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ARTICLE: Dark clouds are lowering over the horizon of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI)-led coalition government. Almost two years into its tenure, the 'promise' of this controversially ushered into power government is fading. This 'promise' was nothing more than the unreal expectations of the PTI and its supporters. Time has shown that the PTI does not have within its ranks a competent team to handle the country's affairs. That has led, on the one hand, to the overblown presence of non-elected persons in positions of power and responsibility, and on the other to the lid being lifted off the internal can of worms so far hidden from public view.

The trigger for these developments proved the departure of the Balochistan National Movement-Mengal (BNP-M) from the ruling coalition, citing the failure of the PTI government to live up to the terms of the six-point agreement regarding Balochistan's affairs. Hard on the heels of this development came Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry's revelations of the infighting and lack of unity between rival factions within the PTI. The unedifying picture that emerged as a result of these developments was that of a house divided.

BNP-M's demands centred round the issue of missing persons, implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, repatriationof Afghan refugees, fulfilling the promise of Balochistan's quota in federal jobs, etc. As BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal revealed in his speech in the National Assembly (NA) on the budget, during which he announced his party's departure from the coalition, 18 missing persons out of thousands were 'accounted for', while another 500 were forcibly disappeared in the last two years since the PTI came to power. The NAP has still to be implemented meaningfully, leaving Balochistan at the mercy not only of Taliban and their like terrorists, but also the revived death squads used against all dissident voices in the troubled province. After the BNP-M horse had bolted, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan attempted to shut the stable door by 'ordering' fulfilment of Balochistan's agreed sixpercent share in federal jobs. If ever there was a case of too little, too late, this was certainly it. The announcement of the jobs quota and attempts to woo the BNP-M back into the fold failed to leave any mark on the situation.

One likely effect whose results are already in evidence is that the other allied parties on which the precarious majority of the PTI-led coalition depends in the NA see an opportunity to press their long standing demands, putting even more pressure on the PTI to hold onto power.

The Fawad Chaudhry indiscretion laid bare the known conflict between the Asad Umar, Jahangir Khan Tareen and Shah Mahmood Qureshi factions inside PTI in lurid colour and detail. The issue resonated in the next federal cabinet meeting, where the PM had to intervene personally to calm down an agitated Faisal Vawda. During the meeting, reports revealed, Imran Khan put his entire team on notice that their government may not last more than six months unless its performance improved.

Clearly, the crisis was so serious that Imran Khan deigned to attend and address the budget session of the NA to deliver his usual homily of blaming the opposition for the ills of the country, praising his government's (non-existent) performance on all fronts, and once again suffering an alleged (and habitual) 'slip of the tongue' in calling Osama bin Laden a shaheed (martyr). The shocked response across the board to this last faux pas would only have surprised those unfamiliar with Imran Khan's long standing soft spot for the Taliban terrorists. It may be recalled that his pro-Taliban statements only ceased after the Army School Peshawar massacre of children and teachers when the military establishment had wrung all the civilian parties' acquiescence in the NAP (including the setting up of military courts, whose tenure has thankfully expired amidst reversing most if not all their convictions of persons accused of terrorism).

Having left the NA after delivering his 'lecture' and not waiting (as usual) to listen to the opposition, Imran Khan tried to close the PTI coalition ranks by throwing a dinner party on June 28, 2020 for the PTI and allies' MNAs to persuade them to pass the budget in the face of the opposition's joint rejection of the same. Significantly, some PTI MNAs, the BNP-M, Pakistan Awami Muslim League (PAML) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) did not attend. Imran Khan tried to paper over the growing cracks in the coalition by promising disgruntled allies that their issues would be addressed. Then he delivered the assurance to assembled company that the government was not going anywhere and would complete its term. Now this could be bravado or the result of some assurance by the powers-that-be.

The PTI government's track record of the last two years includes buckling under to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) terms for badly needed funds and credibility with international financial institutions (during which Asad Umar lost the Finance Ministry and the IMF brought in its 'own' technocrats to run the show). Despite this 'surrender', the economy was not thriving before the coronavirus pandemic knocked the bottom out it. The sugar and wheat mismanagement scandals have been followed by the mishandling of the petrol sector (see the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority - OGRA - report on this issue).

The Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has reported corruption and embezzlement in federal ministries during the first year in office of the PTI government. The latter's ingenious defence is that corruption has come down. The AGP report is an indicator (if not the tip of a huge iceberg) that the whole mantra of the PTI about corruption being the main cause of the country's travails is little else but misplaced (albeit politically convenient) concreteness. The anti-corruption drive cannot be confined to a handful of top opposition leaders, which has led to cries of a witch-hunt and political victimisation. Corruption is endemic to our system from the top to the base. 'Showpiece' and politically targeted zeal against the phenomenon is a red herring at best. That is not to deny that from at least General Ziaul Haq's day, public office has been reduced to a tool for private gain.

The last word has been had by the increasingly united opposition. They have unanimously rejected the budget (which may not prevent it scraping through), called Imran Khan a 'national liability' and demanded a fresh mandate (i.e. elections) before Imran Khan causes irreparable harm to the country.

The authors of this latest 'experiment' in controlled democracy must by now be scratching their heads what to do next. If they stick with their favoured incumbent, more debacles may be in store. If they decide a change is due, the yawning political abyss created by putting all their manipulative eggs in Imran Khan's basket looms. Perhaps the kindest advice to the ubiquitous establishment is to finally learn some lessons, desist from trying to run the country from behind the scenes through their 'window dressing' satraps, and allow the suffering people of Pakistan freely to choose their own destiny and their own leadership.

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Copyright Business Recorder, 2020