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August 30, 2018

Crisis of command


August 30, 2018

Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan, must already have found out that power comes with many burdens. He witnessed this during his election as the PM in parliament and through the controversies that erupted over the selection of both Mehmood Khan as CM Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Usman Buzdar as CM Punjab.

While both men easily attained the required number of votes to take up the task of leading their respective provinces, they are already surrounded with controversy. Mehmood Khan, who is said to be close to former KP chief minister Pervez Khattak, has been accused of corruption in the past, even during his tenure as minister of at least two portfolios in the previous PTI government.

In contrast to the wealthy Khan from Swat, Usman Buzdar, Imran tells us, has been selected because he comes from an extremely impoverished region and will therefore, do his utmost to uplift and develop the province. Since Buzdar is himself a man with strong feudal connections, this is not a statement we can accept at face value. Allegations have also poured in that he is guilty of involvement in a 1998 murder case; though the PTI has dismissed this as political propaganda.

However, Imran’s main task will be ensuring his nominees are able to deliver. It is somewhat ironic that while a man known for his riches has been appointed the CM of KP, the CM of Punjab has been selected for, what Imran termed as, completely the opposite reasons, claiming that his simplicity and encounter with hardships will help him serve the common man. There is not much logic here.

But these are matters for the future. The PTI is certain of facing a strong opposition from the PML-N in Punjab, where Hamza Shahbaz secured 159 votes in contrast to 186 bagged by Buzdar. The PPP again did not vote. But what is crucial is that, as a first step, Imran settles the allegations of poll-rigging which dominated both the national and Punjab assemblies. He cannot afford to simply ignore the accusations. The parliamentary commission that the PML-N has sought should be set up so that we, as citizens, can be certain that the polls proceeded according to the manner in which we had cast our votes.

In the past, there have been multiple occasions when this was not the case. The verdict in the Asghar Khan case proved this to be true for the 1990 elections. There were also heated debates over the election results of 1997 and 2002. In fact, this is the first time since 2002 that the PML-N will not hold command over Punjab. In opposition, the PML-N can prove to be a very aggressive enemy. The PPP government found this to be true, as did others who have held power in the centre without controlling Punjab.

To implement his elaborate agenda involving the return of assets, economic reforms, enquiry into rigging allegations and a change in the lives of people, which lies at the core of Imran’s promise of a ‘Naya Pakistan’, the new prime minister will first need to build harmony within the country. This will be his first challenge. At present, there is a great deal of bitterness and acrimony in the air, of which we are reminded every time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif makes a statement from the Adiala jail. How long is Nawaz to remain in jail may also prove central to Pakistan’s political future.

Imran should also remember the promises of dramatic reforms that have been made before. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s slogan of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ was perhaps the most radical of these, though it was never accomplished, as a divide emerged within the PPP and the landowners who themselves held key posts opposed the idea of empowering the poor. Imran may run into similar difficulties. There are many places where feudal lords benefit from keeping people illiterate and ignorant.

He must also cope with the kind of violence and extremism we continue to face. The attack on an Ahmadi place of worship on the outskirts of Faisalabad a day after Eid is an example. The government’s response – mainly conveyed through tweets by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari – was not comforting. The issue needed to be taken up at a higher level so we could all see that a real change is on its way in.

Pervez Musharraf, in his early days, also came up with an agenda that could have changed Pakistan forever. He spoke of education for all, ending corruption, equal access to justice and building the middle class into a powerful force. The arrests of scores of powerful businessmen at the start of his tenure were intended to illustrate these intentions. However, these intentions seemed to fade away quickly after 2001 when it became imperative that the US will be retained as an ally sympathetic to Pakistan.

The problems that arose from this, and from the decisions taken by other leaders, will need to be undone by Imran. There is little doubt that his intentions are good. But does he have the liberty and autonomy to run affairs as he chooses to? So far we have seen him struggling to maintain control even over his own party. He has been forced to make compromises to avoid creating serious rifts within it. These rifts could emerge at any time.

More central than these rifts are the ones between institutions and organisations in this country. Imran and his government, with a cabinet of 20 members already chosen, will need to find a way to bring all elements together. They must also introduce a bureaucracy that has repeatedly been accused of holding back efforts made to bring about a change within Pakistan.

For all this, a considerable amount of acumen and patience is required. Imran Khan is certainly not known as a patient man. This may in some ways help him bring in the quick changes that he seeks. But to succeed at this he will need to keep his own party intact and demonstrate that he is able to lead it with authority. The challenges he has recently faced on this front, and also the tone of the speeches made by some members of the PTI’s leadership, suggest that they do not all see eye to eye with Imran. Some of his oldest followers have already left him.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also saw this happening as he drifted away from his initial promises. Imran promises us a Pakistan similar to the one envisaged by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Whether Imran Khan will succeed in overcoming these challenges is a question for the future. He has no choice but to do so. Many believe that under his leadership Pakistan will change overnight. Realistically speaking, this is not likely to happen. Imran will then need to keep people strong in their belief that he can deliver and that he will, indeed, eventually create a new order for his country.

We do not yet know what events will stand in his way. But we can be certain that there will be many, and they will need to be overcome through statesmanship and a demonstration of the ability to bring people together rather than pushing them apart through the use of aggressive tactics of building coteries within the leadership structure of the PTI.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

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