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April 30, 2018

One Pakistan


April 30, 2018

The PTI has come up with a new, powerful slogan for the next elections – Do Nahi Aik Pakistan, Hum Sab Ka Naya Pakistan (Not two, one Pakistan – a new Pakistan that belongs to us all). Over the next few weeks and months, the party will elaborate what it really means by two Pakistans and how it intends to turn two Pakistans into one.

On the political front, the PTI badly needed a new narrative and the new slogan can help it change the topic. The PTI’s old narrative of a corrupt Pakistan vs a clean Imran Khan has run its course. It has claimed some important scalps, making Imran Khan the only declared prime ministerial candidate for 2018 elections. The narrative has gone back to the ‘official’ domain and it no more belongs to the PTI alone. In order to propagate this narrative further, the PTI has to constantly defend the state’s system of accountability and courts. That does not sound like a struggle against the status quo.

It is nothing short of a miracle that Imran Khan was able to infuse so much energy into a narrative that had started with Ayub Khan’s coup in 1958 and had been associated with three military dictators. The one-sidedness of the accountability process and the undermining of public representation never failed to create a backlash; and something similar is happening again. The political landscape has been dominated by Nawaz Sharif’s narrative of the dignity of the public mandate.

The corruption narrative is also reductionist and backward looking, presenting legalistic solutions to problems that are not legal in nature but have more to do with the economy, society, governance and the nature of the state. This narrative ascribes corruption as the main reason for everything that is wrong with the country.

According to the Corruption Perception Index prepared by Transparency International, Bangladesh is almost on the bottom of the heap of corrupt countries. It ranks 145 on a list of 176 countries. Pakistan is proudly 29 notches up and is placed at 116. What’s even better, Pakistan has improved its ranking sustainably during the last decade. In 2006, Pakistan was at 142 out of a list of 163 countries listed that year. Yet Bangladesh’s GDP is growing at a whopping 7.1 percent , creating jobs, throwing up a vibrant middle class and reducing poverty – things that will soon work against corruption in that country.

Contrary to the popular narrative, Pakistan’s economic development went down as it became less corrupt. The correlation here is not causation but it shows that the link between the two is not as clear cut as the party of angels would have us believe.

The PTI’s corruption narrative also presents a Sultan Rahi solution, one larger-than-life super-hero solving everything, just by being at the top. The lion leading an army of jackals conquering the army of lions led by a jackal, to quote Imran Khan. But jackals are jackals. The PTI has just evicted a full one-third of its parliamentary party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on charges of corruption. This episode in a way presents the full spectrum of corruption in the province or within the PTI.

The new forward-looking narrative is certainly the job of an excellent communication expert who understands the framing theory of communication that deals with political narratives. It also accompanies a new branding package. We know that the PTI is the first Pakistani party that relied on world class corporate branding for its political messaging. Imran Khan had already access to some of the top branding experts because of the Shaukat Khanum Hospital fund-raising campaigns. These campaigns cultivated Imran Khan, keeping him alive as a national celebrity in lean seasons and ultimately helping him in the political arena as well.

‘One Pakistan’ is a great narrative but it can be confusing. Pakistan is a country with many fault lines and the PTI stands on the wrong side of the many of these divisions. The fault line that the PTI wants to emphasise is economic. This is again a well-calculated move. Outside KP, the PTI’s appeal has remained confined to the urban educated middle class. In order to expand its appeal, the party must reach out to the poor. The poor have not been on the agenda of any political party and they have been depoliticised in the era of neoliberal economy.

The two Pakistans may be combined in a Bhai-Bhai spirit propagated by the Jamaat-e-Islami, the party with whom Imran Khan claims ideological affinity. Unfortunately, it does not work. The human mind works in binaries and narratology is the art of creating and playing at the binaries. The PTI will have to explain what the two Pakistans are. Which one is benefitting at the cost of the other and how can this imbalance be corrected?

Imran Khan has constantly ranted against a small three percent elite without caring to identify it. This elite certainly does not include any salaried individual, and those who join the PTI cease to be elites. The PTI neatly combines the educated urban middle classes with the business and power elite of the country, both salaried and non-salaried. This is the real status quo in the country that works against the interests of the poor. Can Imran Khan really transcend above what he represents?

The bond between Pakistan’s power and economic elite, and the middle class is hard to break because both belong to the same social and cultural groups. Upward mobility from one to the other is not uncommon and is often facilitated by the state. Jahangir Tareen’s father, for example, was a police officer and Imran Khan’s father was an engineer. Imran Khan, according to the PTI, is a middle-class person who lives in a two billion rupee house.

The middle class itself is a ruling class in Pakistan that has directly or indirectly ruled for much of the country’s existence. The state’s policies not only support the middle class, they discriminate against the poor.

In the last few weeks, we have seen a lot of attention bestowed upon tertiary care hospitals and universities. Both sectors are used by the middle class. We have not seen similar attention paid to basic healthcare and primary education. For example, the issue of ‘expensive’ private medical colleges came up recently. Pakistan subsidises the education of every doctor to the tune of five million rupees, without binding these ladla bachas to give anything back to the state. Many middle-class children don’t even work as doctors and those who do are found throwing tantrums and refusing to serve the poor who paid for their education. For the sake of one Pakistan, can they be forced to take loans for their education?

Compare this Pakistan with the Pakistan of the 20,000 children of Kohistan district in KP who are studying at 355 schools that don’t have a roof.

Middle-class children will not go back to government schools and poor children cannot afford private education. If we can provide the basic ingredients of a school to children, we will be able to say that one Pakistan is not ripping off the other.

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

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