Thursday, April 11, 2019
By Zahid HussainTHE magic wand has not worked. The promise of change has turned into a nightmare. Still, there is no shortage of self-congratulations. The eight-month rule of the PTI has so far been a lesson in how to blunder through.
It is not just about incompetence and inexperience but also about the self-righteousness that has become the hallmark of the Khan government. The promise of instant good governance is far from being fulfilled; instead, chaos and paralysis have stalled even the regular functioning of the administration. The drift seems unstoppable. The performance of the government shows the limits of populism.
Imran Khan is now doing everything that he had criticised the previous governments for. He is launching the same kind of tax amnesty schemes that he had vehemently opposed in the past. He had labelled such schemes as ‘legalised corruption’. Has it now been declared kosher? For him, taking U-turns is a sign of leadership.
His so-called austerity drive has been flaunted by the PTI government in Punjab that has recently ordered a new fleet of 70 luxury cars for provincial ministers. The total cost of these new vehicles is certainly much higher than the money fetched by the auction of the Prime Minister House vehicles that he had declared were symbols of status quo that needed to be broken. A ‘humble’ background has not stopped his handpicked chief minister in Punjab from attempting to secure substantial benefits for his life after the high post.
The drift seems unstoppable. The performance of the government shows the limits of populism.
Once described as relatively better governed than the rest of Pakistan, the country’s biggest and most powerful province has now gone down the ladder. Multilateral and donor agencies find it much harder to deal with a provincial administration lacking leadership. Being under the constant scrutiny of the National Accountability Bureau, the bureaucracy is not willing to put its neck out and take responsibility for any decision that may land it in trouble.
It’s not much different in KP. The PTI government, which is serving its second term in the province, is implicated in a deplorable scandal involving the metro bus project that was launched in 2017. The cost of the project that is yet to be completed is nearly Rs70 billion. A recent report by an inspection team has revealed massive mismanagement of funds and other flaws in the project. To the anti-corruption crusaders, the scandal in their backyard does not seem to bother them very much. That also reinforces allegations of a politically driven accountability exercise against the opposition leaders.
With the induction of Ijaz Shah, the federal cabinet now looks more representative of the legacy of the Musharraf era. The former IB chief has certainly not been appointed on any political merit. The overwhelming presence of old faces in the cabinet raises questions about Khan’s promise to break with the status quo and introduce a new generation of leaders.
While in opposition, Khan had vowed to bring aboard talented technocrats from among Pakistani expatriates, but after the Atif Mian episode, no one is willing to come here. Given people like Shah and his ilk in government, professionals would hardly be motivated to come forward to serve the country. The PTI is no different from any other status quo party, though it may be less tainted.
Nothing quite puts into perspective the la-la land in which the Khan government operates than the latest claim by the finance minister that the economy is out of “intensive care” and on the path to recovery. “The crisis is over,” Asad Umar declared before his departure to Washington for the final rounds of talks with the IMF for a bailout package.
This wildly optimistic declaration came as inflation approached double digits, the rupee plunged to a record low against the dollar, and the stock market appeared in a state of free fall. Revenue collection has shown a record shortfall of more than Rs300 billion in the last nine months. And the economic growth rate is likely to decelerate to 3.4 per cent this financial year, and further down to 2.7pc next year, according to a World Bank report. Given this state of affairs, the economy is certainly not out of the woods as the finance minister has indicated.Part of the problem may be attributed to the ‘pain of stabilisation’, but it is mostly to do with the voodoo economics practised by the government and the state of uncertainty that has been fuelled by its inaction. Domestic investment remains low for that reason. There are few signs of any reforms being undertaken or incentive being provided by the government that could spur investment.
Massive cuts in the development budget have also been a cause of slow economic growth. A high inflation rate combined with low economic growth could lead to stagflation with dire consequences. Surely, the borrowing from friendly countries has helped avoid default on the repayment of foreign loans, but it is short-term relief as new debts continue to accumulate. The current account deficit will remain a major problem, despite the finance minister’s claim of plugging the gap. Pakistan’s external debt has crossed $100bn and is predicted to grow further.
