On reflection – 100 days

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Creating a hostage to fortune is never a good idea, and the ‘100 Days’ that was a mantra during the general election that brought the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) to governance is no exception. From the outset the opposition parties have used it as a stick to beat the PTI, and as the days counted down their cries and blows rained ever louder and harder. Now the Prime Minister Imran Khan has had his say and the getting of wisdom is in process. He and his ministers were understandably keen to highlight their achievements but once their words are undressed there is precious little by way of ‘job done’ and a lot of ‘in progress’.

To be scrupulously fair this is nothing other than could have been realistically expected. The tasks and challenges facing the incoming government were monumental and included threats that verged on the existential. The economy was in dire straits as a result of unwise fiscal management by preceding governments. None of that was the fault of the PTI and a grace period has to be allowed for the party and its financial managers to vision then build the repair kit that will restore fiscal equilibrium. Implementation is uphill. The PTI also inherited a bureaucracy and civil service that had for years sung from a playbook that was different to that which the PTI brought to the lectern, and they were by no means inclined to sing a new tune. That remains very much a work in progress nationwide.

Corruption was an issue at the heart of the PTI election campaign. Corruption is endemic nationally at every level, be it a bribe paid to secure a place for a child in a favoured school to the millions that are siphoned out of the system and into private pockets everywhere. Tens of millions are complicit and turning such a culture around is a generational task. If in 100 days a set of tentative bullet points as to how corruption is practically to be addressed can be compiled then that has to be seen as a success, albeit modest.

Of worthy note is the commitment to carry forward on the campaign promises to address the plight of the most eedy in society. As with the aforementioned this is one of those multi-layered tasks that almost beggar description. Poverty is not only about a lack of money. It encompasses health care and education and a host of other variables, all interconnected. The likelihood of the poverty problem ever being comprehensively fixed is extremely remote, but much poverty is ‘fixable’ by small increments. It takes joined-up thinking which has yet to be demonstrated in any depth by the PTI government, but some things in the poverty basket can be fixed, and it is not rocket science.

The PM gave a nod to the issue of stunting in children (which is very fixable), shelter for the poor and homeless in Rawalpindi and Lahore, the recovery of land in an anti-encroachment drive (that is hamfisted, poorly thought through and brutal in execution), getting on top of the money laundering problem that underpins much of the extremism the country is burdened with and equipping farmers with modern technology the better to improve their productivity. Dams got a mention (‘low cost quick solutions’) as did taxation and the multiple deficits therein, fisheries and tourism – the latter a subject he has visited before demonstrating almost bottomless naivete in doing so.

The 100 days is past and it is to be hoped that the government and the PM have learned the lesson when it comes to making deadfalls for itself. Pakistan is not so broke that it cannot be fixed, though perhaps not in the lifetime of this government. Fix the fixable and plan credibly and openly for how future fixes are to be achieved. The government – and the PM – are still on steep learning curves. Thus far we give a qualified ‘pass’ but with a ‘try harder’ caveat. Miracles we do not expect, but transparent realism we do.