PTI pro-people show rolls on

October 31, 2018

For over two decades, Imran Khan has fought against a sordid system of traditional politicians and sponsorship political networks. Yet this was the first time in the 2018 general elections that the PTI demonstrated a broad national appeal. Most remarkable was the PTI’s win in Karachi, a city of powerful street politics. The PTI snatched Punjab, the country’s bread basket and most populous province from the PML-N. That capped an extraordinary plunge for the Sharif brothers: Nawaz, once the lion of Punjab was in jail for sometime on corruption charges, and Shahbaz, Punjab’s former chief minister, is also facing trial. Over the economy there was no time to lose for the PTI government. It was not for the first time that an incumbent government faced a balance-of-payments crisis. The current-account deficit was widening and the currency was sliding. Pakistan imported three-quarters of all its energy needs. Yet foreign-exchange reserves were down to just $9bn, barely two months’ import cover. An IMF bailout package of conceivably $12bn looked all but inevitable, negotiating that one required skill. Pakistan was grateful to China which, through a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor promised $62bn of infrastructure spending. In reaction, America’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said that his country would block any IMF bailout package that profited China. The task of stitching a deal together will fell to Asad Umar, the finance minister. He was a good choice: the former head of Engro, the country’s biggest private conglomerate, M.r Umar was reform-minded and admired. The terms of an IMF deal could bring a populist party down to earth, but the Imran’s government worked out a solution. The next challenge was the electricity sector. To fix blackouts, he chalked out a plan. But a mesh of debts among state generators, energy suppliers and banks was exacerbated by theft from the grid. The government resolved this by reducing subsidies, raising energy taxes and recapitalizing state entities. Imran Khan was also grieved over institutional decay. Renewal started with fixing the electricity mess. Then was the security and foreign policy to be tackled. As the regional situation grew trickier, with rivalry between America and China on top of rocky relations with India, the festering sore of war-torn Afghanistan to the north-west, Imran Khan seemed well-suited for these challenges. He has chosen the middle path. Foreign visits by Imran Khan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and others paid dividend.  Health and education sectors fare well in his agenda. He has got a sense of dedication, detail and cooperation. He has learned to deal with corruption with a dogged strength, which he has in abundance. The PTI pro-people show rolls on.

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