The 100-day trap

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By its own admission, the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) has fallen behind a number of the goals it had set itself when it assumed power. Some of these are big-ticket items such as a wealth creation fund, a national job creation strategy, clean drinking water for all and the signature initiative for the development of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Most of these items have yet to get past the planning stage, and few have the provincial ownership that would translate to support which in turn would translate to operational reality. In part this may be down to the relative inexperience of the government, and the complexity of the task it faces in turning around multiple problems is beginning to appear to be beyond its current capacity.

A case in point is the recently concluded visit by the Prime Minister to China. Although the visit will have been planned in advance – leaders do not pay one-another ad-hoc visits – there is a sense that little was achieved beyond some way-paving with assorted Chinese agencies and individuals. Although the returning Foreign Minister put a gloss on the trip – how could he do otherwise – the best that can be said is that that there are going to be talks about talks. The Chinese remain in principle committed to the support of Pakistan – again how could they do otherwise – and the ‘relevant authorities’ will be getting down to the nuts and bolts of it. The Chinese cannot afford to have a failing Pakistan as a segment of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, and having hitched their horses to Pakistan are now having to see the job through to the end.

As for the individual performance of the Prime Minister at a time of national crisis there are questions. The PM left the country a day early at a time when it was obvious that widespread disruption in the aftermath of the Aasia Bibi verdict was inevitable. It may be argued that the China visit was in the bigger picture of greater import than the Aasia Bibi affair – but to leave a day early? The PM left the country in the hands of caretakers at a time when his personal leadership which he had only so recently displayed in a rousing speech was much needed. The caretakers gave the nation an agreement that places the country as a whole as a hostage to fortune down the line, with an extremist politico-religious party holding both the reins and the narrative initiative. At the very least this is a lapse of judgment on the part of the PM, and a poor measure of his broader competency.

We have no desire to see this government fail. In many ways it offers some of the best hopes that there are for hauling the nation from the morass it has been dragged into over many years. That said it is going to have to up its game in all departments and soon. A few arrests are not curative. Neither is a weak-kneed budget and those 100 days are fast passing.