Khan’s strategy

March 31, 2023

The recent political manoeuvrings of Imran Khan have created an impression that he is a true Machiavellian. In his recent speech at a public gathering in Lahore, he again tried to convince his followers that he is a messiah who can resolve the problems that Pakistan has been facing for some years.

Interestingly, he has ignored the fact that it was his government’s sheer incompetence that led the country to this point. Before coming to power in 2018, he used to claim that he had the best minds who could address the country’s financial woes. He assured people that his team had studied all aspects of Pakistani society, including financial problems that according to him other parties were unable to resolve.

People expected that his stint in power would lead to economic development and prosperity. They reposed their trust in him hoping he would lift more than 60 million people out of poverty, improve health and education, besides providing decent housing to over 67 per cent of Pakistanis without adequate homes.

But the first six months of his government were focused on exposing the luxurious lifestyle of Nawaz Sharif and his ministers. Everyday his team would take journalists to the PM House, recording videos from the kitchen and the bathroom. These images were used to criticize the old ruling elite, creating an impression that the new rulers would adopt a simple lifestyle. A number of articles from the PM House were reportedly sold at throwaway prices to get people to believe that no luxury would be tolerated in ‘Riyasat-e-Madina’.

After this vigorous austerity drive, people expected that they would hit the heights of economic prosperity and their financial woes would be a thing of the past. But to their utter surprise, former finance minister Asad Umar appeared clueless about the economic problems being faced by the country. He neither came up with any economic plan that could tide over the financial crisis nor did he decide to seek help from the IMF.

Many experts now believe that this procrastination on the part of Asad Umar deepened the crisis and that this delay has pushed the country towards the current economic crisis. The sheer incompetence of the PTI’s economic team forced the self-proclaimed ‘most clean party’ to borrow the finance minister from the PPP – a party that does not enjoy a good reputation among PTI supporters.

But Hafeez Shaikh could not demonstrate any miracle either, and his tenure further deepened the crisis. Hammad Azhar and Shaukat Tarin also tried to steer the economy out of disorder but achieved nothing. This bad governance led to rising inflation, widening current account deficit and unbearable foreign and local debts.

It was not only the failed austerity drive that dented the reputation of the PTI; the mantra of incorruptibility also came under severe criticism. The dust of the austerity propaganda had barely settled when people started hearing about expensive helicopter trips from the PM House to Bani Gala.The then information minister Fawad Chaudhry asserted that one such trip cost less than Rs100. The Malam Jabba, Peshawar Metro and Ring Road corruption scandals flew in the face of Khan’s tall claims that his government was incorruptible. The Toshakhana proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

Khan now claims that everything was going great during his time in power. His team of ministers had an impeccable character and never indulged in any wrongdoing. He further says that the economy was growing at an impressive pace and had there not been a conspiracy against him, the country would have made startling strides in almost all walks of life.

Previously, analysts used to see Khan as a novice in politics who knew nothing about the complexities of this art, but it seems Khan has emerged as the most Machiavellian politician the country has ever had. He knows what his support base wants to hear. He uses religious connotations -- which have always been used by ring-wing parties like the JI, JUI-F, etc. But at the same time he also uses music and popular songs to appease the ultramodern elite. So, those who thought that Khan was bereft of political cleverness should revisit their opinion.

Khan has managed to create a political cult, mesmerizing his followers and party leaders in a way that they do not dare to question his contradictions. He may make tall claims of democracy all the while as Ijazul Haq and Omar Ayub are part of the party -- and yet no one in PTI circles raises an eyebrow.

Khan can defend the brutal regime of the Afghan Taliban who have created the largest prison on earth called Afghanistan besides depriving millions of girls of education, but no liberal leader of the PTI can summon enough courage to question the rationale of this defence. He can resort to victim blaming when it comes to sexual assault against women but no champion of human rights within the ranks of the PTI can dare to confront ‘Great Khan’.

Khan has cleverly discredited anyone who does not subscribe to his ideas.

Khan believes that by assembling tens of thousands, he can achieve all objectives. In propaganda warfare, he has left everyone behind. Although his party has not went through the level of crackdown faced by other parties -- the PPP during the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD); the PML-N after the October 1999 event; and the ANP, PTM, MQM, and Jeay Sindh and Baloch nationalists under various governments -- he has managed to create a storm over the perceived political victimization. The fact that he placed empty tear gas shells in front of the international media speaks volume about his ability to twist things in his favour.

From pseudo-nationalism to liberal democracy and from anti-India rants to the narrative of an American-backed conspiracy, he has been successful in employing all clever tactics that benefit his politics.

Now, he wants to pile pressure through mob gatherings and street power. He is setting a dangerous precedent because tomorrow every political party may resort to the same tactics, depriving the country of any political stability for years or possibly decades. A pro-people approach aimed at mitigating hardships of people is the only way to deal with this Machiavellian approach, but it seems that the government is in no hurry to do so.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: egalitarianism444gmail.com