Time for Naya Pakistan to take a radical U-turn

Published: August 25, 2019


PHOTO: AFP The writer is recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

Here’s a fun thought experiment for the PTI: stop worrying about winning the next election. Instead, for a moment embrace the mindset shift to become a one-term party in power. Imagine the freedom and political space this creates to pursue your original ideological agenda to build Naya Pakistan, unapologetically.

It wasn’t the boys who-got-extended who established you into the beating heart of the political mainstream. It’s the boys who got garmi-mein-kharab (affected by the heat) for over a decade, believing in your radical vision for Naya Pakistan, who thrust you onto the political mainstream. I remember getting stuck in a PTI rally in Karachi in 2008; it was three rickshaws and a Toyota Corolla — a joke of a rally in the heyday of MQM. But look how far you’ve come riding on the backs of those rickshaw-walahs.

It’s time to go back to the original promise of Naya Pakistan — that electrifying rallying cry for justice in an unjust society, social welfare in a society that favours the rich, and investing in human beings versus gleaming infrastructure projects for the elites’ cars.

This was never just about breaking the monopoly of two families with a chokehold on Pakistan’s political power, but about doing something radical once you snatch that power from established interests. One year later, the rubber of your ambitious ideas is hitting the road of ground realities. It’s time to pause and take a step back.

Firstly, your performance isn’t as bad as your fear of it. For Exhibit A, let’s pick the subject you’re getting the most critique on, the economy. You’ve brought down the current account deficit by 73%, from over $2 billion in July 2018 to slightly above $500 million in 2019. This is a stunning endorsement of the economic reform process Asad Umar started. While your reforms are working, your narrative isn’t.

Your narrative is focused on blaming and making excuses. This is a political war crime because you actually have a positive vision for the future, which got you elected to begin with. Instead of repeating the broken record that the previous government left the economy in shambles (say it a few times then move on) or saying devaluation and structural adjustment is temporary, own the reform process! You’re doing the right thing — enabling Pakistan to stand on its own two feet by living within its means. It is painful but you will transform the country forever if you succeed.

You need to come out guns blazing every day, to do your best to pursue a radical reform agenda. Even if you lose, you go down fighting instead of playing on the defence and making compromises. You cannot cure the economy over night from a hangover of mismanagement over the last three decades. But you can introduce ideas on how you plan to transform society over time: police reform, social justice legislation, universal health insurance, lifting the quality of education, etc.

Stop apologising, stop explaining and stop fearing that you have been selected. I say this as one of the loudest supporters of the PTI, outside the party; apnay voters ko izzat dou (give respect to your voters). Fight for us the way you did during your election campaign and own the policy platforms we voted you in for. We didn’t elect you to make compromises. That’s what the PPP and the PML-N are for. That’s why we supported democracy despite their corruption. You will be forgiven for incompetence but you’ll never be forgiven for losing the ambition of your ideas once you came into power.

The first year in power, like the first year of marriage is the most difficult one as you’re trying to understand what you’ve gotten yourself into. But you’ve found your feet now. It’s time to go back to your roots and unapologetically pursue the ideological vision of Naya Pakistan. Ironically, it’s the only pathway to winning the next election!

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2019.

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