In his speeches delivered in the National Assembly on June 25 and 30, Imran Khan rejected allegations against his government related to its performance in domestic and foreign policy. In almost two years of his stint as Prime Minister, the promises of Imran Khan failed to materialise. These included that he will not approach foreign lending agencies like the IMF for any bailout package; control the rise of the dollar versus rupee; ensure 10 million jobs and five million houses; and restore the self-esteem of Pakistanis by focusing on good governance, rule of law and justice.
Two years later, not only the opposition parties but also the people are highly critical of PTI’s performance and call it a ‘great betrayal’. The surge in the prices of petroleum products on June 26 and zero increase in the salaries and pensions of government employees in the Federal Budget tend to further augment the perception that Imran Khan has severely betrayed their trust because of poor governance and by taking frequent U-turns.
The phenomenon of the ‘great betrayal’ is not uncommon in Pakistan’s history and almost all governments since 1947 failed to deliver and eroded the people’s trust. So why are the PTI and Imran Khan alone to be accused of not performing better when every PM in the recent past has betrayed the people’s trust? Is it not the psyche of Pakistanis to have high expectations from the party in power and accuse the PM of betrayal when they are utterly dissatisfied?
If Imran Khan has, as PM, betrayed the people’s trust, then what needs to be done? Should people look for another messiah who will cure all their problems and transform this country into a land of ‘milk and honey’?
The betrayal and after is however a sad reality because of three main reasons. First, no political party and its leader struggled so much to reach the corridors of power like the PTI and Imran Khan did. The PPP was formed by ZA Bhutto in November 1967 and came into power in December 1971. The PML-N was formed in 1990 when Mohammad Khan Junejo, former PM and leader of the Muslim League, parted ways with Nawaz Sharif. The PTI was formed in 1996 by Imran Khan and his colleagues and took 22 years to come to power. In those 22 years, Imran Khan was able to mesmerise the people with his slogan to bring ‘change’ in society and transform Pakistan into an ‘Islamic welfare state’ similar to the state of Madina. His countless promises ranging from providing social justice, good governance, the rule of law, honouring Pakistan’s sovereignty and providing basic education to the 25 million out-of-school children clicked and people started believing in his words. When the July 25 election results paved the way for PTI’s electoral victory, the real test of Imran Khan began. He even claimed that his team has worked hard to deal with difficult issues and within 100 days, people will witness qualitative change over governance and the economy. But the betrayal began immediately when he became PM. He formed a large cabinet unlike his pledge that he will have a small team of efficient and honest people. Many of PTI’s MNAs who had rendered sacrifices in the past were preferred over those who neither were loyal nor known for their integrity. Governor and chief minister houses which were supposed to be transformed into universities and for public use remained under the custody of the incumbents.
Second, instead of relying on human and national resources, taking bold steps against corruption and misuse of public money, the PTI government followed in the footsteps of his predecessors by approaching the IMF, World Bank and other international lending agencies for a bailout package. Imran Khan betrayed the trust of the people because he failed to eradicate the VIP culture, corruption and nepotism, and within a year the size of his cabinet expanded to 50 members, half of whom are non-elected.
Third, the great betrayal of Imran Khan and his PTI government got an impetus when instead of delivering in the last 22 months of his government, he and his minsters started blaming the past governments for corruption, bad economy and governance. Instead of focusing on fulfilling election promises about providing 10 million jobs and five million houses, Imran Khan ventured on targeting the opposition with a vengeance. The level of frustration because of the poor performance of the PTI and PM Imran Khan compelled even his supporters to state that the country was better off in the past.
Contradictions in what Imran Khan used to say while in the opposition and in power are undeniable. The memory of the people is not as weak as he used to believe that in the case of an air crash, railway accident or drowning of a ship, the country’s PM should resign. The feeling of betrayal reached its peak when the government failed to deal with medicine, wheat, sugar and petroleum crises triggered by the ‘mafias’ sitting in his cabinet leading to either the shortage of such items or surge in their prices. The recent sharp escalation in prices of petroleum products in a situation when his government has not announced any relief to government employees in the federal budget is another example of how he and his party have betrayed the trust of the people of Pakistan.
One wonders what the people should do after this great betrayal. What are the options? The legal and constitutional way to remove Imran Khan from the post of PM is through an in-house change. Senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif also suggested on June 26 that PTI members in the NA should select a new leader of the house. But it may not be so easy as long as those powers that brought him into power as an alternative to the PPP and the PML-N are thoroughly convinced that Imran Khan’s continuing in power would be disastrous for the country. In the meantime, following the passage of the federal budget, the opposition may keep on trying but given its own fault-lines and damaged credibility, it may not succeed in its goal to oust the PM from power in the near future.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2020.
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