Considering how long it is that the Prime Minister has been in politics, albeit not at the elevated level he is now, he is remarkably maladroit when it comes to communication. Whilst we welcome, indeed applaud, the attempts to speak to the electorate directly the PM is in need of some intensive coaching if his recent efforts are anything to go by. His latest outing on Monday 3rd December is a case in point.
No PM in the history of Pakistan has ever had an easy or comfortable relationship with the media, particularly if they have independent inclinations. Most if not all PM’s wish to control the narrative and go about that in a variety of ways from outright censorship to tightly-targeted ‘interactions’. It is the later we were served Monday last. Firstly the PM, despite advice to the contrary has yet to step off the container in terms of delivery, and secondly, he is saying very little different to what he was saying while atop the tin box.
A group of selected – favoured, who knows? – journalists met with the PM in Islamabad in his first interview since taking office and he had some distinctly unsettling messages to deliver. We have learned that ‘…there is not a single decision that I have not taken on my own…’ which if nothing else has a whiff of the dictatorial about it, and that he has been keeping an eye on the performance of his ministers with, he says, decisions to be made ‘next week’. Expect heads in the basket below the guillotine.
The nosedive of the rupee against the dollar was dismissed as a ‘temporary phase’; and linked to the activity of the State Bank of Pakistan that looks likely to have its wings clipped by the PM despite the IMF in its last two interventions in Pakistan having the independence of the State Bank as a core issue.
The PM only became aware of the jump in the dollar value via his TV set, the SBP seemingly having not kept him in the loop. On this evidence neither the SBP or the PM is going to get a gold star for good housekeeping.
The questions were lobbed and fielded, there was a little brittle banter about the possibility of an early general election, we were reassured that the civilians and the military were on the best of terms and learned that the PM was a tad peeved at what he saw as a judiciary that is overreaching itself.
There were name checks for the corrupt bureaucracy and the independence of the National Accountability Bureau, the opening of the Karturpur corridor (a significant positive move) and the desire to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the matter of the war in Yemen. The TLP crackdown only came after attempts at mediation had failed, and it was not the PM fault if the anti-encroachment drive had stepped over the limits. And those U-turns? Well expect more of the same.
By Tuesday the Finance Minister was on firefighting duty, rejecting the idea that the country was facing an economic crisis and that the financing gap for the current fiscal had been met. In the background there was the crash of crockery as stocks suffered their worst single day for 16 months. And we really should not be worried about the independence of the SBP as it was in safe hands…there just needed to be ‘greater information sharing’ between the bank and the government. Quite so.
To the laymans eye this all looks like a less than orderly house and they would be right. Mixed and unclear messages are being delivered, and there seems to be more than one songsheet in circulation. The PM seems to have a sketchy grasp of the concept of cabinet governance. Ministerial security is shaky. The PM attempt to manage the narrative via selective journalistic interaction is less than gold-standard. Teething troubles can be forgiven, a competency deficit not so much.