THE PTI was clear. That one thing we knew in the absence of all other things. For 22 years, the party struggled to find traction for its clarity. The problem was the platform, not the agenda. The agenda, and its clarity, was the fuel that kept its engine running against all odds, and this clarity is what ultimately found takers in the shape of the middle-class voter.
That was the story till August 2018.
Since then, the famed clarity — that once sprinted along the party rhetoric — finds itself wading through a thick slush of harsh reality. In the last 32 months, the party has gone from the elation of victory to the wonderment of power to the burden of governance, to the acknowledgement of inexperience to the delusion of misplaced confidence to the realisation of ineptitude to the concern over the limitation of time to the genuine worry about the inability to achieve even a fraction of its promise. The clarity of 22 years is today enveloped in a haze of doubt.
What went wrong?
The answer to this one question could solve half the PTI’s problems. It is the one answer that the party has not found, or perhaps does not want to find for fear of not being able to carry its crushing burden. In its stead, another cabinet reshuffle would do.
What is governance, after all, other than the effective implementation of the greater vision?
In fact, it is through these habitual reshuffles that the quest for finding that elusive answer should begin. Ministers, as heads of their respective departments, are meant to use the state resources at their disposal to bring the clarity of their party’s political vision to fruition. What is governance, after all, other than the effective implementation of the greater vision, and agenda, of the party in power?
The PTI, one assumes, had a clarity of vision for fixing the economy and the story of this vision was to be told through the leadership at the finance ministry. As Prime Minister Imran Khan settled into the enormity of his office, the one appointment he did not have to mull over much was who to appoint as the finance minister. For years and years, the PTI leadership had been claiming it had the answers to the ailments of Pakistan’s economy, and therefore when Asad Umar took charge at Q Block everyone assumed that all he had to do was translate the clarity of his party’s economic vision into policy. A year later, he was shown the door. Was the vision wrong? What was wrong with the vision? Was there a vision? Or was Asad wrong? If so, was his appointment wrong?
Hafeez Shaikh was skydived into the arena. Since the PTI claimed it always knew how to fix the economy, all Shaikh was expected to do was to implement this vision more efficiently than Asad. Right? It was on the back of his performance that the PTI leadership kept saying over and over again that the economy was groaning back to life. If so, was it the original vision that was working? Or Shaikh’s implementation? Turns out, it was neither. When Shaikh was fired a few weeks back, no one knew the nature of the problem. Was the PTI vision failing? Had Shaikh failed to carry it out? If both Asad Umar and Hafeez Shaikh had failed to implement the vision, was there a remote chance there was something wrong with the vision? Or, God forbid, did the vision actually exist?
Then Hammad Azhar happened. Now Shaukat Tarin has happened. Tarin has no pretence of carrying on the PTI vision. He has, in fact, trashed whatever PTI has done on the economic front since the last 32 months. So has the PTI now buried its vision and is adopting the Tarin vision? If so, was the PTI vision — repeated ad nauseam over the years — flawed? Or was there, in fact, no vision?
Of course, the party had a vision for how to fix the energy sector. It was the clarity of PTI’s rhetoric that trashed the previous government’s energy policy and explained how it would fix this sector. Right? The vision had substance. The party leadership chose men to implement this vision. Omar Ayub came, and is gone now, Nadeem Babar happened, and un-happened, Shahzad Qasim was ushered in, and then ushered out, Tabish Gauhar joined, resigned and rejoined, and now Hammad Azhar has been brought in after doing the ministerial rounds — the long line of cooks in the energy kitchen just cannot get the broth ready. Why? Either some or all of them are incompetent, or their selection is not right or, God forbid, the PTI leadership had no clue how to fix the energy sector. But they had a vision, right? Right.
One thing the PTI really knew was how to communicate effectively. So when it came to the information ministry, there was no doubt that the vision of PTI would shine through. Had the leadership of the party not talked about transforming PTV into BBC etc? First Fawad Chaudhry came and we assumed he was implementing the clear PTI vision. When he was sent packing, it was assumed the problem was with him, not with the party vision. Then Dr Firdous happened, and was fired only be rehired. Then Shahbaz Gill materialised. Then Shibli Faraz was hired and later fired. Gen Asim Bajwa was selected and de-selected. Was the vision being burdened by the ineptitude of people? Naeem Bokhari was gifted to PTV and then parcelled out. Then Raoof Hasan was appointed while Fawad was reappointed. And the clarity of the vision? Right.
On and on goes the story of the cabinet’s game of musical chairs with each round promising a new dawn for the realisation of the PTI vision. Every time the answer given by the party leadership is the same: if someone does not perform, he will be packed off. But perform what? The implementation of the vision? Which vision? Whose vision?
Someone in PTI needs to carry the burden of this question.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.