After 22 years of sustained luctation, Imran Khan reached the Everest of Pakistan’s political mountain. He will take oath as Prime Minister on 11 August. The story of his 22-year-long struggle in politics will no doubt be written in many books on the history of Pakistan’s democracy.
The debonair cricket captain has risen to lead a country of more than 200 million people. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its leadership understood the mechanics of Pakistan’s politics and became the close ally and protege of its Establishment (Army and ISI) at a time when they (Establishment) were livid with Nawaz Sharif and his Government for various reasons.
Winning the cricket World Cup, building two cancer hospitals in Lahore and Peshawar and a prestigious university (NAMAL) in his home district of Mianwali in Punjab had made people of Pakistan think positively about him.
Ever since Khan started his political career, he has been animatedly reminding the Pakistani people of his numerous accomplishments. His first notable political success came when he won 34 seats in the National Assembly in the 2013 elections.
It is perspicacious that in the controversial and allegedly rigged elections of 25 July, the Establishment supported PTI. There are reports of prodigious rigging on polling day and the delay in the announcement of the results was never investigated. The polling agents of mainly the PML (N) and some other smaller parties were extruded from thousands of polling booths till the counting was over.
Initially the opposition parties gave a call for a boycott of Parliament but have now settled on using the forum to fight their battles. Derailing the system was an option, because of the strong reservations over the fairness of the polls but the all-powerful Establishment discreetly forced them to be mellifluous.
Imran Khan and his government at the Centre and in provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and with Baluchistan Awami Party in Baluchistan. would require more than populist rhetoric to move forward.
The challenges are grave, and difficult for any administration to deal with, perhaps more so for a minority government that is dependent on a coalition of disparate groups and a leader with no prior experience of government.
The new administration will be constrained by the worsening state of the economy. Pakistan’s current account deficit stands at $14 billion, over 5 per cent of the GDP, while its foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to $9.1 billion, enough to cover only two months of imports.
This has, once again, created a situation where Pakistan has to rely on foreign loans to give it breathing space, and the solution seems to be the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The economy needs increase and diversification of Pakistan’s exports, while cutting down on unnecessary imports.
Delivering on his promise of a ‘Naya Pakistan’ will be a test for him and his team. The PTI has ruled the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for a full five-year term, but it is a completely different ball game running the central government and the country’s biggest province of Punjab.
The party had given an ambitious plan for its first 100 days in office, which includes turning around the economy, expanding job opportunities, dealing with the housing problem and carrying out structural reforms.
Civilian institutions are in a state of utter shambles. The crisis of governance is much more serious than it appears to be. The Establishment-backed judiciary and NAB (National Accountability Bureau) have usurped the powers of executive and paralysed it completely.
It is not certain how his party would be able to deliver on promises made during elections. Imran Khan says he would gather a team of technocrats to help the government. This may be a good idea, but these experts cannot deliver without an effective administration in place.
In his best-seller, ‘Capital in the Twenty First Century’, renowned economist Thomas Piketty demonstrates how the general tendency of capitalism is to exacerbate class differences and accentuate inequality, a trend that is clearly discernible in the incredible wealth gap in Pakistan.
The situation is further complicated with the ‘youth bulge’ – the increasing number of young people entering an already stretched labour market. This young population does not find adequate avenues of employment, particularly since in the age of increased automation, the phenomenon of jobless growth is all pervasive.
It is clear to every observer of Pakistan’s political history that after Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s murder on 16 October 1951, the only strong Prime Minister Pakistan had was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. After the fall of Dacca, the Establishment played second fiddle to him and that also for four/five years.
Once they got a chance to corner Bhutto, they encouraged stupendous opposition agitation against him and ultimately removed him from power on 5 July 1977 in a bloodless coup. He was hanged on 4 April 1979 after a vexed nay tendentious judicial trial.
Nawaz Sharif tried to pursue his own geo-political agenda – resisted the sanction of a huge Defence Budget; tried to change the anti-India narrative and showed independent decision-making in foreign policy – but failed. He was removed from power and put in jail by the Establishment, using the pliable Judiciary. Thus, he became a victim of confrontation with the Establishment.
If not wisely tackled, the administration becomes non performing and as Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben said “politics melts into the management of a permanent disorder”.
Then politicians and bureaucracy just pass time without making seminal changes or in any way showing sagacity in decisions and ameliorating the nagging and obnoxious problems faced by the populace at large for survival. Whether Imran really has that prudence is contentious.
Politicians in colonial societies generally have a somewhat common idiosyncrasy – they raise the expectations of people during elections and when in power they underperform brashly and give implausible justifications. Good speeches have never, on their own, given positive results. If the horse is lame, the jockey can’t help it win the race.
The Establishment is not likely to allow Imran much space in foreign, defence and nuclear policies. Imran would not prove to be a strong Prime Minister especially when the Establishment’s iron fist over state machinery remains.
One does not see a strong leader emerging even in the near future, one who could get out of the perennial control of the non-elected, de facto rulers of the Establishment. Imran will be no exception.
The writer is an IAS officer of the Punjab Cadre and is working as Secretary to Government of Punjab.