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Critics Say The Govt Is Clueless. But It Must Answer Questions On Performance

Dr Awais Saleem says shallow sloganeering cannot be a solution to the country’s crises. PTI is a party in disarray and looking for excuses. It is about time they stopped talking the talk and start walking the walk.

Ground realities are finally starting the PTI government in the face, and it is running around like a headless chicken. The latest reshuffle in the federal cabinet is just a manifestation of the lack of capacity and absence of a sense of direction in the present set-up. Most independent analysts have been pointing that out for the last few months, but the government kept dismissing them as naysayers. The reshuffle is an acknowledgment on part of the government that the denial strategy and empty rhetoric will not work anymore.

Asad Umar, in a way, symbolized the classic PTI rhetoric. Somebody belonging to urban middle class, had worked his way up to achieve success as a technocrat, wasn’t tainted with corruption allegations, and was reasonably handsome as well. Eight months into the job, the Prime Minister realized that being non-corrupt is not enough, and perhaps the capability to deliver is an even bigger requirement for such an office. This is again something that was conveniently brushed aside when pointed out in the days leading up to elections and after the formation of PTI government.

But can we really blame Asad Umar? PTI bigwigs and their supporters are always agitated when the Prime Minister’s decision-making attracts criticism. Their biggest excuse is that Imran Khan’s government has only been in the saddle for a few months and such a short duration is not enough to make a call on their performance. In addition, it is not possible to clean the mess created in over three decades within a few months. Fair enough. But shouldn’t Asad Umar be judged by the same criterion? Going by the same “just been a few months” argument, wasn’t he also trying to fix the economy that has been dire straits for the last three decades?

By all accounts, Asad Umar was a victim of his own rhetoric. When he was making speeches in the parliament during PMLN’s tenure about devaluation of rupee, oil and gas prices, and cost of living, he knew inwardly that his arguments lacked rationality. Perhaps he was selling the same simplified solutions to Imran Khan as well, who bought all that shallow sloganeering as the cure to the country’s financial ills. It wasn’t to be. Asad Umar had to bear the brunt, but shouldn’t Imran Khan be held responsible for his lack of judgment and foresight as well?

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Then there is the curious case of Fawad Chaudhry. What was his sin to be discarded from Information Ministry other than apparently annoying Naeem-ul-Haq in the tussle involving PTV Chairman? Or is that another admission on part of the Prime Minister than it is not possible to defend the indefensible merely by taking shelter behind “all previous governments were corrupt” in response to questions about the incompetence of the sitting government?

The case of Amir Kayani merits attention as well. He has been a PTI financier all these years and part of PM Imran Khan’s inner coterie. Word has it that his ouster is related to the scam involving sudden hike in medicine prices.

Social media is abuzz with stories and mainstream media is talking about it in an undertone. The response of the government is completely hushed. Does this mean that alleged corruption and speaking publicly about is not an issue as such when a party insider is under the scanner?

We already have seen evidence of such double standards in the case of Jahangir Khan Tareen though, who is now calling the shots not only in the party but also in the government. If the non-elected cronies will continue to prevail over the elected representatives, it is not difficult to comprehend the priorities of the Prime Minister.

Interestingly, the chopping block in the recent cabinet reshuffle has fallen only on the ministers belonging to PTI. None of the cabinet members from allied parties have been touched. Does this mean that the performance of only PTI members, despite all the big promises about pre-election homework and a “ready to deliver” team, was found wanting? Or this is another indication of the compromises that Imran Khan is so used to making by now in return of political expediency? Lest you forget, let me remind you that “U-turns are the hallmark of great leadership.”

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It is pretty clear that the cabinet reshuffle was aimed at deflecting the mounting criticism and to buy time. In doing so, Imran Khan has fallen back on the tried and tested Abdul Hafeez Shaikh (economy) and Firdous Ashiq Awan (information). Does this mean Asif Zardari’s policies and identification of his cabinet’s potential was better than Imran Khan?

May I dare ask what happened to Naya Pakistan if we are to return to those who we have castigated for so long as being responsible for all the so-called mess?

The gloss of “change” is finally wearing off. The challenges faced by the government are very real and the common people are at the receiving end of the cluelessness being shown by the Prime Minister and his cronies. It is a party in disarray and looking for excuses. Isn’t it about time they stopped talking the talk and start walking the walk? There are several burning questions that require an honest answer. But will they? Based on the evidence of last eight months, the chances are quite remote. If it continues the way it has so far, things are only going to get worse.

Dr. Awais Saleem is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Media at Lamar University in Texas. He has previously worked as a journalist for mainstream media organizations in Pakistan and Washington, D.C. 

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