A question of performance – Kamila Hyat

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If there is anything people had expected from the PTI, at the time it was campaigning for the 2018 election and in the immediate aftermath of its victory, it was honesty, integrity, ethics, and fair play. This, after all, had been the main slogan used by the party throughout the 22 years since it was launched.

Imran Khan’s own reputation also revolved around these qualities, as a man who was honest and truly willing to serve his people. In this sense, there can be little doubt that Imran is almost certainly not corrupt, at least in the kind of sense we have seen amongst leaders in the immediate past. But then people are concerned about crises such as those involving atta, sugar, fuel, and other matters which leave some doubt over the question of precisely what honesty means and what it consists of.

But more damaging than this is the performance of the government and how it is managing affairs. While the actions of ministers leave many to wonder quite what they are thinking of, there must surely be a way around these problems. So far, the PTI government appears to have found very few or perhaps none at all. We currently have a situation where a consignment of vaccine is present in Karachi, but initially could not be distributed because the Drugs Regulatory Authority Pakistan (DRAP) had not set a selling price for it. Once this price was fixed and sent to the federal cabinet for approval, the private company which had imported the vaccine objected, stating the Russian vials had been sold to it at a higher cost than originally promised. This issue is now being investigated. Pakistan is one of the very few countries in the world compelling people to purchase the essential vaccine privately.

With what seems to be a consistent supply now coming in, there is the issue of why the government does not speed up its rollout so that more and more people can be protected against the Covid-19 virus, which is spreading rapidly in the country as the new, far more transmissible and possibly more lethal British variant hits many parts of the country. Already we have reports that for the first time the virus has also spread to smaller towns and villages, where people have less chance of receiving treatment. At any rate, they cannot really go to hospital, since most hospitals are packed to the brim and simply have no space for more patients. We wonder if this is the situation the government is willing to persist with and for how long. There has to be more urgent effort to stop the virus in its tracks, somewhat on the lines of what we have seen in India.

There are many other issues. The performance of the government falls far below what had been expected. There are numerous examples, ranging from police reform to other areas of life. But there is also the question of how the media is acting to perform its basic service of getting the news to the people. As that famous slogan goes, the duty of the media is to provide as much news as possible, as precisely as possible, as far as possible, all the time. Yet on television shows we see anchors inviting one government leader after the other to talk about the dealings of the government and how these are proceeding. Of course, to some degree, this is necessary. It is also true that due to a lack of resources at television channels the format of our shows has become one in which one political leader is pitched against a rival so that they can engage in a loud and vocal argument, leaving the audience entertained. In other words what should be news or more serious analysis of a situation has been turned into a form of entertainment.

What we need to see on television are the people. We need to hear about families where the main wage earner or earners have been jobless for months and where the Ehsaas Card has offered no real relief after all. It is these people found everywhere across the country, who matter most of all. They cannot be ignored.

More than the issue of how politics within the PDM is playing out is the question of how people are faring in their homes everywhere in Pakistan. We need to hear about how they are managing, or how they are failing to do so. The number of children at work has already increased according to what figures are available. People find that even if they can bring in a few hundred rupees a week, this can help the household stay on its feet and survive through what has been perhaps the most difficult period in our recent history. At a time like this we need the fate of these people to be highlighted, not only so that people can offer more charity given that many of them have already given what they can and more, but so that there is more pressure on the government to devise policies which can help people recover from their current situation.

Of course, it is true that a full recovery from the devastation of the Covid-19 virus will take time. This is true around the world. But we must begin planning for that now and also plan for a recovery from the other setbacks we have suffered over the past months. This includes unemployment, which began before the Covid-19 virus hit the country.

There is also the matter of putting together a cohesive foreign policy, with the first signs of this seen a few days ago. However, more consistency and more regular briefings on this policy are required so that we are able to persuade the world that Pakistan is a country which is looking for a way forward and not one which wants to fall back on mediaeval times.