More worrisome is the worsening unemployment problem because of the sluggish economy and high population growth rate. The PTI’s promise to create five million new jobs seems far-fetched in this situation. Yet Faisal Vawda, the federal minister minister for water resources, has announced that there will be such a spurt of employment opportunities in the next couple of weeks that there will be more jobs than people needing them.
He might have been inspired by his prime minister’s statement that Pakistan was on the verge of discovering huge reserves of oil and gas that may change the fate of the country by making it a part of oil-exporting nations. The minister who is fond of riding motorbikes and maintains a collection of expensive sports cars is ironically a part of the ‘crazy crew’ in the la-la land that the PTI operates in.
Saba Karim Khan
When I was in seventh grade in Pakistan, a classmate tapped my best friend’s shoulder and remarked: “Nice bra”. We were 12, and accustomed to friendships with boys. But youthful idealism meant less tolerance for unsolicited sexual innuendo. We marched to the headteacher’s office ready to change the world, only to be asked to repeat verbatim, several times, the words that had been spoken.
“These things happen in co-education,” we were told. The headteacher downsized our trauma, reducing our complaint to a cheap, inflated scandal. The boy escaped without punishment and the message was clear: girls, pick your battles.
Two decades later, when the #MeToo movement gained global appeal, I recalled those words. Did we make a mistake by not escalating it further? Did our school fail us by trivialising the issue and not acting? Would things have played out differently if the headteacher wasn’t male? Should we have told our families? Would I advise my daughters to act differently today?
I now realise that a 12-year-old complimenting my friend’s lingerie was symptomatic of something insidious: the taboo surrounding sexual harassment and the muting of women’s voices in Pakistan. Due to the fear of “log kia kahein gay” (what will people say), women suffer silently and are conditioned to normalise harassment.
When they do protest they are further abused and threatened, as was the case following the women’s day marches last month.
Harassment in Pakistan isn’t a tragedy reserved for the jahil (illiterate), although they are particularly vulnerable. We need an all-encompassing movement.
Over the years, I have become increasingly aware of how institutions are complicit in the silence that surrounds harassment. Schools, governments, families, religious leaders – all perpetuate the belief that sons are more valuable than daughters. While Muslim scholars prescribe non-marital intimacy as “haram”, families avoid having conversations about sex with their children. And then there are the parents who believe that hushing up and speedily marrying-off daughters who are victims is the only solution. The result? Sexual harassment becomes a way of life and those who speak up are labelled “troublemakers”.
Pakistan requires its own exposé for this to change. But is #MeToo the answer? We seem to be torn between two possible choices.
The first would be to clone the top-down #MeToo playbook from western counterparts and apply it to cliques – mostly elitist circles. But what happens to those who don’t understand this feminist rhetoric? What about those facing daily abuse, who often believe that they are the property of men and that they are justifiably abused?
By replicating a movement developed in a vastly different context, we end up neglecting those most susceptible to harassment. Such a movement is unlikely to achieve scale and generate grassroots impact.The second future we can choose is to strengthen the momentum of #MeToo and use it as a springboard to spark a more inclusive, organic movement, mindful of local settings and nuances. A movement that reaches the lowest rungs of society can offer a voice to those who most desperately need one. How would this happen? By implementing sex education programmes in government schools, and investing resources to train both sexes about what constitutes harassment and consent, and how important it is to speak up, in a language they understand. Only when men work alongside women do we stand a chance of diminishing taboos surrounding shame and honour, and generating a movement from within.
If we successfully adapt the #MeToo spirit to our own surroundings, the victory in developed countries can go beyond speaking up – it can provide a toolkit that ensures when an individual says “No”, their response must be accepted and respected. Only then can we hope for a different future in Pakistan, one of courage rather than fear.