The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I wonder if this is applicable in the near future to those who intend to vote for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and end up with Zardari yet again, their bogeyman personified.
It’s interesting to put the Pakistani elections in the context of the US presidential elections of 2000. The issues of the three-way candidacies of George Bush, Al Gore and Ralph Nader were eclipsed by vote counting problems in Florida, but prior to that the real question in everyone’s minds was Ralph Nader’s pointless candidacy potentially costing Al Gore the presidency.
Ralph Nader was more left-wing than Gore and, to some, more authentic. Nader didn’t have the vote bank to truly contest the presidency, but what he did do was divide the left-wing, giving an edge to George Bush.
That is what a vote for Imran Khan might do. Pull in those who may have been PML-N voters, dividing a sector of the electorate and allowing the PPP to coast through. Inadvertently as it may be, a vote for Imran is a vote for Zardari. Lahore proved wrong a great number of naysayers, including myself, who thought Imran Khan couldn’t pull people out into the streets. Imran has done it, proving that Pakistan has a lot of well-intended people.
Now that the PTI is a genuine force — of what magnitude is still debatable — it will be important to ensure that the goodwill amounts to a good outcome. But good outcomes are harder to come by than good intentions.
It seems good people want a good revolution. The irony is that the most progressive leader of late is Nawaz Sharif — sadly voting for him also means voting for his party, which is still conservatively reactionary. But he has been saying some extraordinary things for some time now, about the need for the subjugation of the military to the civilians, about self-reflection, about withstanding the urge to blame everyone else but ourselves for the problems we face and about dealing with India rationally. Of course, these are just words; while he was in power he had a puerile conservative streak that one cannot be certain he has abandoned.
So, if Imran Khan is not the most progressive leader of the lot, then what is the intended revolution going to do exactly? Well, for one, to give the historically unelected establishment a popular mandate.
The establishment has always been interested in military might, strategic depth and foreign affairs. But that’s misleading if one presumes they have no interest in domestic policy. The distinction between Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy has ceded, they are one and the same. How we deal with Afghanistan, India, the Americans and militants has immediate repercussions on domestic soil, not in some distant land.
It’s Imran’s foreign policy views, and those on domestic militants, that are problematic. Imran Khan benefits from a suspension of disbelief from his ardent potential voters. His incorruptibility is all that they see. They give him the benefit of the doubt by trickling it down to his other policy measures and prescriptions, which are shallow at best and in line with the myopia of the establishment. The fatigued voter and first time voters just want some integrity brought back into the process of governance. In doing so, they are willing to make a trade-off by endorsing everything else Imran espouses, believing his domestic agenda of anti-corruption is all that matters.
The future of this will be another term for the PPP, already crippled by giving too much space to the military and having to take the blame for its follies and an even more entrenched armed forces in civilian affairs.
Zardari spent too much time dealing with a hostile establishment, ensuring his own survival and overplaying his hand by ceding too much, losing the real battle to ensure party values are enforced. In addition, severe problems of governance and corruption create the worst outcome for the party; being an unwitting member of the establishment itself in the next term. They will say beautiful things but be bound to do more of the same.
Maybe Imran Khan is playing the establishment, using its support to turn on it when the time is right, I can only hope that is true. But I doubt that’s the case. It’s now left to his urban voters to play down their seduction to the cult of personality and ensure their good intentions lead to good outcomes by asking for more than just promises of anti-corruption, and ensure the integrity of parliamentary supremacy at the very least.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2011.