‘Naya Pakistan’ – PTI’s best-selling joke

Published: October 16, 2018
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A supporter of Imran Khan’s PTI party looks at the party leader's poster in Islamabad, July 2018. PHOTO: AFP

The verdict of the 2018 by-elections is in, with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) losing some of the seats it had previously won in the General Elections. Yes, their supporters will say the party has won more seats than the opposition, but the fact remains that losing seats which you previously won, and that too in the by-polls (which always favour the sitting government) is a bad sign.

Things are not going well, and the electorate is noticing the sheer incompetence and cluelessness of the PTI government.

I am trying to recall, but despite my best efforts cannot remember a comparable level of chaos in the initial days of any other political government in recent times. No matter how ‘neutral’ one tries to be, the fact remains that right now PTI’s performance reeks of an almost unbelievable level of incompetence, which in turn is creating a lot of uncertainty. As I write this, the US dollar’s rise is threatening massive inflationary pressure owing to the rather inelastic nature of our imports. The stock market is in literal free fall, depicting panic from the investors.

Claims of never going to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been proven hollow, as Pakistan is currently desperate to be bailed out due to growing current account imbalances. The conditions likely to be imposed by the IMF would thwart Imran Khan’s populist agenda of building a welfare state based on increased development spending. In fact, after entering the IMF structural adjustment program, the economy’s growth is likely to slow down in the short to medium term, seriously undermining the lofty promises of creating 10 million jobs. Perhaps we needed to go to the IMF as soon as the government took charge, but instead of taking the rational option, the government came up with the rather fantastic plan of appealing to the Pakistani diaspora to send dollars. The dismal response from the diaspora has perhaps prompted the government to finally go to the IMF, but this delay has ended up costing the economy dearly.

A grand housing scheme costing an estimated $180 billion is also in the pipeline, without the government explaining where this money would be raised from. To get a proper perspective of the sheer scale of this project, the entire China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is less than $70 billion, while Pakistan is currently negotiating for a $6-7 billion bailout from the IMF. Right now, the entire banking sector’s deposits are less than the amount required for financing this scheme. Even a financially ignorant person understands that banks do not have the capacity to finance even half this amount. When asked by a TV anchor as to how such a colossal amount will be raised, government spokesperson Farrukh Saleem’s hilarious response was that PTI would curb corruption to free this amount.

Good governance, a slogan Imran constantly raised during his confrontational and fiery opposition days, is nowhere to be seen in any aspect ranging from the economy to law and order. Nepotism still rules, as proven by shady appointments to the cabinet, while the political victimisation of the opposition is in full flow, as evidenced by the arrest of Shehbaz Sharif. The latter is a completely senseless act which is sure to create political instability at a time when the government badly needs stability. On top of it, Nasir Durrani, the officer brought by the PTI for police reforms, recently resigned due to political interference in the transfer of an inspector general in Punjab.

Furthermore, at a time when our priority should be to wriggle out of this mess, the government’s main emphasis has been on silly optics of selling cars and buffaloes, opening governor houses to the public, and bragging about some meaningless austerity measures. The height of irony was that the day the stock market was free-falling, Imran was lamenting about a lack of international tourism due to dirty public toilets!

What is going on here? Why are we in such a mess that the slogan ‘Naya Pakistan’ has become a complete joke, prompting hilarious videos and jokes at its expense? On top of it, since Imran has a sizable cultish following, some of his supporters are bending over backwards to defend every U-turn and absurd step taken by the PTI government, and blaming everything on the previous government. While the government’s blunders are pitiful, the apologetic defence of its supporters is purely hilarious.

To be fair to the PTI, it did inherit an already weakening economy, and whatever is happening today has at least some roots in the past. It is fair to say the government’s debt accumulated a lot during Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) tenure, increasing the debt servicing amount and thus exacerbating the problems with the fiscal space. On top of it, the PML-N government was not transparent on CPEC projects, perhaps committing to some unfeasible terms as well.

However, at the same time, the economic woes are also partly due to the political instability in the last two years, in which PTI played a direct role. Over the past two years, PTI indulged in extremely aggressive politics, resulting in a lot of disruption and political uncertainty. The government was literally in survival mode and the economy’s productive capacity was seriously harmed due to the political situation.

But something far sinister occurred during those years of agitation. Imran literally promised everything to his impressionable supporters, making claims which made no rational sense. Slogans such as the following were raised:

Mein IMF janay se behtar hai ke khudkushi kar loon.”

(I prefer committing suicide than going to the IMF)

Do dino mein $200 billion Pakistan wapis a jai ga.”

(In two days, $200 billion will come back to Pakistan)

Unfortunately, these were devoured by his fan club without any critical introspection.

