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Old Sunday, January 24, 2021
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Default Misplaced anger at poor show

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan must have been filled with envy watching the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, given the former has publicly and repeatedly stated he fancies the US presidential system.

Mr Khan has told media interviewers how he is hamstrung by the rules that mandate he has to give a certain number of cabinet positions to elected members of parliament when he would clearly prefer to name experts to run the various ministries like the US president.

After emerging victorious in the November election, Joe Biden started to receive briefings on issues, ranging from the most immediate Covid threat, to a pandemic-hit economy, to immigration, defence, healthcare and other areas his administration would need to take immediate decisions on.

This too might have evoked envy. The prime minister said the US presidents get so much time to prepare (two and a half months between election and inauguration) and are fully briefed across issues when they assume power.

By contrast, Khan conceded, he was uninformed about key policy areas when he took office and was still struggling and learning after two and a half years — half of his term — at the helm. Is he suggesting this has had an impact on his governance?

Perhaps, he misses the elbow room, the informed decision-making that enabled him to lead his team to the 1992 Cricket World Cup win in what he said was “the twilight of my career”.

He had the freedom then to win the biggest prize in the cricketing world because he knew the game intricately, handpicked his team for the tournament; inspired his players with his ‘cornered tiger’ analogy when it looked like they may crash out of the tournament in the group stage.

His pep talk worked and after losing their first four out of five group matches, they won three in a row to edge past Australia into the semis. Their second win against giant slayers New Zealand in the semis after the group match, propelled them into the final. The rest is history.

The Pakistan team had his leadership and personal performance. But he also had the cricketing counsel of Javed Miandad by his side and he had ace performers like Inzamamul Haq and Waseem Akram and others such as Mushtaq Ahmad, Rameez Raja and Moin Khan delivering at key moments.

Pakistan still has his leadership but is waiting to see his performance. Whereas those he handpicked in 1992 delivered, in government his proudest picks were Asad Umar, Murad Saeed, Faisal Vawda and ‘Jaan Allah ko deni hai’ Shehryar Afridi (the list is not exhaustive by any means) among the elected ministers. Shibli Faraz was added to this list later.

Then there are nearly a dozen Musharraf-era ministers most of whom also have turned in zero performance against their names this time too. In fact, some have cost us dearly like Aviation Minister Sarwar Khan who has rightly earned the sobriquet ‘PIA’s executioner’. Mr Khan’s love-hate relationship with Musharraf and his era is baffling to say the least.

In any case, these were elected members of parliament and the prime minister had no choice but to include a certain number in his cabinet as required by the Constitution. But have those he had the freedom to induct from the outside done any better?

After all Shahbaz Gill, Usman Dar, Nadeem Babar, Raoof Hasan, Moeed Yusuf, Shahzad Akbar and many others who make up his army of advisers and special assistants have delivered nothing, though some may justify their existence by citing their daily TV appearances or pointless pieces in the media.

It is ironic that the prime minister often cites his 18 years of mostly playing cricket in England as a great learning experience of how democracy and the media works in the UK. But in terms of his political grooming, it seems, the Westminster-style democracy has played no part.

When a party is elected to office, after having spent time on the opposition benches, its leader takes over as prime minister seamlessly as he/she has shadowed the previous prime minister and questioned government policies in the Commons on a daily basis.

This questioning of the policies is done in an informed manner as all parties and leaders have their policy units constantly looking at government policy, developing alternatives where warranted and briefing the leader. Key members of the opposition in parliament form the ‘shadow cabinet’.

Each cabinet member is ‘shadowed’ by a designated member of the opposition party in parliament and they have their own advisers, special assistants even policy unit specific to their department or ministry. They prepare for government themselves while challenging the incumbents.

Almost without fail, the prime minister, the cabinet as well as the opposition leader and the shadow cabinet appear daily in parliament. Those in power are challenged with facts and display fortitude and good humour even when facing the harshest criticism.

The point being made is that from a distance the US presidency may look all-powerful and almost bereft of any oversight which an ‘honest and sincere’ occupant of the White House can put to great use to cleanse society of all evil and deliver a just, egalitarian system. The reality is different.

Even as the US president has immense executive powers, the incumbent has the Congress breathing down his neck at all times and has to engage with its members. Even the apparently autocratic and whimsical Trump had to. The media is not far when the president and/or a member of the administration falters in delivery or in conduct.

Autocracy can only replace democracy; never be in sync with it. Given our experience of ‘technocrats or experts’ in cabinets in unrepresentative dispensations, it is clear that expertise is pointless if it does not have what it takes to make the lives of the shirtless better.

It takes integrity, a huge amount of homework, a good team and your heart in the right place to be able to deliver. Self-righteous indignation and invective are a very poor alternative.

Abbas Nasir

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021
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