Over half his term in office, the early tendencies of Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf seem to solidify into traits that increasingly characterize his peculiar decision-making style. At times this has put the leadership in an embarrassing situation, while at other times the government has obliged the government to reverse a situation that is difficult to explain.
U-turn on decision
Recent developments have demonstrated the first such tendency – announcing decisions without sufficient thought or consultation and then reversing them. A case in point is the statement by the newly appointed finance minister that Pakistan would continue trade with India by importing cotton and sugar.
The decision was apparently approved by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as the holder of the trading portfolio. This is also indicated by the leaked cabinet summary signed by him. In less than 24 hours the decision was made repealed by Imran Khan’s cabinet.
It was followed by a reiteration of Pakistan’s position that trade with India was impossible until Delhi rescinded its actions on August 5, 2019 in Kashmir. Apparently, the reaction after the initial announcement as well as opposition in the cabinet forced the government to step down.
What this episode reveals is a style of governance in which important decisions are taken without prior thought, consultation or assessment of the implications and whether they are consistent with previously stated positions. In this case, there are very broad foreign policy implications which are ignored as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan is clearly not consulted at any stage.
This is not the first time a decision with foreign policy consequences has been taken without adequate thinking and institutional advice. A well-known previous example was when the government announced the Prime Minister of Pakistan would attend a summit that was co-hosted by Malaysia with the later Turkey go back in response to strong Saudi objections. As widely noted at the time this episode entails foreign policy costs. In the statements made about various other matters, the loopback becomes more general.
Approach the turnstile
A second habit that has developed into a trait is the frequent switching of ministers and senior officials with a revolving door approach to team members. Decision to remove Hafeez Sheikh and replacing him with Hammad Azhar would mean appointing the third finance minister in years.
Despite the inappropriate manner in which this was done – a hallmark of this government – just two weeks earlier, the Sheikh had been asked by the PM to stay when he offered to resign after his defeat in Senate elections.
The PM has consistently praised his own government’s economic policies as well as the Sheikh’s performance – until public criticism escalates over rising prices. This suggests that the Shaykh may have been made the scapegoat for defusing such criticism.
This is just the latest example of the government’s tendency to change ministers and high-ranking officials frequently. The current interior minister is the third person to be appointed. The new chairman of the Federal Revenue Council is the fifth to be appointed while the Investment Council has four different chairs during the administration of this government.
This approach has been reflected in clearer terms in Pakistani Punjab. Provincial chief ministers constantly change officials. In the middle, the interior secretary has been replaced five times and the trade secretary is the fourth person to serve under this administration.
The frequent bureaucratic changes signaled a bizarre way of government and often reflected an immediate reaction to the critics of the day. The occasional changing of finance ministers and top economic officials may also be a reflection of the vain search for quick solutions to annoying problems that require policy continuity and patience to resolve.
Pakistani insider Tehreek-e-Insaf says Imran Khan’s views on the top team members have a lot to do with who is listening and what he might whisper about him.
The third aspect of government is increasing distrust of institutions even though its leaders often claim to strengthen institutions. This is reflected in the manner of the ministers lashed out at the Pakistani Election Commission after Daska’s February by-election and losing Islamabad’s seat in the Senate. The PM himself made the election body the target of criticism.
The government may follow the established tradition of political leaders attacking institutions when they are not playing football, but that does not minimize the importance of its behavior in this regard.
Meanwhile, the electoral body reminds the government that it is a constitutional and independent body acting in accordance with the law and “if the constitutional institutions continue to be ridiculed like this, it is tantamount to their weakness (the government) and not the KPU. from Pakistan ”.
Another example of the same phenomenon is recent deletions from the chairman of the Higher Education Commission. The position of permanent chairman is four years, while the incumbent only serves two years. The government reduced the duration to two years under a regulation to force the chairman to leave overnight.
Once again, it shows indifference towards an institution, even then in the field of education. There is widespread criticism of this attack on the autonomy of the Higher Education Commission. It also sparked a strong rebuke from the philanthropists, entrepreneurs and the spirit of the respected driving force behind the creation of the Higher Education Commission, Syed Babar Ali, who in his letter to the minister, wrote that education should not be destroyed in this way and that the Higher Education Commission must be destroyed. “Protected from such intrigue”.
Reliance on publicity
The fourth characteristic of government is that it treats publicity and projections as substitutes for policy. The PM’s constant meetings with his media spokesperson are one indication. Another is the daily press by spokesperson that has little substance to convey other than hyperbolic claims about government performance.
This underscores the leadership’s reliance on rhetoric to show it is regulating effectively rather than letting policy measures speak for themselves. When exaggerated narratives clash with a lack of policy delivery, it is the credibility of the government that is damaged.
These characteristics are detrimental to the Tehreek-e-Insaf government of Pakistan in facing the country’s various challenges. His ability to seriously cope with them depends on the degree to which he can break these often self-created adversity habits.
This article first appeared on Dawn.