While the government’s decision to seek a bailout from the IMF appears unrelated to the imbroglio over the IGP Punjab and the consequent resignation of Nasir Durrani as head of the Punjab Police Reforms Commission, both are failures of governance which have violated commitments made by the Prime Minister personally, and thus should set off alarm bells ringing about the quality of governance that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is providing. Of pressing concern is that the areas involved are not peripheral, but central to the main appeal of the party. The PTI came to reform the system, but both events seem to show that it was either just a cynical political force that used the ‘tabdeeli’ slogan merely to get into power, or that it is being corrupted by the realities of power, and is ending up as part of the power structure.

At the heart of both incidents is the desire for the impossible. If the police is allowed to work untrammelled, if it is not to be subject to political control, then what is the fun of being in government? This is especially true if one has come out of the cold, and come out of opposition into office; because then one has seen the business end of the police, and the use that can be made of it. It should not be forgotten that the Punjab government had always made use unashamedly of the police as a means of control. The PTI may want the reform of the police so that it enforces the law, but its MNAs and MPAs want the police on their side, allowing them to commit whatever infringements of the law they consider needed to maintain their position, and allowing them not just to deny this to their opponents, but to have those opponents enmeshed in trouble with the police.

Now the police is supposed to enforce the law, the writ of the state, but not of individual politicians, especially not when they wish to break the law themselves, or to ensure that supporters can do so with impunity. If the police is made to enforce the writ of a politician, then they will demand a certain latitude. Even under the best of circumstances, police forces are notoriously corrupt and require constant vigilance. There is always more money to be made from corruption, and where the most valued quality is obedience, honesty may go out of the window. An officer who refuses to obey an order because it is illegal should be valued, but if on the other hand, it means a transfer ahead of time the force then adapts quickly.

Therefore, what was required was not possible. On the one hand, the PTI wanted a police force which would be professionally sound, but which would also be obedient. However, though new to the job, the IGP could not see his way to obeying the Prime Minister. A PM expects to be obeyed. It should be noted that the transfer of the IG means that the new IG has taken charge knowing full well what he is supposed to do: obey the PM. The resignation of Nasir Durrani is probably not just about this transfer but about the suspicion with which his task was viewed in Lahore.

While in KP, even before the PTI came to office, the police was careful not to throw its weight around within an armed populace, in Punjab, it was more accustomed to doing much as it pleased. Though the motives for going into the police were much the same, the desire to dominate was stronger in the Punjab police. The problem with withdrawing politicians’ impunity is not that the police would be disobedient, but that it would continue its behaviour (high-handedness reaching criminality at times) on its own account. There is a groundswell of resentment among the public about this, and this was an important part of the vote for the PTI. Failure to deliver on this may well please the MNAs and MPAs elected because of it, but it will harm their re-election chances as well.

The original reason for the Election Commission stopping the IGP’s transfer, the by-elections, saw the PTI losing some of the seats it had won in the general election, as well as the PML(N) retaining seats it had won then. That would traditionally be seen as a failure of the CM. Arguably, Punjab CM Usman Buzdar can argue that the police was not under his control, but just because he had a dispute with the IGP does not mean he could not be in touch with the DPOs. Indeed, his intervention in the episode of the PM’s wife’s prior husband and the DPO Pakpattan showed that he interacted with DPOs just as much as his predecessors.

There is a similar problem with the recourse to the IMF that the government has announced, with the formal application for a package worth about $15 billion duly filed. This is almost double the last package, obtained in 2013 by the Nawaz government, of $7.6 billion. That package was obtained to service debts, and this one is for the same reason. No government likes to go to the IMF, because its loan criteria are always quite severe, and do not allow the government much room to deliver much in terms of redistribution. The Imran government seems headed in the same direction.

It is worth noting that the PTI won much public appreciation for its anti-IMF rhetoric, which centred round the package obtained by the previous government. It is now doing the same thing, its only advantage being that its main opposition, the PML(N) and the PPP, have obtained IMF loans when they were in government. Again, the people who voted for the PTI might feel short-changed by this.

The problem is that the IMF is part of the Washington Consensus, and while one of its purposes is to keep the oils of world trade moving, another is that of ensuring obedience to US dictates. However, the IMF has probably never been as publicly blunt with Pakistan as this time. It has merely parroted the USA’s demand that the CPEC loans particularly be transparent. The USA-China rivalry shows no sign of letting up, as their trade war intensifies. The PTI government had not based its campaign on anti-CPEC rhetoric, but it had expressed reservations about it. The PTI’s military backers have strong links with the Chinese military, but the PTI has used the example of Malaysia, where Mahathir Mohammed is reviewing deals with China.

It is almost as if the PTI government wants to go back to the good old days of the 1960s, when aid was extended with the intent that it be siphoned off by the ruling elite, and while it went laughing all the way to the bank, the country would be mired in debt. China may be increasingly wealthy; it is not willing to shell out its money to the ruling elite. That apparently throws us back into the arms of the USA, which may not want us now that India is moving towards it. The world does not owe Pakistan a living, and the apparent wish that Pakistanis have, that they be allowed to consume from the rest of the world, without having to pay, is no economic policy.

The PTI came to office because people were tired of the old way of doing things, and wanted someone who thought out of the box. Now, it seems, the PTI may not meet that need. Imran may be using the Riasat-i-Madina trope not just to attract the religious vote, as to indicate that his PTI can think out-of-the-box. However, he (and his supposed backers) should watch out for the real thing to gain traction.

 

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