Is 6 U-turns in first 5 weeks a new world record?

Is 6 U-turns in first 5 weeks a new world record?
It’s been less than 5 weeks since Imran Khan took oath as Prime Minister and he has probably already broken all past records of taking so many U-turns within such a short period after taking power. The list is long so without further ado, here is a look at some of the most glaring U-turns performed by the PTI government in its first 5 weeks in office.

  • The biggest problem of the country: Where should the PM live?

The PM said he wouldn't live in the Prime Minister House - he would instead live in the residence of the Military Secretary to the PM, which incidentally is also within the boundaries of Prime Minister House. However, he doesn't stay there either - commuting between the Prime Minister Office and his own Bani Gala residence every day, usually by helicopter. During that whole debate, the information minister waded in, adding a gem for which he went on to receive considerable ridicule, especially on social media, when he said that taking a helicopter was in fact cheaper because it cost just "Rs 50-55 km per liter".

  • To protocol or not to protocol

The PM and senior members of the government have repeatedly said that they will either have no protocol or will sharply reduce it and will not inconvenience the public when they travel. However, that has been repeatedly seen to not be the case, be it the convoy of Dr Arif Alvi when he visited Quetta prior to the presidential election, or his movement in Karachi after becoming president. The same has happened with the PM's convoy and that of governors as well.

Of course, there is no denying that security is essential for the PM and for other senior members of the government and no one in his right mind will begrudge them for heightened levels of security or even protocol. However, since the government itself repeatedly claims to not using protocol, the media, or at least those sections of it which still have some degree of independence, respond to the government claims.

  • The Atif Mian fiasco

The government notified 18 members to the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council. This included 3 Pakistani professors of international repute, including Atif R Mian from Princeton. Word got out that he was an Ahmadi and when that happened, to his credit, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry defended the appointment saying that it was an advisory role for an economist and someone's choice of faith should have nothing to do with it.

However, soon the government backtracked on this appointment, after some religious groups said that if Atif Mian wasn't removed they would march on to Islamabad. The U-turn happened in a couple of days and left it red-faced. The other two overseas-based members of the Council, Asim Ijaz Khwaja of Harvard University and Imran Rasul of University College London also resigned in protest. As of now, the Economic Advisory Council has 15 members, none of whom is a woman.

  • From First Class to Business Class to a class of his own

Upon taking his oath of office, one of the first announcements made by the government was that the PM would travel on commercial flights and not use the official jet of the Prime Minister. The PM had also said that he would not embark on any foreign trips in his first 90 days in office. The foreign minister said that he too would travel only on club class. Neither of those pledges was kept. The PM went on his first official trip to Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier this week, and did not go on a commercial flight. He also took a reasonably large entourage of ministers along with him to both countries and they all performed Umrah (at state expense). Mind you, in the past when prime ministers and ministers did that, ostensibly on state expense, there was considerable protest but not even a whimper from most of the media this time. As for the visit and the fact that several ministers went with the PM, that may be fine given the importance of such a visit in the backdrop of Pakistan having to scramble to borrow some $8-12 billion in loans, but the point is why make such tall claims/promises which then cannot be kept?

  • Helping the non-filers

The government in its new measures for the ongoing budget reversed the previous government's prohibition placed on those who don't file income tax returns from purchasing vehicles and property. Non-filers can now buy both of these, which seems odd because it will attract black money and expand the undocumented sector of the economy, both things that the PTI had always said it would fight if it came to power at the Centre.

The reasoning given by Finance Minister Asad Umar that overseas Pakistanis had complained that they couldn't purchase property anymore makes little sense in this case. Furthermore, a system could have been devised to facilitate them without having to reverse the restriction on non-filers. The PTI government has been widely criticized for this U-turn and for good reason, not least because it seems to be a step to reward those who don't file their tax returns.

  • A friend in need

The PTI has always claimed that it is against dynastic rule and against nepotism. Despite that, Imran Khan's close friends have been given choice posts in the new government. His close confidante Naeemul Haque has been appointed Adviser to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs, his friend Abdul Aleem Khan a senior minister in the Punjab government (he is being investigated by NAB), close friend Awn Chaudhry an adviser to the Punjab Chief Minister, and Zulfi Bukhari has been made Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources with the rank of Minister of State. When Bukhari was stopped in June 2018 from going on Umra with Imran Khan, the latter was reported to have made a call to the caretaker interior minister and Bukhari’s name was removed from the Exit Control List. He is currently under investigation by NAB for ownership of offshore companies and his name has appeared in the Panama Leaks as well. At that time, the PTI defended him by saying that since he was not a Pakistani national but a UK citizen and since had had no business interests in Pakistan, NAB should not be investigating him. Mr Bukhari also took the same defense. Now, as minister of state he will sit in on cabinet meetings.

Mr Bukhari's Twitter bio lists a website which offers a variety of hi-end services related to real estate acquisition and development. A cursory look at the website shows it has high-end clients in London with properties in Mayfair, Kensington, Belgravia and even a 'Super yatch' in Monaco.

Furthermore, a close friend of the PM, UK-based real estate tycoon Aneel Musarrat has attended official meetings on the government's scheme to build 5 million new homes. After attending that meeting, he returned to the UK where he told a group of Pakistani journalists that the scheme was worth a potential of $180 billion. To be fair, Mr Musarrat is being labelled as an Indian but he is actually of Pakistani descent. However, he is known to be good friends with several Bollywood stars, some of whom attended his daughter's wedding, as did Imran Khan. An internet search showed that Mr Musarrat is or has been a director of dozens of firms, many of which are running a deficit, all adding up to tens of millions of pounds.

The writer is an independent journalist and media and communications consultant. He has previously worked at Dawn, The News, The Express Tribune, ARY News, Samaa and as Media Consultant to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He tweets at @omar_quraishi.