The man with Midas touch!

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

We are living in Khan’s world. It is exciting, it is full of hopes, it promises prosperity. People wait anxiously on their empty stomachs for the opening of floodgates of rivers of milk. Load-shedding insists to be the order of the day; terrorism has been eliminated and not yet eliminated, terrorists strike at will and with impunity. Issues national and international refuse to go anywhere. Economy is deplorably in a mess and yet he seems to be a leader with Midas feet, where ever he goes, he is showered with dollars, riyals, dirhams etc.

His former spokesman on national economy appointed with lot of fan fare-Dr Farrukh Saleem – has called it abday much too early. In his much hyped appointment was also his disappointment. He did not have proof of it in the form of official notification irrespective of the fact that he attended classified meetings one too many presided by the Chief Executive and also sat in his designated office in the PM House.

Initially appearance of Dr Saleem on the scene gave an element of much needed confidence to the regime. And then came his bolt from the blue telling the world that the government had no clue about running neither the economy nor what was urgently needed to be done to put a brake on its slide on the sloppy slope to economic collapse. To his shocking statement came a response from the PTI heavy weight spokesman asking who is Farrukh Saleem, what are his credentials and where is the official notification appointing him as PM’s Spokesman on National Economy?

Indeed, it is rightly said that the fault lies with Dr Farrukh himself. A normal person would not have ever taken charge of an assignment that never was. Apparent roping him in by the PTI government was considered a major breakthrough. Global financial circles and lending agencies thought that they were in for sober and professional handling of economic issues and that there would be no more embarrassments for the Finance Minister or the PM.

I was not surprised to hear from Senator General (r) Qayyum that after what actually was his hoax appointment Dr Saleem in one of the talk shows, did his best to justify certain governmental actions which were indefensible. Whatever- the U-turns and other quixotic decisions do spell out clearly that the government has had no nappy training. Every day in the corridors of power it is exposing how ill-equipped it is to be in power.

As I said earlier our man in power has the Midas touch. Wherever he goes with the biggest beggar’s bowl, notwithstanding his pre-election pledge to the nation that he would prefer to commit suicide than beg or borrow money for the country, he collects accolades of packages each worth many billion. One does not know in return what price we shall have to pay. Remember General Ziaul Haq’s pronounced contempt to President Jimmy Carter’s US dollars 2.5 million as peanuts to churn out fighters for the American jihad in Afghanistan against the erstwhile Soviet Union that, however, resulted in a flow of suit cases full of dollars to General Zia and his ISI tagging the country for ever as a puppet on American chains.

Unfortunately, much like the Finance Ministry, the Foreign Office though under an experienced Foreign Minister, too continues to grope in the darkness, knowing not where to go. We had recently a visit by Crown Prince of UAE who we found was happy to leave a fortune with the Prime Minister all smiles on his face rendering him to be his friendly chauffeur to the airport. It is regretfully noted that there was neither press conference nor a press release about the visit. Nation and the Parliament to this day do not know who to believe-did the Prince stay in Islamabad for a few hours, one day or three days as per the words of the Information Minister?

Indeed, handling of foreign policy continues to be in doldrums. There is no sense of direction. High sounding platitudes are there to spell out so-called paradigm shifts in Afghanistan, Washington, Iran, Delhi, Moscow and Beijing and that Pakistan–it appears without being there–is in the full picture of currents, cross-currents and under currents that would impact the future course of history. It is generally said of governments that when they fail to tackle a problem, they appoint a committee. The latest in our case being appointment of Advisory Council on Foreign Relations with a host of retired senior foreign office bureaucrats.

It is more like old wine in a new bottle. The Advisory Council is more representative of the military establishment that has virtually hijacked matters of foreign policy from Foreign Office since dictator General Ziaul Haq staged a coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in July 1977.  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the epitome of contempt for the fact that foreign policy was left by him to be handled by the Army Chief rather than have a full time foreign minister accountable to the Parliament. Much more of the same seems to be the order of the day even now. Pakistan needs a proactive foreign policy fully debated and approved by the Parliament in keeping with its geo-strategic needs and mending fences with neighbours.

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)