doesn’t under or over invoice, wistfully told me last night. Every economic decision that the government has taken, when viewed individually, makes perfect sense. Rupee devaluation; Tax reforms; IMF loan; Reducing external account deficit, removing subsidies from electricity and gas, etc etc. But collectively we are just not getting the traction we’re waiting for.
And we’re still waiting! He said with a sigh!
Imran is a great visionary but greatly hampered by a weak team who are unable to integrate and implement his vision, because implementation, operational expertise and integration is not his strength, he said quoting Gino Wickman, founder of the EOS framework!
2. Rebuilding our completely destroyed civilian public sector institutions by appointing competent persons of integrity to leadership roles who in turn bring in similar professionals, implement effective and transparent operational processes and technology to pre-empt corruption and deliver quality public services to the common man.
Shabbar Zaidi, Chairman, FBR, is an example of one such person and what he’s doing in FBR.
Imran must now get similar competent professionals and subject matter experts and not rely on friends and cronies or the permanent Islamabad group of mercenaries to fill professional leadership slots, simply because “he or she is very bright” but have zero experience or achievements in that area.
Dr. Sania Nishtar heading Ehsaas, his flagship Poverty Alleviation program, now sexily renamed Poverty Graduation, and several others, some whom I know personally (they will know who they are when I write this) are cases in point of not putting the right person in the right slot.
Appointing an ex Army General, a recently retired Adjutant General of the Army, as Chairman of Naya Pakistan Housing Authority, is in my opinion, also a questionable decision. While understanding that the AG looks after Army Housing and has insights and expertise that could be useful, my view is that he has some really competent people in his own party with expertise in this area, such as Najeeb Haroon, the MNA from Karachi to head this. There are many other ways of seeking Army’s expertise and insights in this area.
I think he should task a team headed by Jehangir Tareen, Ehsan Malik (CEO of Pakistan Business Council) MNA Najeeb Haroon to source top talent for our Public sector institutions!
3. Fixing relations with India, Afghanistan, Iran and the USA. Afghanistan and USA is on an upward trajectory. India is a long haul. But given the final delinking with the Jihadi outfits and USA’s new found love for Imran, there may be some minor moves forward with India.
But with Modi around, forget any serious discussions on Kashmir. Trade yes! Kashmir No!
Iran is complex. At a minimum we cannot take sides. We must not allow our territory to be used against them. And if we can, to try and mediate between them and Saudi Arabia and perhaps even the USA.
4. Returning the balance of power from the Army to the Civilian Executive!
The Army is today the only State institution which has fortunately escaped the rape by our politicians, considerably helped by their 33 years in power. But also, as people forget, by having a very merit driven system of promotions, placements and transfers.
Their best and brightest go as Instructors to the premier training institutions, PMA, Staff College, NDU, ensuring that the trainees learn from the best. Compare this to the police and the civilian bureaucracy, where instructional assignments are “punishment” posts.
Hence today by default, because civilian institutions are dysfunctional, the Army’s footprint is overwhelming and overpowering! And the ISPR makes sure we do not forget this for a moment. It is unbelievable how those guys, living in an echo chamber, don’t understand how they’re polarizing public opinion about the Army and Gen. Bajwa.
But let’s be real. But for the Army, we would today be in a far worse situation then we are!
That’s reality! So lets move on from here!
Gen. Bajwa has done a marvellous job in cracking down on non state actors, putting his and the institutions full weight and support behind the civilian administration!
In my opinion he’s as committed to a corruption free Pakistan as is Imran and wants Imran to succeed for the sake of Pakistan.
As an interim arrangement, this is essential for our survival today to help tide over these very difficult times and defeat the current very powerful and corrupt status quo.
Take the USA visit. Gen. Bajwa’s presence and discussions with the US military High Command were essential to give USA comfort.
But in the long term this continuing influence in the civilian realm is very harmful, even existential for Pakistan as it will move us towards a harsh, fascist society!
The big white elephant in the room?
Should Gen. Bajwa get an extension? Should he be offered one? Should he accept one?
My personal opinion is a NO to all three.
While he’s done an outstanding job, I think he should retire gracefully, let the system continue and let the institution continue to support the Executive as its doing now! He could continue to serve as a National Security Advisor or Minister of Defence!
Having said that, there is a strong argument in many circles that because of his deep understanding of the issues facing Pakistan and his strong relationship with Imran, there’s a case for him to continue on.
But my view is that there will always be exceptional circumstances. There will always be an argument to break a rule! But the system must go on!
I have NEVER heard of a retiring Lt. General being given an extension! Never an extension to an Air Chief or the Naval Chief!
So why the Army Chief?
In summary, Imran faces a huge Herculean task at home!
We are a hugely dysfunctional society and country.
Our institutions do not work effectively.
Our past rulers, both military and civilians have systematically destroyed our institutions resulting in the elite capture of all our institutions and sources of power by a small group of corrupt, rich and powerful people, who’ve either used the hypocritical garb of democracy (our politicians) or the Doctrine of Necessity (our military rulers) to grab and hold onto power.
This elite capture has resulted in an environment of desperate survival by the poor and the exploited, desperately latching on to those who represent this corrupt ststem to seek recourse, justice, employment and succour.
Just sheer survival!
The masses accept as a given, a system of plunder, loot and handouts as symbolised by the Sharifs and Zardaris and their courtiers and hence accept the status quo, because their self interest and survival are now also interlinked to this corrupt system.
They do not believe that Imran or anybody can change the system to a more equitable one with equal opportunity for all!
Their hopes have been dashed to the ground again and again! Bhutto, Zia, Musharraf….now Imran!
This is a battle for the Soul of Pakistan and our future and those of our children and beyond.
It is a battle to provide equitable opportunities of healthcare, education, employment, entrepreneurship, business etc.
We hope this rotten political and electoral system is destroyed which continues to elect from a small, corrupt coterie of looting, plundering mafia like Plutocrats and Kleptocrats!
We hope no son, daughter, brother, nephew, uncle of any politician gets into power simply because of a biological event!
Mrs. Safdar and Master Bilawal being two of the ugliest most evil symbols of this terrible accursed system!
We hope our civilian institutions are strengthened so our Army retreats into its defined role and does not exercise the immense and inordinate power they exercise now, directly and indirectly and their support is indispensable to remain in power.
We hope we have a media of serious objective analysts, journalists and anchors who do not sell their souls to the highest bidder.
We hope of a judicial system which dispenses quick and fair justice and holds everyone accountable, high and low. We hope sons and daughters, sons and daughter in laws, nieces and nephews of former and serving Judges are not the only ones elevated to our High Courts and the Supreme Court
We hope we have an electoral process which allows people of competence and integrity to get into positions of power, authority, governance and into our legislatures.
Mrs. Safdar and Master Bilawal do not represent these hopes for Pakistan.
PM Imran does!
With all his inadequacies, which he is fast overcoming, he is still our best fighting chance!
The poor await a Pakistan where they live in peace and security, get quality healthcare and education, earn a decent livelihood and get speedy and fair justice!
Today they are burdened with massive back breaking inflation, high prices, but they still wait patiently!
Now its time for you to conquer Pakistan, PM Khan!
And you can only do it if you have competent people of integrity around you. A great team that can execute and implement effectively!
Because its a long hard tough battle and there is no such thing as “Spontaneous Combustion”, or a “Magic Wand”, PM Khan!
Salaams and Prayers