No-confidence motion against hope itself

Opposition parties have neither the sincerity nor the plan to fundamentally transform Pakistan


M Bilal Lakhani April 03, 2022

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Whether you’re a Pakistani rooting for civilian supremacy or the power of one honest man at the top to transform the country, you’re probably sinking into depression right about now. A no-confidence motion against a Prime Minister is quickly turning into a no-confidence motion against Pakistan itself. What worries me isn’t the end of Imran Khan’s rule but the death of hope itself. Allow me to explain.

To his supporters, Imran Khan was a vehicle for tabdeeli. Voters and young activists in droves projected their own desire to help the country onto him. When Imran Khan gets booted out, it’s not just another Prime Minister not completing a five-year term. There’s a more powerful and poignant message being communicated: if Imran Khan can’t change this country, who are you to think you can make any difference?

Meanwhile, those who opposed Imran Khan in the name of civilian supremacy should be horrified that their political leaders cut a deal with the very boys they demonised for the last three years to come back into power. It’s clear now that we’re watching the same bad Lollywood movie on repeat. Nothing has changed. This was never a war against selection, it was only a fight to get selected.

If there is a moment of levity in all this, it’s watching prime time TV pundits trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing in the middle of all this. Have you ever observed birds during a solar eclipse? For a hot second, they can’t tell if it’s day or night and start acting strangely, from sudden plunges to falling silent. Something similar is happening to the pundit class. Suddenly, anchors who veiled their partisanship under the burqa of democracy are salivating at the sight of yet another Prime Minister not completing his five-year term in office.

Personally, as someone who believed in Imran Khan, I’m now deeply disillusioned with Pakistani politics. If Imran freaking Khan couldn’t succeed and was toppled over by the status quo, who am I to think I can ever make a difference in this country, even in my mohalla?

Here’s a short version of my story and unfortunately, the story of millions of other young Pakistani men and women. When Imran Khan came to Karachi for a massive jalsa, I was struck by lightning. Before me stood a man who was doing the very thing I prayed for as a child. An honest, sincere man trying to make Pakistan a more just place. Naturally, I voted for him in 2013. Fast forward five years and he actually became Prime Minister. Even though my love affair with Imran had dimmed significantly because I disagreed with his dharna politics, I cried again when he was elected Prime Minister. I promised to do whatever was in my capacity to support him for Pakistan’s sake. Here’s an honest and sincere man, who shattered the monopoly of two feudal political parties who misruled the country in the 90s, when I came of age. Life got in the way of me helping Pakistan but Imran Khan was doing what’s right – for all of us.

Almost as soon as Imran Khan became Prime Minister, he was being attacked right, left and centre. So I took up arms on Twitter and this column to educate and explain both his vision and policies. There were things he got right and things he got wrong. I chose to focus on what he got right because this was a once in a generation opportunity to set the ship straight. I wished there was a way to challenge the status quo that didn’t extract such a high cost when it comes to polarisation, civilian supremacy or economic hardship but I thought Imran Khan has been through a far bigger struggle than I have so he must know better.

I’m less sure now. What I have learned is that honesty and sincerity are necessary but not sufficient conditions for tabdeeli; a plan, competent team and sequencing and selling of reforms are equally important. That said, I’m very sure that the opposition parties have neither the sincerity nor the plan to fundamentally transform Pakistan. And that’s why this feels like the death of hope itself; a no-confidence motion against my belief that Pakistan can change.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 3rd, 2022.

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