BILAL LAKHANI: Like the Pakistani batting order, the PTI is off to a tentative start in their first 100 days. Fortunately, the PTI hasn’t lost any early wickets in terms of coalition partners. For PTI supporters who were expecting miracles in the first 100 days, the government is a disappointment. For PTI skeptics, the government appears to be navigating the green titanic away from colliding with the iceberg, also known as the balance-of-payments crisis. On the economy, security and the tabdeeli space, the government has performed reasonably well, given it’s their first time in power and the state of the country they inherited. Nothing spectacular but nothing disastrous as well. The scandals — barring one — are storms in a teacup.
Let’s unpack the PTI’s performance on each vector, starting with the economy. By any objective measure, the PTI inherited an economy teetering on the edge of a foreign exchange crisis. Imran’s charm offensive in Saudi gave us enough blood money from the death of Jamal Khashoggi to keep us afloat in the immediate term. China remains a mystery, but it’s impressive that Asad Umar chose to play hard ball with the IMF and continues to negotiate versus folding. Yes, getting a loan isn’t exactly impressive but we barely ever negotiate hard. Good on the PTI for negotiating the best deal possible. Once we have this in the bag, we can focus on structural economic reform.
Now, let’s talk security. The biggest challenge was the TLP dharna. Imran’s speech that night was possibly his best moment in government. The walk of shame on the morning after did hurt but he who-must-not-be-named is in protective custody and the government has managed to de-escalate the situation without widespread bloodshed. This is a positive development. Imran is the only politician in the country who can assemble a coalition of liberals and mullahs on a common platform. This is critical to win in the battleground of ideas versus the extremists. Now that we have military gains in the war against terrorism, a political and ideological battle needs to be waged against extremism, which the PTI is better positioned to lead than any other political party.
On the tabdeeli space, it’s a battle between unrealistic promises and ground realities. The biggest change was expected to come from an independent police force and the PTI’s faux pas are casting a doubt with the appearance of political transfers being alive and well. But what impresses the most about the PTI is the responsiveness of the government to public pressure. For example, one viral picture of a homeless father and his children prompted temporary shelters for the homeless. A campaign by salaried people against FBR charges on late filing actually made the government take back the order. This shows a government working for the people and is real tabdeeli. Slow and unsteady, change is coming to Pakistan.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for liberal fascists like myself is the PTI’s take on corruption. I always thought corruption wasn’t as big an issue as it was made out to be and was a ruse to tilt civil-military relations in the right way. But given the news coming of corruption scandals and drivers with property worth billions of rupees abroad, the PTI is onto something. The anti-encroachment drive, for all its procedural flaws, will make shady businessmen think twice before acting illegally because the long arm of the law did swing into action finally.
President Arif Alvi is another bright spot, bringing a common man’s touch to an office that seemed ridiculously out of touch in the last president. Perhaps, the primary reason the PTI deserves a B+ is the change in tone and tenor at the top of the government. Imran Khan is a clean man and is using his megaphone well. The recent opening of the border for Sikh pilgrims was a real coup for both diplomacy and religious tolerance in the country. Nawaz Sharif could argue that jab mein karun tau character dheela ya Modi ka yaar but progress is progress. Imran Khan is showing that it is possible for the army and politicians to be on one page and it’s better for the country. The PTI deserves a B+ for their first 100 days and the only way to go from here is higher.
The author in April 2010, launched the first local edition of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) and named it The Express Tribune.
(The article originally appeared in The Express Tribune on December 3rd, 2018).