Can electing an incorruptible man cure a corrupt society? Can one honest man turn around the destiny of 200 million people? What does the road from good intentions to actual change look like for the PTI and Naya Pakistan?
We overestimate the impact a leader can make in a society. Our favourite national pastime is to blame all our problems on corrupt leaders but they only deserve a part of the blame (especially when less than 1.5 million citizens file taxes in a country of 200 million people). The truth is that there’s a little of the corrupt inside all of us too but not all of us have the opportunity to be corrupt on a larger stage. The difference between corruption at the highest levels in government and us slipping some cash to the traffic cop for talking on the mobile while driving is in the scale of corruption. Both showcase a moral weakness that is the cause of so much pain in our society.
In this context, electing Imran Khan represents a step up for the Pakistani society. If we all had a bit of the corrupt inside us, we also have a bit of Imran living inside us. He’s self-centered but with a heart of pure gold and good intentions. In many ways, Imran Khan represents the best and worst of what it means to be Pakistani. He’s the playboy who becomes a born again Muslim. The opportunistic man who cuts deals with the devil to get what he wants. An imperfect man who takes U-turns to bring his vision of Naya Pakistan to life. There is no better mirror to our society — with all its beauty and flaws — than our prime minister-in-waiting.
Imran Khan may be a man with good intentions but good intentions aren’t good enough to lead a country. Competence is just as important. The absence of corruption (if we can get there) doesn’t automatically translate into development and progress. In fact, in some cases, a leader with good intentions and incompetent policies can run countries to the ground.
The first thing Imran needs to do is to reset the expectations of the Pakistani people. During the election, he promised a Naya Pakistan but if it took us 70 years to build Purana Pakistan, it’ll take another 70 years to build a new one. Electing an incorruptible leader is the beginning, not the end of this journey. The real transformation in Pakistan needs to happen inside us all. We need a cultural shift where we celebrate paying tax and honesty, versus glorifying the ability to accumulate wealth and power. This isn’t on our leaders; it’s on us.
What Imran can do for us is be the spark that brings about this cultural change. One can feel a positive change in the mood of the country since his election. The rupee strengthened versus the dollar and the stock market rose. Even though these are cosmetic moves because the fundamentals of our economy haven’t changed, they signal a shift in sentiment. Many analysts are arguing that Imran has six months to deliver. The truth is that Imran can’t deliver much in six months or even five years. What he can do is take the Pakistani people on board his journey to building a Naya Pakistan by explaining his vision, the sacrifices we’ll need to make as a nation and the cultural change all of us need to be a part of building a new country.
The cultural shift we need to spark in Pakistan is about the values with which we live. For 70 years, dishonesty and opportunism has been rewarded in the country while honesty and hard work has been mocked. Being jugaru runs in our blood. We have to rewire our brains much like a drug addict or chain smoker needs to reprogramme his brain to change his life. We need to build new pathways to happiness. In the beginning, we’ll end up paying more tax in Naya Pakistan. We need to celebrate that versus berate our leaders. The road to Naya Pakistan is fraught with sacrifice and hard work.
If we’re willing to put in the work as a society and continue to elect honest leaders, we can actually transform Pakistan for ourselves and our children. It’s not impossible to turn Pakistan around but it will take hard work and patience. The road to a Naya Pakistan begins with a Naya Pakistani.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2018.