Steve Jobs was once asked “which of his creations made him most proud?” He didn’t name the iPhone or any other creation but instead pointed out that these were all “collaborative efforts”. The creation he was most proud of, he said, were the teams he had produced. Teamwork is a great essentiality for any project to be executed effectively and efficiently. Projects fail not because they were academically improperly conceived, but they mostly fail because of organisational issues and how the organisation is led.
Stephen B Johnson writes in his book published in 2003, The Secret of Apollo that “to put a man on the moon, the Apollo program would eventually employ 300,000 individuals working for 20,000 contractors and 200 universities in 80 countries at a cost of $19 billion”. Thousands of people working across the globe were managed and their work integrated for Americans to land the first man on the moon. How much effort does it take to manage our petroleum or sugar industries, our PIA and our Steel Mills? Fifty-one years after ‘man’s moon landing’ we can’t manage to land our poor workforce at the places of their work. Why? Because there is no fuel available in the market that runs the transport.
There is this general feeling amongst the masses now that the state and the nation has made very little progress than was expected under PM Imran Khan’s government and his leadership. Going by the established political and democratic norms a government that fails to fulfil its promises, protect the people’s rights and promote public good should not be tolerated, resisted and replaced with a new government.
That will be decided in 2023 and unless the overall governance doesn’t improve it seems that come that opportune moment, the people are too frustrated to give him another opportunity to rule.
There is little doubt that of late mismanagement and incompetence has stood out as two noticeable characteristics of this government.
The latest indicator of that is the poor handling of the petroleum import that led to shortage of petrol across the entire country. The very daily wagers whose poverty-stricken lives PM Imran wants to improve and those utilising personal and public transports to reach the workplaces were left stranded. The country came not to a complete standstill but did experience a partial halt. When will this end? As of today, nobody is certain. What is certain is that the “Prime Minister has taken his ‘usual notice’ of the shortage and he will take a strict action against the creators of this artificial shortage.” Has this not become a typical story of how PM Imran Khan’s government moves from one crisis to another? Are all these crises not of its own making? Can problems just suddenly explode? Someone definitely allows them to build up.
The PTI government and its ministers and a brigade of advisers seem very good at making ‘policy promises’ but when it comes to implementation of the policies, empirical evidence suggests that they lack the requisite strategies, operational awareness and competent, willing and professional teams to implement them. Resultantly, the PTI government’s popularity graph is going down by the day and a party that came to power promising revolutionary reforms is today stuck in a quagmire of poor governance.
On November 30, 2019, I wrote a piece in this paper titled “Olive Tree Planter”. I gave the example of Athens the largest city of Greece from where democracy originated in the 5th century BC and explained how the Athenians at that time were renowned for planting olive trees. Such trees were planted only by the people like the Athenians who were very optimistic about their future as an olive tree takes 30 years to grow and the planter himself never gets to eat the fruit of the tree that he plants.
I considered Imran Khan to be such a planter. A leader whose social, political and economic reforms seemed not be near-sighted and designed only to give short-term political gains but far-sighted, intended only to make Pakistan a democratic, welfare and impersonal state. But the last few months suggest that there is a problem that our ‘olive tree planter’ confronts. His “10 billion Tree Tsunami”, a five-year project to plant 10 billion trees across Pakistan from 2018 to 2023, reflects that problem.
Two years down the line I have no idea of how many trees have so far been planted but one thing is certain that planting trees is easy, it is their care, protection and nurturing which is a real challenge. And if they are as much as have been promised then promises alone will not grow them, it would require a dedicated team and a sound and viable implementation strategy. At the end of the day it wouldn’t matter to the people of how many trees Imran Khan promised to plant. People will only count and see those that grew, survived and are standing tall for all to see.
Political ideas are also like trees. Left to themselves and not properly raised and nurtured they also wither away with time. Paula Broadwell writes in her New York Times Bestseller book All In — The Education of General David Petraeus that Petraeus’ concept of four tasks of strategic leadership are: get the big ideas right; communicate them effectively; aggressively see their uniform implementation; and create a feedback loop to measure progress and refine the big ideas. The problem with PM Imran Khan and his government is not lack of ideas — the problem is lack of a competent, efficient and effective strategic team and unfortunately despite so many people telling him this, he is not ready to listen and agree.
I personally like the two outstanding political ideas of the PTI. For me they are built around the uncompromising core values of the party, the nucleus (hinge) around which the whole political ideology of the PTI party revolves and they are — dispensation of justice (on the model of Riyasat-e-Madina) and the war against corruption. These two ideas have over a period of time given hope to many people including me. This hope must not die down as our nation and state has been cheated, betrayed and deceived for a very long time by politics of mediocrity, corruption and immorality. Those that deserved dismissal and sacking made huge political and personal fortunes, leaving this country poor and backward. These ‘state deceivers’ take many shapes and forms and they are not only individuals but groups, organisations and institutions. Deception is the skilful art that they employ to run down PM Imran Khan’s core political ideas.
Imran Khan must stop shuffling the deck of his political cards. The aces and the kings and the queens in the deck of his political cards need to come together. In the end if Imran Khan fails, it will be because his aces, kings and queens failed to come together and perform like a team on his mission.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2020.