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Rethinking the ‘U-Turn’

by Newsweek Pakistan

Aamir Qureshi—AFP

The difference between reassessment and backtracking

Hoping to defuse criticism from political opponents, Prime Minister Imran Khan has attempted to defend his administration’s various about-faces on policy decisions by claiming to journalists that a leader who “does not know how to take U-turns is not successful.”

During a media interaction at Prime Minister’s House, Khan cited Germany’s Adolf Hitler and France’s Napoleon Bonaparte as examples of leaders who had “suffered huge defeats” because they had refused to change tactics. “Leaders should always be ready to take U-turns,” he added.

Unsurprisingly, Khan’s statement prompted scorn on social media, with detractors questioning any leader who lacked the conviction to stick by principled positions. Supporters, meanwhile, claimed Khan had misspoken and was referring to political “flexibility” and not “U-Turns.” They raise a valid point.

There is no harm in reassessing one’s words and actions in light of new information as and when it becomes available. However, it is one thing to ‘reassess’ and another entirely to ‘backtrack.’ A ‘reassessment’ requires taking stock and finding alternative routes to achieve desired results; a U-turn, meanwhile, refers to abandoning a position wholesale to appease opposition.

The PTI, during its first three months in power, has repeatedly veered toward backtracking. From appointing and then ousting Atif Mian from an Economic Advisory Council over his Ahmaddiya faith to using a helicopter for personal travel, Khan has betrayed many of the vows promised during his campaign. This is, unfortunately, a harsh lesson in realpolitik. Rather than defending the indefensible, Khan would be better served by examining all available information before announcing policies that he cannot deliver on. That might require a bit more effort, but reflects a “true leader” far more than making policy out of U-turns.

From our Nov. 24 – Dec. 8, 2018 issue

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