PTI in role reversal

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M Ziauddin
It was quick. No dithering here. The oath taking over Prime Minister Imran Khan did not waste any time in naming a 15-member federal cabinet along with five advisorswith their portfolios. He has also named a new Attorney General. Not many surprises here. It is a fully representative federal cabinet and largely a blend of merit and experience but decidedly smelling like the one that the dictator- on- the- run, Musharraf had.
Now let the decisions come and come quick. We are running out of time on a multitude of fronts. And there are a multitude of ‘firsts’ that need to be attended in the first 100 days. Economy is and will remain for a long time to come on the top of the list of firsts of the new government with focus on lifting as many people as possible out of the poverty lineand as quickly as possible. The team to look after this portfolio is formidable—Asad Umar, Razak Dawood and Ishrat Hussain—but largely one that draws its inspiration from the outdated ‘Washington Consensus’concept of economic management.
The next challenge is on the foreign front. No doubt we have on our side an all-weather friend, China and during the recent days we have also inched closer to Russia. But we do need to be prepared to face further pressures from today’s sole super power of the world, the US. We are at the moment friendless in Washington.
Our relations with the US would also impact on our efforts to come out of the current crises on the economic front. Plus, it will also define our relations with Afghanistan where the US boots are firmly entrenched and as well with India which has very close strategic relations with Washington. Our relations with Iran as well as the global acceptability of $62 billion CPEC project would also depend on the kind of relationship we have with the US.

And who is going to look after this challenging portfolio? The tried and tested Shah Mahmood Quraishi—the man who had held the same portfolio when the USpassed the Kerry Lugar Bill—a not-too-GHQ-friendly US law.While still in office he had also seen Pakistan sheepishly hand over to the US, Raymond Davis—a non-diplomat ‘diplomat’who murdered two Pakistanis in broad daylight.
These two decidedly interconnected challenges—on the economic as well as on the foreign affairs fronts—demand that those who have been mandated, even if it is rigged mandate, to tackle them over the next five years are allowed, in the supreme national interest, to do their job without being constantly kept under attack by an opposition that is toointimidating.
It is so intimidating that it can successfully filibuster parliament permanently as Prime Minister Imran Khan -led coalition government has a thin majority of four votes in the National Assembly and the upper house is almost completely in the hands of the opposition.
With former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Safdar undergoing imprisonment the PMLN will continue to remain in a foul mood and would not let go any opportunity to keep the government under pressure.
However, the opposition, especially the PMLN, for the sake of democratic continuity needs to keep its protest/agitation within the bounds of parliamentary system of governance ensuring that the party with the mandate to rule the country for the next five years is allowed to function without any let or hindrance at least on the two fronts—economy and foreign affairs. In fact one would expect the two—the government and the opposition—to develop a bipartisan approach to these challenges.
It would surely take a lot of doing on the part of PTI to behave differently from the role that it had beenplaying in the immediate past and function as a responsible government in a democratic set up.
The fact of the matter is, the ruling party has remained in the opposition wilderness for almost 22 years. So, it would surely find it very difficult, if not impossible to behave out of its entrenched character. However, being in power, it has no choice but to take the entire nation, even those opposed to it, along in the supreme national interests and also to essentially protect and preserve the on- going democratic process.

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