Khan won. Period.

We find ourselves in a unique position today. This is the third peaceful transfer of power in Pakistan, the third democratic baton being passed on to the winner, and the third party in three elections to rule at the Centre. This is a truly remarkable achievement for a country that has struggled to break free of unrepresentative governments ever since it came into being.

If this wasn’t remarkable enough, consider this: Within a span of four years, we have successfully overcome the existential threat of terrorism — at the cost of thousands of lives — and have returned Pakistan to a semblance of normalcy. Terror outfits are still at work, as evidenced by the horrendous attacks in Balochistan and Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa in recent weeks, but their ability to wreak havoc at will has been degraded to a level not seen in years. How many countries in the world have succeeded in battling this scourge this successfully in this short a time?

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If this wasn’t remarkable enough, consider this: In the last five years we have successfully overcome a harrowing energy crisis, implemented massive — and hopefully irreversible — urban transport projects, depoliticised an entire provincial police force, conducted a successful census, completed countrywide delimitations and held a relatively smooth general election.

If this wasn’t remarkable enough, consider this: we have indulged in a furious, bitter and acrimonious debate about issues that plague us and successfully identified what needs to be done where and how. We now expect sweeping reforms and nothing less; we now demand radical changes in how we are governed and nothing less; and we now require visible improvements in every sphere of our lives and nothing less.

This election was about hopes, expectations and aspirations. It was also about growing up as a democracy; about maturing as a nation privileged with fundamental rights and liberties; about flowering as a society that is shrugging off the bitter past of a menacing State and walking into a better future of a caring State. The verdict of this election is clear:

Khan won. Period.

Did he win fair, though? We are an open enough society to know the shenanigans of the high and mighty and a closed enough society not to talk about them openly. The road to these elections was anything but paved. If it was at all paved, it was paved for one Mr Khan. Had it not been paved, would Khan still have won? Probably. Maybe. But that’s not the point. Just because the exercise of elections was fair enough does not mean the process of election was fair enough too. Is there evidence to back this up in a court of law? Perhaps not. Is there evidence to substantiate the perception that un-levelling of the playing field actually happened? Probably.

The act of casting the votes on July 25th was one of many factors — though obviously the most critical one — that determined the outcome of this election. And yet the other factors weighed down mightily on what happened on July 25th. There is no denying that key people from the PML-N were bullied into changing sides through various means; there is no denying that Nawaz and family were thrown out on legally weak judgments, and there is no denying that media was used to rip the Sharifs and their party reputation into shreds. Journalism was butchered every day on the airwaves, buried unceremoniously in hurriedly-dug graves, dug up again the next day to be butchered and buried and dug up again only to be butchered the very next day. Journalism had to die in order for Khan to resurrect.

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But Khan won. Period.

Every victory has a cost. But is this a cost worth paying? Will the fruits of Khan’s victory justify the scars of Khan’s victory?

History has reserved its judgment. But the court of public opinion has delivered its verdict loud and clear. Imran Khan is the chosen one and therefore deserves the support of the entire nation. He is not the PTI’s prime minister, he is Pakistan’s prime minister and every one of us is duty-bound to respect the mandate given to him. In other words, the PML-N, PPP, MMA and the rest would be doing a disservice to this nation if they fan the flames of instability instead of dousing them. No more dharnas, no more violent protests, and no more disturbances — Khan must be allowed to rule.

This will be one of the mightiest Oppositions in recent memory: the PML-N (64), PPP (43), MMA (12), ANP (1) adding up to a whopping 120 members. But what will be the agenda of this 120-member Opposition other than dragging down the Khan government? Therein lies the burden of democracy.

But the real burden is on the victor. His is now the mandate to birth a new Pakistan from the womb of the old one. New Pakistan however is nothing if it is not better Pakistan. Khan’s words and actions have so fair painted a dual Pakistan — often a contradictory Pakistan. Can his words reconcile with his beliefs? And vice versa?

Khan’s Pakistan will be a welfare State but also one in which accusations of blasphemy will be rampant? His Pakistan will be an egalitarian State in which feminism will be a curse? His Pakistan will be merit-oriented State in which media will be bullied as policy? His Pakistan will be a tolerant State in which TTP butchers will be ‘mainstreamed’? His Pakistan will be a reformist State that would care for all citizens except those who inexplicably go missing?

The burden to choose between these contradictions is Khan’s and Khan’s alone. He has come this far due to his doggedness, tenacity and never-say-die spirit. He is surrounded by very ordinary men and women who will fall prey to very ordinary temptations of power and social constraints. They will pander to the ordinariness around them. That is what is expected of them.

But that is not what is expected from Khan. This is his moment. And moments do not last forever.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2018.

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