Prime Minister Imran Khan is a reality now. His rapid ascent from the political periphery to the PM’s office has left both his detractors and followers in a daze, as previously he seemed forever condemned to be the perennial angry young man of our politics with only some populist hard talk to show for.
However, time and circumstances have proved otherwise, as the traditional heavy weights of the Pakistani politics have been made to look like pygmies in front of his fiery onslaught.
Khan’s rise from a star cricketer, to celebrity philanthropist and now, finally, a successful politician is a public validation of what can be achieved through the dint of determination. However, his biggest aid in this entire process has been his follower’s romanticism with his perceived persona, to the extent that he has enjoyed a near cult-like status among his fan-base.
In recent history, no leader of any political party has been projected as the final messiah that Pakistan has been waiting for as has Khan been. He is the materialisation of all the qualities and virtues of an ideal leader in the eyes of his fan-base. With Khan assuming power, his fans believe Pakistan’s rise as an Asian tiger will be imminent. This is the height of expectancy from the premiership of a star cricketer.
For better or for worse, there are other more objective factors on which Imran Khan will be judged as he transitions from a mainstream opposition leader to the leader of the house for the next five years. His biggest contention against established parties was that they had a much centralised structure of decision-making, with the authority of issuing a final ruling resting with the head of the party or his close confidants only. It will be interesting to see how PM Imran delegates decision-making authority to members of his cabinet and parliament. If the recent past is anything to go by, he has much to improve in this regard personally as well.
Take the case of the nomination of the chief minister of Punjab. The PTI’s leaders were heard saying that Khan would make the decision of this coveted post himself, which indicates towards how centralised things within the PTI are at the moment.
The fight against corruption is the other main theme of Imran’s Naya Pakistan. During his prolonged campaign, he successfully linked good governance, or its lack thereof, with rampant corruption in Pakistan. While it is undisputed that most public offices suffer from allegations of committing graft, many analysts have raised doubts over whether poor governance can solely be linked to a single factor like corruption. So, Imran’s government is not only going to be put to test in controlling this social evil but, in effect, their hypothesis that controlling corruption will alleviate most of our governance problems will also undergo validation.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will also have to shun personalisation that was the hallmark of his political speeches and campaigns prior to Elections 2018. He will now have to don a new avatar, that of a sagacious and a patient leader who represents the will and aspirations of all the four provinces. Encouragingly, his first speech as prime minister-in-waiting was a contrast from Imran the candidate. It remains to be seen whether he can sustain this goodwill in more turbulent times because the demands of the highest office have weighed down many prime ministers before him. He will need all the faculties of sound judgement, active listening and diplomacy and, most importantly, the capacity to sift fact from fiction to aid him in his tenure.
Imran’s campaign also had a significant element of self-righteousness to it through which he was projected as the only principled and upright politician in a sea of unholy men. This was aided by a self-congratulatory attitude that left little room for introspection and course correction. His PR machine, which so aggressively pushed his agenda and served him well during the campaign period, can be a problem for him in the days to come if it is not backed with tangible performance. The lack of patience Pakistanis have been conditioned to accord to underperforming political leaders will sound the death knell for his party much before the next elections are held.
Imran will also be judged on the extent of independence he will be able to exert in matters of national security. In the PML-N’s tenure, its leadership was seen as an unwanted entity in important decision-making matters because of a significant trust deficit between the participating parties. This is a difficult balancing act that Imran is well-positioned to manage at the moment, but circumstances can change very quickly in our country. Also, the widely held public perception that he and his party are the blue-eyed boys in the current political spectrum will also have to be eschewed through their conduct and policies. This will be best achieved by maintaining a balance in running the affairs of the state.
The PTI under the leadership of Imran Khan craved an opportunity to give Pakistan a new direction. It is now uniquely positioned to deliver on its many promises and leave a lasting legacy. The incoming government will be aided with the fruits of CPEC projects in their tenure as well, and if the realisation that they can no longer hide behind the failures of others exists, the results will show. In the meantime, the greatest scrutiny will be of PM Imran who has the toughest ride ahead of him.
The writer is a professional services consultant based in Islamabad.