Imran Khan has a set of distinct strengths and weaknesses that make his political moves critical for the country
mran Khan is the latest in a long line of Pakistani prime ministers who fell out with the military establishment over key appointments or foreign policy. Khan’s relations with Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the then chief of army staff, reportedly soured over the appointment of a director general for the Inter-Services Intelligence. The standoff eventually ended when Lt-Gen Nadeem Anjum, Gen Bajwa’s nominee, was appointed the new DG ISI. Soon afterwards, Khan was ousted from the prime minister’s office.
Khan’s ouster led to a number of speculations and controversies ranging from claims of US involvement in the no confidence motion against him to his parting ways with the Pakistani establishment. Khan’s politics have been talked and written about expansively, however, his political strengths and weakness have hardly been discussed. This essay attempts at analysing his strengths and weaknesses and their impact on his politics and the political developments in the country.
First, dynastic politics is a hallmark of Pakistan’s political system. Almost all major political parties function around certain families. Their ambitious leaders aim at leaving the reins of the parties in the hands of their sons and/ or daughters. This exposes vulnerability and weakness. Therefore, they make compromises with those in power. Unlike those, Khan does not appear to be planning to leave his party and his wealth to his sons, who live with their mother in the United Kingdom. This is one of the strengths he can exploit to advance his political plans because he cannot be blackmailed on this account.
Second, powerful actors have allegedly blackmailed bureaucrats, judges and politicians on account of their families – particularly their wives, husbands, sons and daughters. Khan is different as his sons are British citizens and not vulnerable. This is another strength.
Third, Khan has achieved many incredible milestones in his careers as a cricketer, philanthropist and politician. He managed to bring the cricket World Cup home; he established a world class cancer hospital that is providing quality medical services; and he remained the prime minister of Pakistan from 2018 to 2022. None of his political rivals has achieved as much in such diverse fields. This makes him unique among Pakistani politicians. In this sense, his curriculum vitae appears stronger than many others. Instead of turning this into a weakness, Khan should utilise it to mobilise people, particularly the youth.
Instead of opting to stay in the National Assembly as an opposition leader after the no confidence motion in April 2022, he resigned. As a result, he has been excluded from the process of deliberating on a caretaker setup for the upcoming general elections.
Also, Khan’s image appears cleaner than most of his rivals. Unlike his adversaries, he has not been dubbed as corrupt moneymaker. Most of his opponents have faced allegations of corruption. That is why his rivals appear bent upon pursuing the Tosha Khana scandal to dent his image.
Having listed his perceived strengths, it is imperative here to chart out his weaknesses. To begin with, Khan has failed to restructure, reform and democratise his party. He has failed to hold intra-party elections since 2017. Second, he has failed to resist the dynastic politics in his party e.g., both son and daughter of Shah Mahmood Qureshi were awarded party tickets for by-polls in Multan. Third, he publicly castigates his friends-turned-foes e.g., Jahangir Tareen, Aleem Khan and Gen Bajwa. He thus leaves no space for a return or reunion. This tends to decrease the number of his supporters and increase that of his opponents.
Fourth, politically, he is a conformist and inflexible. He is not ready to sit down with his rivals to hold a political dialogue. Instead of staying in the National Assembly as an opposition leader after the no confidence motion in April 2022, he resigned from the assembly. As a result, he has been excluded from the process of deliberating on a caretaker setup and the upcoming general elections. Such behaviour has cost him, his party and the country dearly — e.g., Pak-China and Pak-US ties were dented during his regime.
Lastly, he has a habit of inviting non-political and non-democratic forces to meddle with political affairs and the democratic process. He had repeatedly mentioned the ‘third umpire’ in his speeches before coming to power in 2018. In the same vein, he has recently been inviting the military-dominated establishment to abandon its neutrality.
Khan is a unique politician with distinctive strengths and weaknesses that impact not only his politics but also major political developments taking place in the country. If he fails to bridle his weaknesses, the cost will be great. To outclass the competition and emerge victorious, he needs to play smart.
The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University. He is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at @MazharGondal87