Prime Minister Imran Khan’s disclosure that till three months into power, his government had no idea of the country’s economic situation has triggered a major debate. Opposition parties, which are seeking his ouster, cashed in on his “admission” of failing to deliver on his promises while economists find it difficult to accept this reasoning.
True that it was the first time for the PTI to form government at the Centre; and unlike the PPP and PML-N, Imran Khan’s party did not have a prior experience of running the country. However, Imran is not new to Pakistani politics. He has been around for over two decades, sitting on opposition benches for two terms. Besides, his party has been ruling Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province since 2013.
Through his statements before coming into power, Imran had promised the nation that he already had a team of competent individuals in place, with a plan to implement. One of Pakistan’s leading economists Dr Hafeez Pasha is also surprised by the PM’s statement that his government was not given a proper briefing on the economic situation of the country when it took charge in August 2018. Pasha says that he and other leading economists had given him presentations, offering different options to deal with the economic challenges. But somehow, according to Pasha, that process of consultations discontinued after some initial enthusiasm expressed by the government.
A major factor that compounded the government’s problems was disagreement over the issue of going to the IMF between two groups within the part — one led by Jahangir Tareen and the other by Asad Umar. Caretaker finance minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar had left a roadmap for the incoming government, outlining two options — one seeking to deal with the twin deficit problem without an IMF bailout programme and the other suggesting a solution with the assistance of international financial institutions. But the government took no interest in it.
Apart from the many challenges facing the PTI at the time of taking charge, it also had many advantages that elected governments have rarely enjoyed. One clear edge that the PTI had over the PPP and PML-N was that the security situation had improved significantly when it took charge in August 2018. When the PPP came to power in 2008, Pakistan was in the midst of serious security problems. Terrorist attacks were wreaking havoc, and attracting investment and seeking economic growth was an uphill task. The situation was no different when PML-N took over in 2013.
The PTI also enjoyed unflinching support from all state institutions from day one. Even the media had been advised to focus on ‘positive reporting’ in the first few months of the PTI government. On top of it, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar announced financial bailout packages for the PTI government. This was unprecedented as no previous government had been given such financial assistance at the start of its tenure.
The argument that the PTI was a first timer also holds no ground. Imran may have become the PM for the first time, but many of his cabinet ministers were not new to the job. Out of 27 federal ministers, at least 15 served in previous governments, having ample experience running the administration. The key ministries including finance, economic, foreign affairs, food and agriculture, interior etc are being led by experienced hands. However, the PTI government failed to capitalise on the mentioned advantages and favourable circumstances, and is now coming up with excuses. The government has almost completed half of its five-year term. Can it deliver on its promises in its remaining term? At least it has lost the initiative it enjoyed at the start.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2020.