The PTI misread its mandate and is misreading the Panama papers. In 2013, the electorate gave it an opportunity to introduce some hope in the system. It was a coup against old political parties in an environment where space for upward mobility rarely exists. Since the country’s relatively affluent and young middle class wanted to be part of the political process, it opted for a party which could still accommodate new white-collared faces. The resulting enthusiasm made it a part of the mainstream. But in just three years, it has totally lost the plot, become a party of old faces, suspended internal elections, deprived the nation of any remaining hope and emerged as the biggest national crybaby.
Similarly, it has been misreading the Panama papers saga from day one. It was tempting to confuse it with the issue of corruption because Imran Khan has been campaigning against the problem throughout his political career. But since it has not yet been proven beyond a shadow of doubt that the money in the offshore accounts was obtained through corruption, pending an exhaustive study, that case is not readily made. And out of the blue, the emergence of reports about Mr Khan’s own offshore company has made it harder for him to build the case. But Panama papers point to another equally devastating problem. That of income disparity and the gap between the rich and the poor. Thomas Piketty, in his surprise bestseller, Capital in the 21st Century, explodes a bomb when he states that the poor of the world are unaware of the true size and scale of the rich-and-poor gap. The Panama papers have simply pointed out how rich this country’s rich ones are. In a poor society like ours, where poverty deprives many from getting three square meals, this is most certainly bad news.
In trying to use these revelations to advance his anti-corruption campaign, Mr Khan ended up joining hands with the PPP, a party which unlike the PTI and despite countless obvious flaws, champions the socialist cause. Remember, fighting corruption is not an ideology, socialism is. As a consequence, the PPP finds itself visibly at an advantage to benefit from the entire episode.
And the story of the PTI’s failures do not stop here. Even on the corruption front, its constant flip-flopping brought to the fore a characteristic lack of homework. Had the party come up with appropriate ToRs to probe the Panama papers at the very start, the political landscape today would have been much different. Things would have been far better for the PTI if it had something to show for its three years in power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Sadly, it has not developed any pet projects so far. If you were hoping to see the K-P government developing IT hubs or investing in job creation, you were woefully wrong. Instead, Mr Khan is remembered as the man who launched an agitation campaign that delayed the Chinese president’s visit. Likewise, his unending criticism of the PM's Youth Loan Scheme, aimed at fostering a culture of business start-ups, has brought the scheme to a grinding halt. So, he systematically lost both the socialist and the capitalist constituencies. Without a path forward, one wonders what kind of impact his anti-corruption campaign will have in the 2018 elections?
Meanwhile, compared to the grasshoppers of the PTI, the ants of the PML-N have kept their heads down and continued their work. You need to listen to Pakistani and Chinese bureaucrats as they tell you how hard Shahbaz Sharif fought in China to get finance for the Orange Line train project. And yet, that doesn’t mean that the matter of corruption is totally irrelevant. When such mega projects are in the offing, it is important to remember that ongoing corruption can compromise society’s capacity to absorb the riches meant for development. But here, too, Imran Khan’s crusade against the past promises nothing. Given that in the upcoming trade routes, the military will play an organic part by ensuring their safety and will be woven into their fabric, General Raheel Sharif has shown us the correct way forward. By removing high-ranking officers involved in corruption, he has shown us how a forward-looking approach in fighting corruption can ensure a better future. Mr Khan’s calculus, it seems, needs a thorough update in every sector. Otherwise, he again risks becoming a political outcast in 2018.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2016.
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