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EDITORIAL: It is a consistent pattern of our politics that every government appears to falter mid-term. However, in the case of the present Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government, it is difficult to resist the notion that it has been in fact floundering since day one. Now on the eve of its penultimate budget, the PTI government is beset with the same problems as at the beginning of its tenure, plus some new self-inflicted ones. Amongst the former, handling of the economy takes pride of place. Admittedly, the difficulties the government was encountering before the pandemic have been exacerbated by the outbreak of the deadly disease, but there is not much to crow about in the pre-pandemic period either. With the third finance minister in three years installed recently, one struggles to detect the contours of a rational, well thought out economic strategy to meet the goals of economic growth and management of perennial, but increasing, problems such as the fiscal deficit. The contradiction at the heart of the government’s approach has been swings between correction and collection. Going into the IMF programme implied the former would hold sway, but various efforts regarding the latter have ended up with the country getting the worst of both worlds. The government’s ‘flagship’ social welfare programmes are little else but dressed up charity, which barely scratches the surface of endemic poverty and deprivation the masses suffer from because of financial constraints, and arguably ends up rendering the poor dependent on meagre handouts rather than being able to stand on their own feet with dignity intact. Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan sets the tone for this government, and the rest of the chorus of ministers, spokespeople and party leaders follow in his footsteps. Day in and day out, the government abuses the opposition as corrupt, then expects its bruised opponent to cooperate in parliament on consensus-based reforms such as the manner and mode of elections. When the predictable cold shoulder is felt from across the aisle, the government’s ordinance-issuing factory comes into action. Parliament is dysfunctional if not paralysed by such behaviour. The anti-corruption mantra, already sounding stale, has now been extended to the so-called ‘mafias’ by Imran Khan, who, according to him, are out to either topple his government or pressurising it to get ‘NROs’ (another worn out cliché by now). The opposition may have got its (un)fair share of stick, but the ranks of the PTI too are not without scandals. The biggest one, in which PTI major figure Jahangir Tareen figures, is the sugar scam. This case has caught the PTI in a cleft stick. On the one hand, it cannot retreat from its oft-repeated public position that no one is above the law, while on the other, the Tareen group of about 40 MNAs and MPAs has put the wind up the ruling circles by establishing their capability to break with the government over the budget. In better late than never fashion, the disgruntled members of the group have been soothed by Chief Minister Punjab, Sardar Usman Buzdar, by promising to address their constituency politics grievances. Although Imran Khan’s voice has been added to Buzdar’s assurances that no injustice will be done to Tareen or his family, this remains in the realm of the unknown and possibly explosive future outcome. The internal fault lines of the PTI that have emerged in this case have added to the stock of unresolved issues of economic management of a free market economy without resort to invective about ‘mafias’, democratic governance (including a functional parliament), and restoring the confidence and overcoming the paralysis of the bureaucracy, still reeling from the unwanted attentions of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Interestingly, what appears to be growing frustration may have prompted Imran Khan’s remarks the other day about NAB’s failure to grab the ‘big fish’. NAB’s over two decades’ old record does not inspire confidence as to its impartiality, adherence to correct and lawful procedures, and restraint in considering an accused innocent until proved guilty. Imran Khan’s diatribe suggests NAB has not gone far enough down this road! To end on a sad note, despite all the blather from the government, the missing persons remain missing. Sad, but true.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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