Sumera B Reshi Hope
“Power will intoxicate the best hearts, as wine the strongest heads. No man is wise enough, nor good enough to be trusted with unlimited power”.
This time the equation is different. The stage is set for Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician. Khan who is in his mid-60 has been on the stump for two decades. Over the past few decades, the political landscape has gone through drastic changes.
From Trump’sAmerica to Modi’s India, anti-establishment & anti-status quo politics are trending across the globe, and Pakistan is no exception, argues Shairee Malhotra, Associate Researcher at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels.
At present, Sharif dynasty is at the verge of decline as Nawaz Sharif and his de facto heirs apparent, Maryum Nawaz was disqualified in 2017 and are out of way, therefore, the track is clear for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and its head, Imran Khan.
Undoubtedly, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) remains a strong contestant, especially in Punjab province yet PTI has emerged as a strong and sturdy challenge for PML –N and especially Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has lost the sheen that late Benazir used to hold and which her 10 per cent is unable to regain. Nawaz Sharif has lost the trust of the people due to his corrupt practices and his snow-white daughter, Maryum is trying to fill in the gaps but with least success, thus in such a scenario, Khan is the only towering figure which has emerged immaculate till date.
Now the results even have depicted the rise of Khan who is all set to take the charge of Pakistan, one of the world’s most troubled, resilient and strategically important nations.
For Khan, his journey from a cricketer to politics was neither easy nor rosy. He has come a long way to become a robust politician. Khan has worked hard to make PTI the strongest opponent to the PML-N.
As per Khan, PTI is a podium to launch anti-corruption and his pledge is to create a “New Pakistan” based on good governance, political accountability and access to health care, jobs and education.
His mission has resonated well with the masses- especially under 25 crowd who are disheartened and dissatisfied with the system and successive democratic regimes. This young crowd represents more than half of country’s population and they have pinned hopes in Khan.
Throughout his political career, his rhetoric has remained remarkably consistent, anti-America and anti-corruption and a positive change is his slogan which has helped him attract huge crowds. It was Khan’s persistent appeal that led to the questioning of Sharif’s family over Panama papers and insisted him to declare the source of his disproportionate assets overseas.
Khan’s efforts activated National Accountability Institute (NAI) which ultimately led to the ouster of Nawaz Sharif.
The determination and his new perspective for Pakistan pulled large crowds towards Imran Khan, thus the mainstream media begins to compare Pakistani politicians to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Khan drew over 70,000 people to a rally in Lahore in 2011.
Since then, the party has become darling of the masses. The similarity drawn by the media is meant to highlight Khan’s populist appeal and ability to mobilize the masses at a grassroots level.
However, there are the people who believe that Imran Khan’s rise is due to the fact that he wants to recreate Pakistan, get it rid of corruption and foreign debt, minimize the dependence on the US and make Pakistan self-reliant. Also, there are the people who negate the claim and rather associate Khan’s rise with the army. At present, Khan is the darling of the army and Pakistan’s secret agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Maryam Nawaz, the daughter and political heir apparent of the ousted prime minister, goes as far as calling Khan a “stooge” and “pawn” of the military and its intelligence agencies.
On the other hand, Khan has no misgivings about working with the army.
“I think a democratic government rules from moral authority,” Khan said in an interview at a party office in Lahore. “And if you don’t have moral authority, then those who have the physical authority assert themselves. In my opinion, it is the Pakistan army and not an enemy army. I will carry the army with me.”
Hasan Askari Rizvi, an analyst based in Lahore, said Khan’s political stock has risen as his relationship with the military has gotten closer.
“Imran has realized that if you want to run Pakistan, you have to work with the military because of the internal and external challenges,” Rizvi said. “By fighting with the military, you cannot run the state.”
“This time Khan is not alone, we should take him more seriously,” said Zaigham Khan, a political analyst and newspaper columnist in Pakistan.
Further, many opine until the honeymoon is healthy, PTI is healthy. Once the relations sour between these triangular elements, PTI will retrograde into its nascent stage or become insignificant, helpless and isolated like Sharif.
Sharif for sure has irked the army and ISI, thus in order to erode the vote bank of PML-N, the army has aligned itself with Khan stealthily. This theory has further alienated PML-N and the army. Sharif hasn’t forgotten the old scars. He still remembers the 1999 bloodless coup spearheaded by Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, therefore, he has called for increased accountability for army generals and defense expenditure.
Khan despite being the cynosure of all eyes and the army’s favourite, his appeal isn’t surprising. Back in 90’s, he is best known as the captain who brought the Cricket World Cup to Pakistan in 1992. People also appreciate his humanitarian instincts. He founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center in 1994. Khan doesn’t have any political legacy as nor is he a landlord; rather he is a self-made person with a dream of New Pakistan.
