August Issue 2014

By | Opinion | Published 10 years ago


I find this query posed by Newsline fascinating because at some point in our lives every Pakistani Talal, Daud and Harris has been asked this question.

And anecdotally, from my own experience, I’ve gleaned that the answer is usually some form of hyper-fascism that would involve the murder of the Pakistani elite and political classes, or a desire for one or other ‘ism,’ more often than not Islamism or Shariaism, with a negligible minority asking for socialism or secularism.

Ten years ago, when I was less aware of my ignorance and more confident because of that, I too would probably have answered something in the nature of an amalgam of the above.

Ten years later, the past is another country. So here goes — my views in the here and now.

If I were Prime Minister of Pakistan, I would imagine myself to be the Nawaz Sharif of current days. While I know what the foremost needs are for Pakistan’s long-term future — the three Es: energy, education and economy — my focus would be exclusively short-term.

Why? Because there is every effort to delegitimise the current government and that threatens democracy in the country. When the state apparatus has been used to brutal and cruel excess, as it was in Lahore against Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) members, it delegitimises itself.

I’d visit Imran Khan. Keep knocking on his door if he didn’t answer. I’d give in to some of his demands.  I’d open constituencies for recounting and be okay with the seats lost if it came to it. Having given in, I’d then make arrangements for his Azadi March in D Chowk, but way before it starts, I would announce my own electoral reforms, which incorporate what the PTI demands, but expand on it substantively.

I’d call a meeting with all my advisors and ministers. They would have a daily briefing of talking points so they are on one page when it comes to the media. I would ensure that Geo remains on air and make efforts to ensure the campaign of intimidation against the delivery of their newspapers is stopped. But I wouldn’t fight to keep their channel number on cable.

And keeping realpolitik in mind, I’d make some concessions to the army.

My government would disallow the sale of air time on TV for questionable advertisements, but my Minister of Information would launch a campaign of true Public Relations, rather than use official funds on ineffective advertising campaigns with no persuasive power.

Most importantly, I would ask the people of this country to allow me to share with them my 180-day plan, one day at a time. This would dominate the news agenda. The people need to feel they are being led — not just fighting fires.

I’d let Musharraf go, give him the opportunity to visit his ailing mother and return to self-imposed exile.

I would take ownership of the IDPs — there is a growing humanitarian crisis in Pakistan and it requires a Herculean effort to win the hearts and minds of the victims of homelessness and hardship.

What I would really like to do as Prime Minister, is to ‘retire’ Chaudhry Nisar from the Ministry of Interior, but would wait to do so till I could find a way to save face for him and give him another slot.

These are, of course, unimaginative and purely tactical priorities. But in wanting to be a Prime Minister intent on getting things done, I have to recognise that not much can really be done at this stage.  Currently, progress can only really be measured by how far we can stop the internal haemorrhaging. The puncture wounds are, unfortunately, deep and wide.

Governments need to inspire confidence, and confidence comes from a feeling of stability. Running a government in absentia certainly doesn’t engender any such sentiments in the public. So, the one thing I wouldn’t do is take off to Saudi Arabia for a 10-day sojourn.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2014 issue.