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Opinion

August 12, 2018

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Reinventing Pakistan – again

More than 20 days after the July 25 polls were held, Imran Khan will take oath as prime minister. And that is bound to be a moment of high drama, considering the struggle that was waged for this priceless prize.

But this has been a rather long wait. We still don’t have all the nominations for the coveted posts. There was no inkling of a shadow cabinet, except that Asad Umar has taken on the mantle of the minister of finance. The promise of building Naya Pakistan and making a dash for some specific goals in the first 100 days will demand greater pace in making some crucial decisions.

Anyhow, the process is moving forward. Initially, we may be distracted by some otherwise enticing features of the change that is taking place. A lot of attention will be devoted to the cricket stars who are coming for the oath-taking ceremony. It is, perhaps, natural for Imran Khan to hark back to the glory of the 1992 World Cup. In some ways, prime ministership is the progression of that triumph of spirit.

Yes, the World Cup was manifestly a team effort, despite the credit that belongs to the captain. However, politics is a different ball game, though a gifted team is still indispensible for any large enterprise. There is a limit to how far a charismatic leader’s magic can go. Besides, the challenges Pakistan confronts at this time seem insurmountable. There has already been some talk about the rapidly escalating economic crisis.

So, is this a new departure for Pakistan – in the direction of Naya Pakistan? We do have some hints of how Imran Khan has visualised it. He has campaigned doggedly against corruption, not entirely mindful of how it nearly holds the entire system together. His focus on the need to eradicate poverty and social injustice is admirable. But it is possible to get confused about his ideological sense of direction.

In that sense, we should anxiously wait for his inaugural speech in the National Assembly, after he is elected as prime minister. It is rational to expect that he will carefully expand on the themes that he had touched upon in his victory remarks. Unfortunately, his image as a political campaigner, in terms of the idiom he would use to disparage his adversaries, was not very pleasant.

Personally, I have been an avid reader of inaugural addresses. I can still recall some sentences from the inaugural speech of John F Kennedy that I had read when I was very young. In recent years, I have followed the speeches made by leaders like Obama and Mandela. The point I am making is that a leader should have the ability to inspire his nation with his blueprint for change.

There is a reason why I am giving such importance to what Imran Khan will say when he actually holds the reins of power as the chief executive. The advent of a new administration is to be seen as a transfer of power. For that matter, Imran Khan must assert his authority to be able to reinvent this country. We should watch very cautiously for any clue as to whether Imran in office will also be Imran in power. The situation that has prevailed in recent months has left us in some doubt about how power is exercised here. Imran must also be aware of the passions that have been aroused at the popular level in the context of how the electoral campaign was conducted. In this state of affairs, the country has been polarised in a somewhat antagonistic manner. He should also have noticed that the PML-N was under much pressure during the final months of its tenure.

Imran has the power of his charisma. But his real test will be to reach out to those who didn’t support him. He could begin to do that by firmly taking control to redress wrongs that may have been committed in a political or social context. There are obvious areas in which the prevailing rules of the game have to be changed.

After all, how can Naya Pakistan come into being if the grievances of large segments of the population are not properly addressed? We hope that Imran is conscious of the benefits that a truly democratic ruler draws from a free, responsible and objectively critical media. This is a key area of the nation’s concern and it will not be easy to repair the damage that has already been done.

Will Imran be able to take the right steps in his quest for Naya Pakistan? The challenge, beyond doubt, is formidable. People will be inclined to have some hope in his leadership if he rises in the National Assembly on Saturday to state: “Here I am. I am in total control. I will change this country”.

Incidentally, he is not the first leader who seeks to build a ‘Naya Pakistan’. It is difficult not to be reminded of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and how he took charge at surely the darkest moment in our history. Here is another reason why I have underlined the healing power of a leader’s words when a new beginning is made.

I have my memories of that late hour on December 20, 1971 when Bhutto addressed the nation on radio and television. He said: “We have to pick up the pieces, very small pieces, but we will make a new Pakistan, a prosperous and progressive Pakistan, a Pakistan free of exploitation, a Pakistan envisaged by the Quaid-e-Azam”.

Ah, the reference to the Quaid’s vision. This is what we do all the time, without any confident interpretation of what that vision is. In any case, this was Imran’s tweet on Friday: “I want all Pakistanis to celebrate [August 14], our Independence Day, with full fervour – especially as now we are moving towards Naya Pakistan [and] reclaiming Jinnah’s vision”.

It is, of course, an opportune time for Imran to become prime minister – a few days after Independence Day. We are in a mood to say it with our national flags. We dutifully pay homage to the founder of our nation on this occasion. But there is still no consensus on what his vision for Pakistan was. We may argue that he presented it unequivocally on August 11, 1947 after he had witnessed the madness of the communal carnage. But how will Imran react to the suggestion that religion is not the business of the state?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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