Reforms Gorbachev Style

Reforms Gorbachev Style
When in opposition, the politics of PTI was centred on the one word: “reforms”. But since Mr Imran Khan, who does not like to be referred as the selected prime minister, has been brought into power, it has become one of the most abused words in Pakistan. Sheer incompetence, political victimisation, vendetta and blunders are covered under the garb of ‘reforms’. In reality, reforms are the key and continuous need of any society’s progress as we enter most disruptive and dynamic phase in human history so far. But the key to success for reforms to become successful and effective is that it requires vision and nuanced understanding of the complexities of the issues on the part of the leadership. Our “selected” lacks on both fronts. For him everything is about his correctness and personal glorification, and vilification of all his political opponents as corrupt.

But if we as a country are serious about reforms then we must look at both success and failed stories of reforms. In recent times, we have seen two major reformists in modern history, Mr Deng Xiaoping in China and Mr Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR. This is a great case study because both leaders opted for similar sort of economic reforms but results have been opposite in both case.

Deng Xiaoping carefully focused on reviving the Chinese economy. He did not allow disruption in the political system by maintaining political stability and social solidarity, and he kept his focus on hard economic reforms by building a broader political consensus on the economic reforms agenda. Intellectually, it was Deng’s bold pragmatism and learning truth from facts that triumphed over what was ridiculed as the “whateveritis” of Hua – whatever Mao had said or done must be the correct way to act. As a result, stability and continuity was ensured, allowing Chinese economy to become a global miracle.

On the other hand, Mr Gorbachev mixed economic reforms with his political agenda. Both Glasnost and Perestroika ended up in political fights within and outside the party, which led to growing instability, further economic hardship leading to weakening of Soviet Union’s political structure which ultimately caused collapse of the state apparatus.

To state the obvious, Pakistan needs the wisdom and acumen of Deng Xiaoping for reforms agenda. But the existing approach of “Mr Selected” is substantially the worst form of Gorbachev’s styled reforms. In the garb of ‘reforms’, he is damaging the brand of Pakistan both locally and globally by painting corruption and money laundering as key attributes of Pakistani economy. He made a laughing stock of himself when he said media enjoys more freedom in Pakistan than UK. Pakistan is an evolving democracy with evolving institutions and a comparison with UK’s media is not fair but also not relevant.

I have struggled to get this piece published in Pakistani media but have been told it can’t be published in this form. Pakistan isn’t located on Mars, in today’s global media realities are not hidden from people regardless of where they live. But making such irresponsible statements, he actually damaged himself more than Pakistan as international audience realised that he is either in denial or not truthful. The real concern for every concerned Pakistani today is that to cover up his utter failures on economic and governance fronts, “selected” has opted for fascist route to remain in power.

According to the State Bank of Pakistan, 2018-19 was one of the worst year in the last five years in terms of economic growth and inflation, two most important macroeconomic indicators of any economy. The projection for coming years by eminent independent economists are even worse than the last fiscal year. Economic growth is expected to remain below 3 per cent and inflation is expected to be around 20 per cent in 2019-20. Debt stock has increased at one of the highest rates in Pakistan’s history under the PTI government.

The increase in public debt in 11 months of the PTI government was equal to 66 per cent of the debt that the PML-N added in five years. The increase in the public debt in FY19 was the highest in the 72-year history of Pakistan. Large scale manufacturing and agriculture sectors are experiencing negative growth, automobile sector is shrinking at unprecedented rate. As a result, unemployment is rising fast and expected to increase by 51 per cent in next few years. Governance is in total disarray everywhere and particularly in Punjab. For example, three IGs of police have replaced and nine secretaries of higher education transferred in ten months. His health minister had to be shunted out when agencies provided proof of massive corruption in drug prices scandal. IK has now appointed him as secretary general of the party. The BRT Peshawar project stands as most mismanaged and corrupt in history of Pakistan but NAB turns blind eye.

