100 shades of tabdeeli

Well, Imran Khan has completed 100 days in office. Actually the PTI has done so, and it is perhaps inevitable that there should be much hoopla about this, because the PTI had not just issued a manifesto before the election for the entire five-year term, but also a manifesto for its first 100 days. The first 100 days of an administration were first given significance by publicists for US President Franklin Roosevelt back in 1933, who tried to show the measures he had taken to counter the economic crisis he had promised to solve.

Imran has also faced a crisis ever since he took over, that of the balance of payments drain. However, he had not campaigned on this. Roosevelt had campaigned on the Great Depression, and had succeeded thus in limiting his Republican opponent, incumbent Herbert Hoover, to just one term. Roosevelt’s presidential actions were good enough not just to win him re-election, but unprecedented third and fourth terms. Also, the 100-day standard was set up, not just for subsequent US Presidents, but for elected leaders of other countries. Roosevelt’s electoral success would also make him an example Imran might cherish. Roosevelt ignored what was then a constitutional convention to run in 1940 for a third term, because of World War II, which the USA had not yet entered, and it was only a constitutional amendment after he died that placed the present two-term limit on US Presidents. Imran on the other hand faces no limits.

His recent address on the completion of his 100 days in office, Imran indirectly paid his respects to Roosevelt by his promise to give rural women a chicken, so that they would use the eggs to produce more chickens, and so on ad infinitum, and thus raise themselves out of poverty. That was a reminder of the ‘chicken in every pot, car in every backyard’ slogan of the 1928 Hoover campaign that Roosevelt mocked so effectively in the 1932 campaign.

However, Imran might look to the original Hundred Days, because they were made famous by another hero of his, Napoleon. He mentioned Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow as justifying U-turns, though he did not mention that the result of that U-turn was defeat and the loss of power. Napoleon was sent into exile on the island of Elba, but he escaped and returned to France, where he took power again, but only for 100 Days, which ended in a final defeat, at Waterloo, in July 1815. Going by that example, the fact that Imran still holds office is an indication of success. However, Napoleon had initially taken over in 1799 and lasted till 1814 in his first stint, another example that Imran might wish to emulate.

Imran won power on his stance about corruption. The thesis was that corruption did not extend to individuals, but pervaded the entire system. The cement of the system was corruption and its proceeds. Corruption was not just morally reprehensible, but led to flawed decisions, because the basis of decision-making was not the public weal, but perpetuating corruption. If the system was to be rectified, then an honest leadership had to be given power, and this would lead to the end of corruption, and thus to better decision-making, which would lead to public welfare.

This might be reasonable, but it also meant that Imran’s first 100 days should have involved a fight against corruption. That was not visible. Indeed, the enlargement on bail of Mian Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law, created a poor impression. The arrest of Mian Shehbaz Sharif improved matters, as did the questioning being faced by PPP leaders Asif Zardari, Mrs Faryal Talpur and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, but the refusal of the PTI government to hold any civil servants responsible for any corruption, except as accomplices of political leaders, did nothing for the government’s anti-corruption credentials.

Another problem the government has is that a thorough campaign against corruption should have seen a lot of legislation. The PTI could ram through a legislative programme despite lacking a Senate majority, by using the mechanisms of ordinances and joint sessions, but its failure to do so raises the suspicion that it lacks a serious legislative programme.

The first 100 days saw three major scandals afflicting the PTI. First up was Babar Awan, initially a PM’s Adviser, who had to resign when he came under NAB investigation for misdeeds allegedly committed when he was in the PPP and was a legal adviser to the Water and Power Ministry during the 2008-2013 government. While the PTI could not be held responsible for what he had done then, the accusation against Science and Technology Minister Azam Swati directly implicated Imran, for Swati allegedly complained to Imran about the IGP Islamabad after the latter did not take his call over a dispute with neighbours. And Imran had the IGP transferred post-haste. Finally, there was the relief given to Aleema Khan, the Prime Minister’s sister, when she was allowed to pay a penalty in a tax matter instead of being imprisoned.

Then there have been the struggles with religion. The Tehrik Labaik Pakistan has taken to the streets on the Asia Bibi issue, and there were some rumblings against the military, whose creature it was supposed to be. Immediately after completing 100 days, Imran went to Narowal district to inaugurate the Kartarpur corridor. Luckily for him, no one made any mention of the Sikhashahi period, which became a byword for misgovernance and disorder, especially in comparison with his first 100 days. There has been mention that the corridor will enable Pakistani Ahmadis travel to Qadian. The PTI had experienced direct trouble when it appointed an Ahmadi to the Council of Economic Advisors., and was lucky it had got his resignation when the Asia Bibi protests started. From that point of view, Kartarpur was a risk.

The day before, on Day 100, he finally went to North Waziristan, an ex-FATA district of KPK. The PTI government cannot really take credit for FATA’s inclusion, not after the heavy lifting was done by the previous government. Another area where the PTI seems to be hanging back is in the creation of a new South Punjab province. That the new province will not only take the present Punjab Chief Minister with it, but that the rump Punjab will probably have a PML(N) government, may have something to do with it.

However, what has happened in the first 100 days is that the PTI has now started to ask for more time. It almost seems that the PTI is following in the footsteps of its predecessors, and the change it promised will not take place. Worrisome for the PTI is that its standard excuse of blaming the PML(N) and the PPP for the woes of the present is wearing out. The PPP has been around since 1968, the PML(N)’s founder Mian Nawaz Sharif became Punjab CM in 1985. The problem seems that the kind of change the PTI offers seems to be one of face, not of system.

At least the PTI has made people wish for out-of-the-box solutions. Those solutions might be sought in a swing to the right, which will also be a lurch to the left. If that happens, the PTI might well find itself swept away with the other parties. If the first 100 days have set the stage for reform, if supporters are to be believed; according to its critics, they have also shown the hollowness of its slogans.

The reasons for the military supporting it might be its obedience, but the reason why it has mass support is that it was supposed to solve people’s problems. That it is not showing it will do. The first 100 days thus remind observers of the 1968 official celebrations of the ‘Decade of Progress’ just months before its presiding figure, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, was about to leave office in disgrace. That happened when the military ruled directly. Now that it is ruling through a surrogate, results are not much better, half a century on.


The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.