The 2018 elections are over. Controversies over what precisely took place will linger on for some time. The Election Commission of Pakistan’s posting of crucial data in the form of an image on its website, making it necessary for researchers to first convert this into readable files in order to conduct any kind of analyses, means it may take longer than usual to understand the mechanism of this election.
But perhaps all this is of limited significance. This is a precise replication of what has happened during previous elections, and really, this should be no cause for surprise. If the chief election commissioner really slept through most of the Election Day, as the CJP suggested, he perhaps did the most sensible thing of all.
However, we have in all but final formality a new prime minister. After a long wait, Imran Khan will lead his country towards his vision of what he calls ‘Naya Pakistan’. No matter what our political opinion may be, we can only pray that this new nation is created with the justice, egalitarianism, opportunity and hope that Khan speaks of. His equation of the country he wants with Jinnah’s Pakistan is in many ways desirable, given Jinnah’s focus on tolerance and readiness to accept the country as one which should embrace all people, not just Muslims.
However, Imran has already defended the blasphemy laws. He will need to read up a little more on Jinnah if he is to take inspiration from the man. We hope Imran can rediscover Jinnah’s vision and combine it with his own.
Certainly, as a politician, 65-year-old Imran Khan offers us a break from the leaders of the past. His success has broken up the strongly entrenched two-party system in Pakistan and brought in a new third force which many hail as the dynamic entity that has the capacity to inject new life into the country. Others, of course, are afraid of Imran’s Pakistan and what it may mean, given his various statements and the question of how willing he has been to embrace relations with the most right-wing, orthodox parties in the country. This we should fear.
At the same time, we must hope that the Imran Khan who emerges as the leader is the same man who with extraordinary devotion set up the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust Hospital and the Namal University in Mianwali, and who undoubtedly has a genuine desire to serve his people. Unlike each of the leaders we have seen in power over the last decades, Imran is also not corrupt in personal terms, though as he enters the devious world of politics he will need to watch out for those he associates with and those who are considered his closest aides.
The first task for Imran will be to set up a government that helps unify a divided country and build confidence in its ability to govern. It is absolutely essential that he succeeds in doing this. The impression that Imran has created in his years in the opposition is that he is too quick to make promises and then go back on his word. This is not a good impression for a leader of any country.
As cricket captain, Imran led with confidence and certainty. He needs to rediscover these abilities and put them ahead all else. There are some disturbing signs that in the far more complex field of politics, where scores of players battle it out rather than the 11 men present on a cricket field, Imran is struggling to some degree. The unpleasant battle for the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was not terribly encouraging. In the end, Mehmood Khan from Swat, the former sports minister, was granted the post. But given that Imran must establish for himself an unquestionable reputation as a man of principles and ethics, Mehmood Khan may not be the wisest choice. He was accused of embezzling money from his own ministry during the PTI government’s 2013-2018 tenure in KP.
Imran is also battling with various problems in finding the chief minister for Punjab, whereas in parliament he will, of course, face a strong opposition, with a number of experienced parties including the PML-N, PPP, ANP and others having formed a joint front against him. His political handling of the MQM-P with whom he has entered into an alliance could also make for some fascinating viewing. Even with only six seats in the centre, the MQM-P is not a force that can be ignored.
Imran has announced a number of austerity measures. Other prime ministers did the same. However, the measures really have limited meaning. Whether it is even possible for a sitting PM to live anywhere other than the Prime Minister House is questionable; security protocol and simply the demands of the office make this difficult.
Despite multiple promises, Imran has already not been able to chase away the elaborate security convoys that escort him wherever he visits. The rules of security are set in place for all top officials of the land. It is hard to do away with them altogether, and at any rate, patrolling the hundreds of kanals over which Imran’s own Bani Gala residence is spread may prove to be a bigger and more expensive security challenge than guarding the PM House.
When governments adopt dramatic austerity measures, they often do so with absolute commitment to their cause. Protocol for Indian leaders has always been far less extravagant than it has been for their Pakistani counterparts. This stems from a tradition left behind by Jawaharlal Nehru and has not changed entirely. In other places, residential palaces have indeed been turned into offices, with Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in the 1980s using even plush bathrooms as places of work. But such a dramatic change is unlikely and there is no guarantee that it will serve any definite purpose.
To save the country’s resources and to use them more widely requires a carefully planned economic policy, with cuts put in place on all the heads that take away giant slices of the budgetary pie. Without this, there is very little left to distribute among the people.
The almost comical ideas that are sometimes floated, such as handing over key sites of the country including Gwadar or the Khewra Salt Mines to foreign or domestic developers, do not sound very practical or respectful for the country’s heritage. Yes, a major change is needed, but the manner in which Imran and his government set about bringing it will determine how they go down in history. We must hope that Imran Khan can rediscover the very best within him and break away from the more unsavoury traits which come with political life.
If Imran can put his true self before the nation, discover precisely what his persona is and lead with courage, without intervention from others, he does have the potential to alter a great deal about the country and perhaps even create something new within it.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.