Imran Khan inherited a bankrupt country, a country looted and plundered by corrupt rulers, a country adrift, lacking confidence about its future. Jinnah’s Pakistan, the country of our dreams, our hopes, and our pride has morphed into a nightmare of despair and despondency.
Imran faces a daunting task. The waters are choppy but he will get through. He is busy cleansing the stains of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari. To quote Churchill, “those were the years that locust had eaten.” How the corrupt mighty have fallen. Shorn of power, how common and mediocre they look. Gone is the arrogance, the insolence and the truculence. Broken and miserable little men, how the twist of fate could reduce a man to size.
Nations, like history, rarely take account of anything but success. Albert Speer, Hilter’s architect, told his interrogators at the Nuremberg trial that history sits in judgment on world’s leaders at the terminal stage, not earlier. Imran is under fire from his political opponents on a daily basis. On all sides one hears criticism of Imran. He is undergoing a noticeable slump in his popularity. “Who are the people who raised this outcry against me… corrupt politicians, veritable bloodsuckers, whose ill-gotten wealth, I have made them disgorge,” questions Imran rhetorically.
What did prime minister Churchill, the saviour of Western civilisation in World War II, have to show in the first two years? HMS Prince of Wales and the cruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese bombers. HMS Ark Royal and battleship HMS Barham were sunk by Japanese U-Boats. Churchill also lost Singapore, Malaya and Burma. There were vociferous calls for his resignation but when the no-confidence motion against him was put to vote in the parliament, he won by 464 votes to one. So far, Imran has done much better than what we expected he could. He has made no egregious mistake. Nobody expected him to set the Indus on fire in two years.
“People confuse two types of politics,” Imran told The New York Times. “One is politics of moment. The other is traditional power-based politics. Tehreek-e-Insaf is never going to win the traditional way.” He contested the election and won the “traditional way” but with the split mandate. The result is that he needs allies to sustain his government at the Centre and in Punjab, the most important province in the Federation of Pakistan. He has to accommodate his coalition partners and make all sorts of compromises.
The idea that you just hold elections, while everything else remains colonial and feudal means you won’t get democracy, but some perversion of it as we have today in this country. Elections are necessary but not sufficient. Elections alone do not make a democracy. Democracy requires a free and independent country, and an inviolable constitution, a powerful and competent legislature, answerable to the electorate, an independent judiciary, an independent press, and above all a literate citizenry. To assumes that vote alone will automatically bring about a democratic metamorphosis, would be to condemn Pakistan to repeat of the cycle seen so often in our country: a short period of civilian rule, a descent into chaos followed by army rule.
Today Imran is only truly national figure in the bleak fragmented, political landscape of Pakistan. In these harsh and difficult political times, the questions of the Prime Minister’s character is at the centre of our national concerns. If a prime minister has integrity and his hands are clean, nothing else matters. But if he has no integrity and his hands are dirty, nothing else matters and he cannot govern the country. Integrity is Imran’s strong point. It will enable him to ride out the challenges he faces. He still has the support of the people, especially the youth of Pakistan. In a presidential election, Imran will win hands down. One cannot help but recognise in Imran’s destiny, the hand of the Providence which has marked him out a long time ago for the fulfilment of its prodigious designs.
Imran is the only leader with unique qualifications: tremendous self-confidence, passions, above all courage to confront and master our severe economic predicament. He has the capacity and the will to usher in a new social-economic just order. He is the only leaders who will, as Burke said, “tell the people, not where they want to go, but where they ought to go”.
Imran’s demeanour is soothing but at times impermeable. He is shy and does not cherish the parry and thrust of politics. He is the Prime Minister through and through. Behind the scenes, he is exactly what he is in public. He can hold his own in any forum anywhere in the world. He has an august presence, is not overawed by royalty or heads of government or state. When he enters a room, people sit up and take notice. Imran must translate his glamour into political results.
In foreign affairs, Imran must get closer to China, our only all-weather friend. One thing Imran must do is to improve the quality of governance, especially in the provinces. He must not hire “yes men” who don’t tell him the truth. He must carry out radical agrarian reforms, in particular, he must liberate the haris of Sindh, who are like the serfs of Europe in medieval times. No country in the world has made any progress without radical agrarian reforms.
He must keep down expenses and take as little as possible from the poor man so that he won’t starve or revolt. Louise XVI was brought down by a corrupt vicious tax system. Unless Imran reforms the tax system, a French Revolution will come to Pakistan. And last but not least, he must descend from Bani Gala and connect with the ordinary people.
Today, Imran alone carries the hope of the nation on his shoulders. His idealism, self-discipline and zero tolerance of mega-corruption contrast sharply with the decadence, cynicism and mega-corruption of his opponents.
Imran must succeed because in the event of his failure, a political and social revolution in its most extreme form is inevitable in Pakistan. If all goes well, Imran will go down in history as the saviour of Pakistan. He rescued Pakistan from the Sharifs and Zardaris who looted and plundered this poor country. He is the only leader who can revive Jinnah’s Pakistan, a visionary, inspired by the Islamic Caliphate of Medina.
Churchill wrote of prime ministers. “If he trips, he must be sustained. If he makes a mistake, they must be covered. If he sleeps, he must not be wantonly disturbed. If he is no good, he must be pole-axed.” But this last extreme process cannot be carried out every day. It must be carried out at the terminal stage.
We gave decades to the corrupt rulers to loot and plunder this poor country. Imran is facing a gargantuan task of putting the country back on the rails. Bear with him. Give him more time. Let history judge him at the terminal stage.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2020.