STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Pakistan just completed 73 years of existence. We have been through some good, bad and dreadful times. We learn from the past, live in the present and work for the future. There are multiple lessons we can draw on. Without getting bogged down in details we have lived through stalemates, vertical rise, crash landing and cruising in various eras. However it was the downward spiral that impacts us today.

How do we describe where we stand today? My friend Haider Mehdi recently wrote a series of eye opening articles detailing the “Elite Capture of Pakistan”. I enjoyed this hard hitting expose. Prime Minister Imran Khan in his interview with Kamran Khan also dwelt on “Elite Capture” in some detail.

What does it mean? It depicts all things evil in our society today where a few have captured the levers of economy and power. They use them for their own benefit to suck the blood of the masses. It causes suffering and hardships for the toiling classes. The rich get richer and poor fall deeper and deeper into the hole of poverty and deprivation.

This began in the nineties with the emergence of the two party system. PML(N) and PPP, both products of Martial Law. Bhutto was Ayub Khan’s bespoken son and Nawaz Sharif was the same to Zia Ul Haq. They and their offspring’s had an insatiable hunger for power grab and self enrichment. Interest of the country was a distant poor cousin only to be embraced when it was time to seek votes.

The poor were suckered in by their populist and fancy slogans spiced by a bunch of lies intertwined by masterful manipulation. Election results were so predictable. In 1996 another player joined the fray. PM Imran Khan launched PTI. I recollect that “Accountability” appeared for the first time in political discourse when my friend Hassan Nisar authored PTI launch program, challenging anarchy in the name of democracy.

Immediately after 1997 elections, street smart Nawaz Sharif realized the potency of this concept. He put it to use for his own interest. He created the Accountability Bureau headed by his friend to badger his opponents. President Musharaf retooled it and created National Accountability Bureau (NAB). After a glowing start it became a tool to coerce opponents.

With Musharaf’s departure, NAB was captured by the political elite. Lackeys were appointed to head it to create files on opponents as bargaining chips. During this charade PML(N) and PPP’s nemeses, PM Imran Khan kept gaining ground in small measures. He was consistent in his message; steadfast in his belief displaying a determination very rarely seen. While these political giants prepared their next generation to rule, PM IK just would not go away. He embodied a commitment to struggle against all odds. In our interactions during the worst periods for PTI when office rental was a challenge, I never saw him lose focus. Weak moments, if any, were very private.

Cricket gave him global fame but I believe its greatest gift was the ability to struggle, and never accept defeat. Finally Providence intervened. Pakistan’s Superior Judiciary showed a streak of independence rarely seen, a soldier’s soldier took command of the Army, NAB got a standup leader and PM IK’s message broke through to the masses in 2018. Greedy leaders were thrown out scurrying to hide their ill gotten wealth. PTI formed the Government.

Two years have passed. It feels like yesterday when PTI took office. Time does fly when you move from crisis to crisis. Governance was in the hand of pantomimes who danced to the tunes orchestrated from Jati Umra. It was a matter of survival of Pakistan.

PM IK started his innings with a hostile bureaucracy, institutions paralyzed, economy in tatters and deficits ballooning. His team was inexperienced wearing rosy glasses talking in terms of first 90 days. Reality was a rude shock. Lurking behind these immediate challenges was the biggest threat of them all. Gridlock created by “Elite Capture” was a chain link fencing controlling all the power bases and levers of economy.

Their political bosses were uprooted, yet the elite were deeply entrenched giving resistance at every corner within and outside the Government. I marvel PM IK’s ability to persevere. All public sector enterprises were hemorrhaging, energy sector was robbing us blind, and sugar and other cartels were on a looting spree. It took all this time to get a handle on this runaway train. Throw in the COVID debacle and you get the picture.

While managing these monsters, PM IK took his eye off the areas that could bring him some respite. He overlooked the tremendous reservoir of support he enjoyed amongst overseas Pakistanis. Dual nationality was portrayed as a curse by the elite because they felt threatened. It could be a blessing if handled right. I know many potential investors who banged their head and burnt their money leaving in frustration. Channels to streamline and bring in expertise and capital were handed over to an inexperienced Advisor.

PM IK spent two years to tame the wild stallion. He is now poised to implement the changes in the three years remaining in his term. I have serious doubts whether his machinery has the ability to deliver these reforms and implement them. I see Punjab as one of the weakest links. July economic numbers are encouraging and we must stay the course to change the direction of the country.

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