Every politician boasts about eliminating corruption and malpractices from the society but Khan promised to take Pakistan out from corruption within 90 days and his commitment to eradicating corruption within a set time frame makes him unique. Neither his playboy cricket hero image nor his Kameez Shalwar style won him accolades, but his public stance against the US foreign policy and what he describes as Washington’s interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs makes him stand out of crowd.
Persistently, Khan has criticized drone strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt and has argued that Pakistan’s association with the US is the main reason why Pakistan is now facing a Taliban insurgency.
Verbally, he has done something which even Gen. Musharraf failed to do and Sharif declined to act. Over the period of two decades, Khan has aced the art of sensing the pulse of the masses. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a conglomeration of religious parties, in 2002, was able to form the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) by campaigning against the US use of force in Afghanistan. Khan, a la MMA, has played well with anti-Americanism to won the sympathies of the masses.
Khan fought hard. From his ‘New Pakistan’ to ‘Go Nawaz Go’ yells, now the PTI is at ease as Nawaz has gone into jail. The credit for Nawaz’s collapse certainly goes to Khan’s ‘agitation and litigation’ politics. The moment, Khan kick-started his political ambitions, he has remained at the forefront of opposing Sharif and his corrupt practices.
His USP, thus far, has been popular street protests, sit-ins and court petitions against Sharif along with the latter’s friction with the army. This equation provided an unstable political environment from the very beginning of Khan’s tenure as an alternate of PPP & PML-N. Not only was this in Khan’s favor but he was also instrumental during the 2008 Lawyers Movement that required Musharraf to reinstate democracy. However, till date, Khan’s biggest success has been in ousting Sharif from power and grilling him behind the bars.
In addition, Khan has also managed to rally against the system and fight against the traditional power order. Nonetheless, Khan’s true success will be if he can actually bring about a significant change in a country with several centres of power (the army, intelligence agencies and the feudal system) and their entrenched interests.
Back in 2013 when Khan came in power in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), he promised to revolutionize the province through better education, healthcare, and police within 90 days, in which corruption and terrorism would be eliminated. But analysts say five years on KPK is hardly the model province Khan promised to create. To be fair, it is a troubled province with an unfavorable security situation due to its proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions. Yet, instead of attempts to counter-narratives of extremism, the introduction of conservative ideas in the education curriculum to accommodate allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami party has taken place (although the socially conservative party has recently parted ways with the PTI-led government there).
On the contrary, Sharif through the National Action Plan (NAP) and Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad have helped to improve the security situation within the country. Even with respect to the issue of corruption, which Khan has harped on most throughout his campaign, activists in the region are disappointed with the behaviour of PTI officials.
Khan is believed to be darling of the Pakistani establishment (the army and its allied departments), however, political pundits predict that his independent and erratic nature might unease the establishment. Hussain Haqqani calls him “too mercurial and unpredictable for the establishment”.
Ace media persons and experts claim that Khan can meet the same fate as Sharif since once upon a time; Sharif was also propelled to power by the army. Since the creation of Pakistan, its politics has revealed that favourites of the army can just as easily become enemies and bear its brunt.
In Pakistan winning an election and completing the tenure without being murdered, deposed by a coup or dismissed by the judiciary backed by the army are two different things.
To stay safe and in power, there is a need for strong army backing in Pakistan and the road to power echelons for Khan is not an easy task. Khan has to tug a line of the army and maintain the historical civil-military equation intact, else risk a fate like Sharif if he attempts to reform anything without the consent of Pakistan’s strongest and most influential institution, the army.
Surely, Khan’s ideas for New Pakistan are quite abstract, he doesn’t explain how he can get Pakistan rid of foreign debt and minimize Pakistan dependence on the US but his charisma is such that he is able to connect to the masses with television, the Internet, and above all cell phone text messages.
Khan is appealing to the masses directly. He is the only major politician speaking stirringly of national greatness, rhetoric particularly attractive to a younger generation that has grown up amid the country’s apparent decline.
His critics denounce him as a fornicator who has never moved on from his playboy past. According to Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses, has warned he is a “dictator in waiting”. But he is no westernized darling.
In his rallies, Khan kept promising to “bring the China model to Pakistan” to fight poverty. Thus, Khan’s overall plan is as: First “a sovereign foreign policy”. Second, “an Islamic welfare state”. Third, “the China model”.
However, his close aides admit the boss is not great at this. “He’s not a strategy guy, says Asad Umar, vice-president of Khan’s party. “He has never been in an institution, and doesn’t know how to work in an institutional setting.”
As the stage is set for Khan to take over the reins of troubled country, future will determine whether Imran Khan will be constant in his central ideas, beliefs and his mission for Pakistan like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey or prove another Sharif.
Let us hope he truly recreates Pakistan, and take it out of chaos and rewrite a history akin to its Qaid Mr Jinnah had dreamt of.