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December 28, 2018

2019: make us nicer

Opinion

December 28, 2018

Here is what I wrote a week before Imran Khan was sworn in: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes something out of it more for the sake of the common people who have reposed their faith in him for a better future. Nothing astounding or magical, just making this nation into a good, simple people who pay their taxes, follow the rules, are frugal and overall nice to each other. That is transformational from what this nation has become.”

And, “If he is able to put in place a good governance model which can achieve efficiency, honesty, a sense of duty among those in government and the rule of law, he will have set the direction right. Over a period of time, when practiced with regularity under constant correction by a morally correct leadership, it should become an attitudinal change. If we can cross this bridge, the going will be far easier.”

“The economy and the infrastructure and CPEC and the rest will all follow in due course as policies begin to take effect but attitudinal changes in the government among the wielders of power and in the society at large is where Imran can directly help shape (a new) society. With his example, he can make us into a better people.”

There are significant provisos in my submission and not all has been as promising as one had hoped. This has been at best a stop-start government. It might find direction in the coming days – thankfully, signs show that – keeping hope alive. Based on how the past few months have gone, the PTI government will still be grappling with four main themes that have fallen its way, or those which, through mere ineptness, have become its fait accompli as the new year dawns. These include: the ongoing cases of corruption against political big-wigs under whose tenures corruption became endemic, and who are now being asked to explain their rapid gains in personal wealth. That will keep the political scene contentious and fragmented. It will adversely impact the progress of policy and governance in the short term and slow delivery down.

Were the government to wilt under the pressure of a vehement opposition desperate to find some escape from the dragnet, and relent, it might give it a temporary respite but will dent its credibility immeasurably. This script against corruption though is already in play and there seems little chance that it will be disrupted; the momentum in the process and the scale of the plunder is so monumental. The FIA, NAB and the courts are attending to it and will do the needful per the laws of the land. That should absolve PM IK and his government from a daily recital of the proceedings. The reaction to it by the opposition is a political ploy; when the government too engages with them on this field, they are playing the opposition’s game, on their pitch. This is something the PTI will do well to avoid.

CPEC and the economy will be necessarily attended to by Messrs Asad Umar, Khusro Bakhtiar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi; it is their remit as indeed all related matters. PM IK is doing the right thing in periodically reviewing their work and proffering advice where needed but to be consumed by just these is wasting precious effort without adding value. The prime minister may thus find himself under-occupied. With a man of his drive, that will likely frustrate him into falling back to his favourite but populist theme against corruption, and resort to replaying his campaign sloganeering – an act his nemesis in the PML-N and the PPP would love to the core. What is legal and already being played out in the courts will unnecessarily become politicised and controversial, the ultimate escape plan for the two parties. The plunder then would have been conveniently shielded. He should avoid it like a plague.

Here is what he must do. Visit the provinces more often, and cities like Karachi, and ensure the completion and institution of local governments. This ensures that governance reaches the last man in the chain. Next, he must monitor the execution and implementation of policies and services at the grassroots level through these governments. These could come through visits for spot checks in various parts of the country as well as through repeated briefings by the ministers responsible for local bodies. The allocation of resource by the federal and provincial governments should match the basic needs of the towns and municipalities. Education, health and safe drinking water must take precedence over all else.

The allocations in education and health must be divided in a 60:40 ratio – 60 percent for the upkeep of existing facilities and 40 percent for newer developments of the more targeted needs of the local people whether in education or health. A young population will look to equip itself with education, vocational skills and health facilities, including sports, to turn them into healthy, useful and independently productive members of society. Rather than spending money on infrastructure and buildings, the money should be used to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in schools and colleges. Poverty alleviation too is an area where IK’s personal focus can make great strides. Rule of law and necessary changes to the existing police order in each province will mean a friendlier and more helpful police. That will ease the lives of the people.

Keeping our environments clean, friendly and hygienic, and making our surroundings greener, will mean a population gainfully employed in areas which can help bring attitudinal changes to a society. The prime minister must focus on these where he alone can bring about a metamorphosis so desperately needed to defeat hate, anger and venom – a currency finding greater appeal worldwide. The language of the current discourse in our politics is coarse and borders on being venomous. It is time to replace it with courtesy without compromising on the commitment to each party’s political ideals. The PM could make a difference by his example. If there is a new year resolution that 2019 should portend for the nation from the mantle of the PM, it has to be to make us into a far nicer people than what we have become.

There is no better time than now to buck this abysmal global trend towards hate and anger. There is still time for course correction. Making us into a politer, nicer, helpful, considerate, honest and law-abiding people is the change which a leader of IK’s calibre can make his great legacy. The Quaid turned us into a nation; he should turn us into a nicer nation. Everything else of the government and the statecraft is work which will happen anyway. IK can create a society which can be the Madinah model that he espouses. God knows that will change Pakistan. As 2019 beckons, that may be our only hope, and Imran Khan the one to ring it in.

Email: [email protected]

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