Imran has created an entire lot of emotional and politically romantic followers whose sole criteria is the ‘honesty’ of their leader. They are willing to literally overlook everything else in their naïve belief that only the honesty embodied in Imran’s personality matters. “At least he is not corrupt” has become a standard response to any criticism, no matter how justifiable.

 

But then Imran has also been facilitated by our textbooks and media, which for years have been creating a mindset, particularly in the white collared urban middle class, through perpetuating a romanticised narrative. According to this narrative, in reality we are a blessed country, full of resources and a very talented population. If only we had an honest and determined leader, things would miraculously turn around. Imran fits nicely to the description of such a leader, which is why it is no surprise he is considered the ‘last hope’ by a large portion of our white collared, supposedly educated class. This desire for an honest messiah is so strong that many of them were perfectly willing to overlook the controversial way Imran won the 2018 Elections, as well as his undemocratic political tactics since 2013. It’s this romantic delusion that makes die-hard supporters unquestionably accept even the most absurd solutions offered by the party.

PTI has become a tragic victim of its own rhetoric, and right now, the party’s problem is that it is governing in the light of extremely high expectations, which it raised itself. What is worse is that instead of lowering expectations to realistic levels and telling its followers what is not achievable, it is hell bent on promising more, as evidenced by the launching of this extremely ambitious housing scheme.

The fact that such a project is neither sustainable nor feasible, given our precarious fiscal problems and external account deficit, simply eludes our leadership. I fear that once again the PTI will be forced to make a humiliating U-turn, but only after wasting a sizeable amount of money into this scheme. Perhaps naively, I continue to hope that sanity prevails and PTI starts governing rationally, managing expectations for a change instead of continuing to raise them to unrealistic levels.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sheraz Khalid

    Just a view of title and I knew its the great RHR.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Maryam, will definitely love this article. But her Abby ain’t becoming
    PM again for the fourth time. He is banned for life.Recommend

  • salman

    Yeah, I especially liked his article of March 2018, where he was predicting a PPP and PTI alliance. I wonder what he thinks about the PMLN-PPP alliance we just saw.Recommend

  • sterry

    It’s easy to hoodwink a country when most of the people can be easily fooled with empty slogans. In the US, Trump supporters would chant mindlessly about draining the swamp because Trump convinced them that all their problems were due to corruption in Washington DC. The same is the case with Imran Khan’s supporters who are hoodwinked into buying empty slogans. Now we are seeing that PTI has no plan despite spending years in the opposition. We all remember that Imran Khan planned to bring back 200 billion allegedly stolen in 2 days and never begging to the IMF but low and behold, he is the first to fly out begging in a VIP plane( when he said he would fly economy) or taking his supposed 50 rupee / km helicopter rides to his cheaper Bani Gala residence since PM House and government buildings will be made into schools. When people can be fooled so easy with empty promises which are as empty as the air they are spoken into, we can only blame ourselves. At least the last government had a plan and our economy was classified as growing according as an emerging market in the press ( read NY Times Financial Reports, Economist, S & Ps or Finch’s). Now we are told inflation is going up, the rupee is weakening and the growth is down – meanwhile all the pipe dreams were fed are going up in smoke.Recommend

  • Greywolf

    some of these points are valid, and there is some economic uncertainty. but there was economic uncertainty in major economies post 2008 and the great recession, which was inflicted because the policy response was not immediate as there was some uncertainty on how to handle. the point is that while IK and his team have delayed this response, it seemed to emante more from their desire to explore all avenues and not make hasty decisions, rather than paralysis through analysis. or worse, incomptence which is a hallmark of our ‘democrats’Recommend

  • Naveed Ahmed

    Great job raja sahab. Quality work. I have never read such a good blog on tribune before.Recommend

  • Umais Zahid

    Though I am not an avid supporter of the current ruling party myself. This article takes the biscuit.Recommend

  • Imran Tahir

    Well, PTI’s performance is not as one would have expected, but this article is Insane- a mere collection of fancy idioms and phrases.
    we cannot and should not forget that any (positive) change will be brutally resisted by the bureaucracy, and all different elements of the corrupt political elite and what not.
    It will take time to bring some change ( again i would emphasis on the word “positive”).
    the factors like Rs de-valuation is being used in an absolutely wrong way. any person, who even knows the basics of a house economy can easily understand the reasons.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong in keeping hopes on a good leader.. actually that’s the only way world or countries have ever changed ( again, you will need to read history).
    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”Recommend

  • wb

    Also note. The future will declare IK to be the worst elected PM of all time. IK will destroy Pakistan. And I’m already holding a big sack of popcorn.Recommend

  • wb

    Also, it’s ok. Today the world runs on jokes. For example: Saudi will probe into disappearance of Jamal. Trump hails his 2 years as the best in US governance history. IK will build 50 million houses for the poor.Recommend

