Imran Khan’s advice: No newspaper – no TV

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By Arif Nizami

The prime minister even while in Davos (Switzerland) to attend the World economic Forum did not spare the media from his ire. Crowing that his government was the most transparent, he advised people not to read newspapers or watch TV shows.

The world according to PM Imran Khan is fairly simple. He lives it according to his own narcissistic ego driven self-serving code where an alternative narrative hardly matters.

His frequent speeches at home and on international fora are almost formulaic: his quixotic crusade against ‘patently corrupt and unprincipled opposition politicians’ is peppered by a rather simplistic world view.

According to him he leads by example. Whether it is the manner in which he single- handedly built his cancer hospital or how he won the cricket World Cup.

In domestic politics, like quite a few belonging to the upper middle class of the country, he also pines for ‘the golden Ayubian era’. His detractors strongly disagree, blaming the late Field Marshal’s decade of rule (that he preferred calling a decade of reforms) as the mother of all evils that incidentally resulted in the dismembering of Pakistan.

Making Pakistan ‘Riayast-e-Medina’ is another of his hobby horse.  The fact that the founder of the country Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisaged Pakistan as an Islamic welfare, tolerant, democratic and pluralist federal state is conveniently swept under the carpet.

No one can deny that PM Imran Khan remarkably transited from being a celebrity to a successful politician. No mean feat that he built the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf) from scratch. Thus, he broke the stranglehold of the two mainstream parties, the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) and the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz).

He also quite shrewdly realised that in order to attain and retain power, support of the ubiquitous military establishment is a sine qua non. He successfully sought the backing of the powers that be and put it to good use in the 2018 elections.

But running Pakistan is not a bed of roses. It’s a complicated country with multifaceted problems. It is neither a charity hospital nor a monolithic cricket team.

Many an adventurer has ruled Pakistan trying to implement their jaundiced vision based upon a mixture of naivete and lust for power. The graveyard of Pakistani politics is full of ostensibly indispensable messiahs of their times.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan ran the country for a decade on the basis of his novel belief that democracy did not suit the genius of the hapless Pakistani people. General Zia ul Haq for another eleven years surmised that parliamentary democracy, or for that matter electoral politics, were anathema to Islam. Musharraf ruled the roost to implement his own version of ‘enlightened moderation.’

The politicians have not fared much better either. No elected prime minister has been able to complete his or her term. Their tenure was shortened either by extra-constitutional intervention or by judicial fiat.

But this is no excuse for poor governance or malfeasance. Nawaz Sharif in his second term as prime minister tried to emasculate democratic institutions in the name of Islam by striving to become Amir al-Mu’minin. This in the end analysis cost him his job.

In this backdrop, Khan was perceived by his supporters and quite a few of his critics as well, as a breath of fresh air. But- based on the one and a half years of his tenure- he has proved to be a bit of a let-down.

According to the prime minister, the perception of lack of good governance and poor economic management has been created by entrenched mafias working 24/7 to dislodge him. Of course, the biggest mafia according to him are opposition politicians. The media comes in at a close second.

Then there is the hoarding mafia in the context of the ongoing wheat crisis. Blaming exogenous factors for PTI’s current travails has become the norm rather than an exception.

Transparency International’s, the global watchdog on corruption, Corruption Perception Index Report 2019, ranking Pakistan 120 out of 180, three spots down from 2018 has miffed the Party’s rank and file. Ironically Khan while in the opposition on more than one occasions supported TI’s findings about perceived corruption of his predecessor governments.

The PM’s special assistant Firdous ashiq Awan singing for her supper has predictably rejected the TI’s report as ‘biased’ and ‘contrived.’

The shoe on the other foot, it hurts.

Instead of reading the small print in the report and following its recommendations another mafia has been conjured to suit the PTI’s pristine narrative. TI cites the influence of big money financing political parties and conflict of interest as major factors in retching up corruption.

The government, while crying hoarse about accountability for others, would have none of it for itself. It has dodged the foreign funding case for years on one pretext or the other. And those with deep pockets surround the inner sanctums of corridors of power.

It is a supreme irony that the self-professed harbingers of change have hitherto miserably lagged behind in virtually every department.

The prime minister rightly takes pride in that he is personally incorruptible unlike his predecessors. Might be so. But weeding out perceived corruption in his own ranks is his job description. And even a bigger task is to rid the incompetent amongst his team.

Richard Nixon in his book ‘Leadership’ claims that the real test of a leader is to be able to rid the administration of incompetent people.

A few days back Pakistani American economist Atif Mian put a poll on twitter. Although the poll had both ‘corruption of the elite’ and ‘incompetence of the elite’ as the answer, Mian went with the minority view.

According to him incompetence is a bigger constraint on development than corruption with the caveat that ideally both should be avoided. In the case of the PTI government it is faced with a double whammy. It has been simply unable to bring corruption down despite its perennial and all-pervasive narrative to the contrary. To make matters worse, incompetence has become its hallmark.

(The writer is veteran journalist and Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at arifn51@hotmail.com.)