These are the harsh realities about which Mr Imran Khan does not want his political opponents and media to talk. Instead of answering questions on the present situation which directly effects the lives of millions of Pakistanis, he wants to only talk about the past. No matter what question you ask to the selected and his cabinet members, they have a one-size-fit-all response. Don’t ask us, ask Nawaz Sharif and his party. Now this answer has lost its shelf life. People are not buying it anymore. As a result, now the fascist nature of the PM has been totally exposed.

He is on the agenda of politically victimise, harass, silence and threaten everyone who asks tough questions from him on his performance. This is typical of a fascist leader. If we look at elements of the “Hitler” phenomenon in Germany, we find five prominent trends which are also hallmark of our “Selected’s” strategy; a) Identify a group as hate target for bashing; b) Exploit popular nationalist sentiment; c) Crackdown on personal and media liberties; d) Use intense propaganda to make people hysterical and supportive building charisma of leader; e) Use coercive security apparatus with intelligence agencies spearheading crackdown on opposition. We are being pushed to become a fascist state.

The recent arrests of Rana Sanaullah and Irfan Siddiqui on concocted and laughable charges have even forced worst critics of PML-N to condemn such political victimisation. The infamous phrase ‘small men in big office’ couldn’t be more accurate to describe the character of selected regime.

Given the challenges Pakistan is facing, we need reforms, not rhetoric, in line with the approach of Deng Xiaoping. The first and foremost requirement is building political stability. But political stability can’t be artificially achieved through polarisation, repression and silencing dissent, in fact, it generates more instability. Stability has to be organically built from the bottom. This requires developing a minimum consensus on broader issues faced in the realm of economy, politics, foreign policy, defence and human rights. When the Leader of Opposition proposed national Charter of Economy for developing national consensus on key economic challenges, he was ridiculed. Even when our dear homeland was under attack by India recently, Mr Selected did not have the courage to even sit down with opposition parties. He has proven time and time again that he does not even think like a PM of 200 million Pakistanis, he only cares about his narrow political base. His recent speech among Pakistani diaspora in the US is the latest evidence.

Pakistan was already a polarised country in May 2018 but today it is much more polarised than ever before. Due to policies of the fascist Imran Khan, political consensus has totally eroded. The worst is that he is even trying his best to politicise the institutions who are supposed to represent the interests of the state, and not of any single political party.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has become totally discredited as the selected government’s tool for victimising the opposition. The government ministers keep harping on the point of support from military and judiciary. His efforts to officially include army in economic management smells foul. As a result, government’s unpopularity and failures will also damage reputation of our state institutions. This is a matter of great concern for millions of Pakistanis.

For reforms to be successful, there has to be a method in them otherwise they soon turn into madness. Without stakeholders’ engagement and ownership on one hand and right sequencing, pacing and delivery on the other, reforms turn out to be Gorbachev model. Reforms never succeed in an environment of intimidation and fear. Confidence and trust are sine qua non for success in any reform strategy. The Selected PM’s policies have already caused massive capital flight and contraction of economy. Investors are fearful and bureaucrats are indecisive. The country is slipping into deeper mess.

Like others, I too have received messages that I might be NAB-ed and thrown behind the bars if I do not show restraint. But as a constitutionalist, as a democrat, and most importantly as a Pakistani, I would not forgive myself if I do not speak up at this time when my country is pushed towards a path of destruction.

It is my moral, constitutional and national duty when the country has given me so much honour to stand for Jinnah’s vision of democratic, just and pluralistic Pakistan so that we as a nation can come together to first stop the bleeding and then start the healing process to restart our journey towards speedy, sustainable, stable and shared prosperity as envisaged by us under Pakistan’s Vision 2025.

I would like to end with the following verses of Habib Jalib’s verses:

Kiyun daratay hoo zindaan ki dewaar se

Zulm ki baat ko, jehal ki raat ko,

Mai nahi manta, main nahi janta


The writer is MNA and former minister for Interior/Planning and Development.