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Great expectations




I am using this title from Charles Dickens’ book. While I don’t claim to be anything like him, this title describes the feelings that many Pakistanis and I had when Imran Khan came to power. We all expected a lot from him. I know he’s human, but he made some inexplicable mistakes. The high expectations are still there, but they have taken a step back.

Take, for example, the way he treated his Minister of Finance, Hafeez Sheikh. Khan was fortunate to have him on his team and he is one of the few in politics who really knows about public finance and macroeconomics. He took over an almost dead economy and brought it back to some kind of life against all odds. What does he get for his pain? He was humiliated by his boss, namely an Imran Khan. Knowing that Imran is not a stupid man, why did he let this happen? After losing the Senate elections, which looks a lot like a loss by design, Hafeez has honorably tendered his resignation to the prime minister. The Prime Minister met with him and insisted that he stay. Hafeez agreed and the conventional wisdom was that Imran would create a vacant Senate position from which Hafeez would win a by-election. His ministers came and said Hafeez was not going anywhere and he would remain finance minister. And then a few weeks later, Imran relieved him of his wallet. What’s wrong with this guy, Imran Khan? He says one thing and does another. He was never a man who would go out of his way to embarrass someone. So why did he do it?

My feeling is that we behave erratically when being told what to do, sometimes against better judgment. It’s just a feeling. I’m not telling Imran what to do and what not to do. When UAE founder Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was asked about the future of his country, he said: My father was on a camel, I’m in a Mercedes, my son is on a Land Rover and my grandson is going to be on a Land Rover, but my great grandson will be back riding a camel.

Why is that, he was asked? And his response is memorable, hard times create strong men. Strong men create easy times. Easy times create weak men. Weak men create difficult times. We all go through this. Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is the man who once said give me agriculture and I will give you civilization. There is a staggering amount of depth in this statement. But I say this only to persuade Imran to give even more importance to agriculture. We are losing our civilization and Imran should act before it is too late.

I ask Imran Khan: Was Hafeez Sheikh thrown under a bus by you? A few months earlier, Imran had appointed him finance minister so that he could do his job properly. And what happened soon after was inexplicable. It was incumbent on the prime ministers to protect Hafeez Sheikh and his economic team from political charlatans outside and especially within his party. Imran should know by now that he has snakes in his lodge. It is ironic that as captain of the Pakistani cricket team he fell hard on match fixers, but as prime minister he either closes his eyes or is completely oblivious.

Hafeez Sheikh wanted to run for senatorial elections in Sindh, but was forced to do so from Islamabad against a PPP candidate, a former prime minister. The PPP and Gilani moved heaven and earth to make sure he bought the loyalty of many senators, then Hafeez Sheikh lost. It was then that he did the honorable thing and resigned despite what luck he had in a system where there is no honor and in a country where there is no has no honor. Imran Khan refused to accept his resignation and told him it was absolutely necessary and must stay. It was necessary to renew the agreement of the Pakistans with the IMF to obtain the new tranche. Once he did that and the IMF money arrived, he was shown the door. His young minister, a boy unpolluted so far, has taken the lead. He now heads the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and the first thing he does at the first meeting he chairs is agree to open trade with India and start importing sugar and thread. This for a country that was once the region’s cotton king. Oh, what a fall my compatriots, a fall that should have been easily avoided. Shireen Mazari, the Minister of Human Rights, spoke out against this in Parliament. That’s when we knew there would be a mini-revolt in the cabinet. And that’s how it happened. When the issue was brought up to cabinet, it summarily dismissed it. Imran Khan ended up with an egg on his face. Hope it wasn’t an Indian egg. Imran Khan has said in the past that he is good at building teams (which remains moot) and that he will create a world-class team that wins games. We know America is doing its best to bring peace to South Asia and is trying to gradually improve Indo-Pakistan relations in areas like trade. They are using the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to convince Pakistan, India and others to proceed with gradual normalization. This is where Imran Khan could have been told he should open trade with India. But it’s sad that he accepted, although he vehemently denies it. Do not tell me that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia succeeded in convincing the new finance minister of Imrans to do this despicable act. He looks like a good boy so far and lets hope he stays good and learns from this misstep. These high expectations have therefore not abated. Now Imran Khan says he wants good people on his team, so why is he so infatuated with incredibly obnoxious people to be included in his cabinet.

I wish Hafeez Sheikh good luck. He is such a competent and integrity man that he cannot be aimless in life. He’ll be fine, God willing. I hope Imran is doing well, too, but he should try to bring Hafeez back into his circle as he will bring his team a much needed scarce commodity. That, my friends, is wisdom. ([email protected])

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