  • Waqas

    Ok then tell us what are options do you have.Recommend

  • vijay2day

    Raza Habib is not saying he has solutions. He is only pointing to the lies and politically un-fit statements Imran had made to come to power. Imran will be a liability after some days to Pakistan and all the love he has from people will vanish for showing them a wrong picture.Recommend

  • vijay2day

    Imran should have studied the economic situation of the county from eminent persons and made some honest statements to the electorate before coming to power. At least that way he would have saved his face in front of the people.Recommend

  • vijay2day

    A well written article by Raza HabibRecommend

  • Square

    For god sake the govt just got in. Give them a few years before you put bias on paper.Recommend

  • S Abid Ghamidi

    Dear Raja, I lot of things which you wrote are right but a number of things are wrong. However, overall it is not an unbiased analysis (obviously due to your explicit liking for PPP). Before highlighting the issues with the article, I want to clarify that I am not a supporter of PTI or any political party. First using sweeping statements like cahos, incompetence withourt giving evidencce of the same does not reflect good on analyst’s impartiality. Infact there is no cahos at all, and where did you see incompetence pls specify. However, neportism in hiring seems apparent. Linking arrest of Shahbaz Sharif with PTI government is grossly incorrect. All these cases were opened during previous governments and PTI has nothing to do with NAB. IK and Aleem khan and Azam Swati are also facing NAB investigations. Please get the facts right before making sweeping statemnts. My friend, this govt has not yet event completed 2 months. What were you expecting in two months. Of course they are taking time in understanding working of government and facing teething problems (as they are new). However, they have already formed task forces within one month on all major issues. Started clean and green compaign, started Naya Pakistan Apna Ghar scheme, revised the budget, started austerity compaing etc. However, you can say that they are incomepetent if they dont give policies and direction evern after 6 months. Please dont use your writing ability to demonize a newly appointed govt without having seen their work. Pls wait for few months……..Recommend

  • RHR

    Funny thing is that it was PTI itself which claimed that it will turn around things in days. I am merely reminding how tall claims tied its hands and prevented it to take sensible steps.
    Plus this article never claimed that miracles are possible in two months. It has criticised steps the government has taken such as that housing scheme on its infeasibility. Now I don’t need six months for that! Just to let you know that I have worked in financial sector for several years before leaving it for academic pursuits. I know that these kinds of schemes dont work in a country where banking penetration is low and commercial bank’s liability profile is of current and short term deposits.
    You think NAB is nothing to do with government?
    A good joke, if I may put it politely. Aleem Khan and all are not in custody. Whereas literally everyone agrees that one sided witch hunt is on. One MNA of PML N says something controversial, within days and before the by – elections, SS is taken in.
    Regarding me having soft corner for PPP…I have soft corner for both PML N and PPP…But I have criticized them also.
    Anyways. A nobody like me can not demonize a government with a cultish PM. They are doing it themselvesRecommend

  • RHR

    You want to enjoy a funny video???
    Google murad saeed and 200 billion dollarsRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    IK should b given th credit for bring down the dynastic rule in Pakistan. who would hvee gussed that a playboy cricketer will succeed in becoming the Prime Minister of the muslim populous country after marrying a murshad from his native Punjab. Let him have some time with his new expeience, RHR’s critique is valid but did not consider the grace period the former cricketer deservs.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • RHR

    Hi Rex
    What are you smoking nowadays?Recommend

  • Khalid Latif

    I’m sure by now, Pakistanis understand the reason for the current economic crisis. Heavy loans had been acquired and unnecessary huge projects were undertaken.The result, enormous subsidies are required to run those projects. This is in billions and a continuing liability. Similarly, most profit generating organisations are in loss and heavy debts. Consequently the govt has to manage the debt servicing. The the country is on the verge of bankruptcy. The govt is struggling to recover, but it will take time. Pakistan takes pride in its spirit of sacrifice during grave crisis. There is desperate need of the media’s help to make Pakistanis realise that we are going through a difficult period. While the govt is doing all that is needed, the people should be patient and allow their leaders to do what they are doing. Govt efforts are on track and, Insha Alla, it will be able to fulfill its promises. It will take time.Recommend

  • Yousaf Haque

    Well said and a sensible comment on the causes of putting Pakistan in current economic quagmire by previous corrupt governmentsRecommend

  • Danish Anwer

    This is by far the worst government ever. It is working for its own agenda against the public.

    Gas prices increased, petrol prices increased despite record low international benchmark prices, car tax increased, poor peoples’s shops razed in Karachi Saddar area,….

    The corrupt PML and PPP was better than this PTI government from the northern regions… who had ravaged our subcontinent and the indigenous people for far too long.

    Mark my words PTI will lose the next election if it continues in this trajectory. By the looks of things, it’s possible that the Government may face a public backlash and does not complete full term.Recommend