Imran Khan and Pakistan’s future

Published: May 20, 2013
The writer is a Commonwealth Scholar of International Relations at Cambridge University

The writer is a Commonwealth Scholar of International Relations at Cambridge University

Leading up to the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan’s history, the narrative surrounding the election had become reductively trite: President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party had mismanaged the state’s finances and foreign relations for five years; Nawaz Sharif, the strongman of Punjab, was the favourite to win the premiership; and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), despite its unlikely prospects, had energised millions of young and urban voters by offering the vision of a “New Pakistan” free of corruption and servility to Washington.

Another first in this election was the messianic tone and stature underpinning the candidacy of one leader, who himself was unlikely to become prime minister. Imran Khan, a former superstar cricketer, had attracted a following at home and abroad that would make Sharif and Zardari salivate. His charisma and perceived incorruptibility made him a revered figure in the eyes of millions; a messiah on a mission.

Khan’s PTI movement — and it is a movement — will outlast this defeat. We should take pause, however, before coronating Khan as the saviour of Pakistan. The deep frustrations Pakistanis have towards state power, abuse, corruption and mendacity are understandable. Pakistan’s leaders have plundered their country, stolen their people’s money and mortgaged their homeland’s future away, while Pakistan’s people have suffered — a 55 per cent literacy rate, an infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 deaths (placing Pakistan between Rwanda and Uganda) and a Gini coefficient of 30, make Pakistan one of the most unequal and least literate societies on earth.

Khan spoke of immediately ending corruption, “depoliticising” Pakistan’s bureaucracy, finally collecting taxes, reconciling with Pakistan’s Taliban and standing up to the United States. Many of his policies were certainly noble, but Khan always remained mum on how such ambitious ideas would translate into substantive policy. Corruption is systemic across Pakistan and according to a conservative estimate, costs the state two billion dollars annually. One cannot blame the ordinary voter for shrugging his shoulders and voting for another party during elections.

Similarly, a mere 0.57 per cent of Pakistanis pay income tax and many of Khan’s supporters and fellow political bosses fail to pay into the treasury. Would Khan coerce or persuade powerful frauds to contribute to the Pakistani state?

The Pakistani Taliban, which had been on a killing spree of non-PTI candidates over the better part of the election cycle, saw democracy and elections — undoubtedly values Khan holds dear — to be un-Islamic. How would Imran Khan plan to negotiate with terrorists, who have killed thousands of innocent civilians and Pakistani soldiers and murdered secularists or the insufficiently pious, who have exercised their right to run for election?

What would Khan do to protect minorities — Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians — who have become targets in their own country? Pakistan’s blasphemy law is a defacto arrest warrant for Christians; the Shias are targeted so regularly that their mass murder has become grotesquely commonplace; Ahmadis and Hindus remain fourth-class citizens. Such ambiguities still exist in messianic politics.

Between an energy crisis and an education crisis, Pakistan also faced a foreign policy crisis. Yet, the PTI’s “independent” foreign policy — Khan said he will stop US drones — seemed most likely to appease the Taliban, aggravate the US and antagonise Afghanistan. The state Khan wished to lead, continued to head towards pariah status internationally and his foreign policy bromides seemed to exacerbate rather than mitigate that trajectory.

These were the kinds of questions that deserved basic answers but often received none — a blurring of policy and platitude. This is precisely the weakness of those deemed messiahs: they galvanise millions, elude scrutiny and raise expectations to unprecedented levels. Khan’s policies had been relegated by the seductive appeal of his celebrity status and rhetoric.

Messiahs are never harbingers of positive change. They are reflections of a perverted status quo, yearning for any glimmer of authenticity and progress. I do not doubt Khan’s heart and like everyone else, wish to see corruption and terrorism end. If Khan continues to build on his successes, the next election will be the PTI’s to lose. But, let us remember that Khan is a politician and not a saviour, and Pakistanis at home and in the diaspora must continue to hold him to the same strict standard we hold all political elites.

The country’s future depends on it.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Zirak
    May 21, 2013 - 12:13AM

    Imran defined the end goals that he wants to achieve! He revived in this nation the vision where we have to finally take this country too! If you think he cannot end the corruption immediately. Does it imply he can never achieve the task? may be if not in two years then in 5 years for sure Pakistan could have been majorly out of corruption. If you say just 0.57% pakistani pay tax does it imply for you that no one can do anything to increase this percentage? No, i think if there is will this is very achievable. Its really easy for a journalist like you to reject his policies as overly optimistic. But just this over optimism does not make him any less likely to win the next elections.


  • Salman
    May 21, 2013 - 12:47AM

    Another biased anti-PTI article from ET, which we have now become so accustomed to.

    What has the previous PPP government done to protect the Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians? Why dont you ask what Mr Nawaz Sharif what he will do for the minorities? Why just IK?

    But, let us remember that Khan is a politician and not a saviour, and Pakistanis at home and in the diaspora must continue to hold him to the same strict standard we hold all political elites.

    What on earth are you talking about? Which strict standard are you referring to? The standard which allows the same corrupt people to come back again and again?


  • kaalchakra
    May 21, 2013 - 1:07AM

    Although I hold no brief for any particular leader, please be honest enough to accept that protecting minorities has been been the prime concern of Muslims and of Islam for the last 1400 years. In that they need no lectures from you or anybody else. Please stop worrying and start living free of Islamophobia.


  • Basraa
    May 21, 2013 - 1:36AM

    well done mate , indeed we shall wait and see .


  • Ibrahim Khan
    May 21, 2013 - 3:56AM

    Well one can acrually debate on a lot of issues that the writer failed to mention. Mentioning points but i think he failed on some issues. Pointing out 1) PTI’S stance on negotiating not with the taliban but with the tribesman which in turn would make sure taliban come onto terms with the government. Policy currently used by the Pak Army and US Army holding wih Haqqani’s and the Afgahn taliban in Qatar by the respective Army’s. 3) Corruption he never said he will root out corruption within 90 days but will bring an end to the upper level corruption done by P.M, ministers and advisors. 4) All the senior leadership of PTI though some have feudal backgrounds are tax payers with no loan defaulting history can be checked and re-checked by anysource. 5) Drone Attacks violation of UN charter if the government of any country stands up they can’t do anything. Drones were an agreed agenda by Pak and Us government.6) The author failed to mentiont the internal systems which have collapsed the patwari is a meanace for the poor land tenats. Police and lower judicial courts are a nightmare for the poor. PTI emphazised on their efficient working. Making short all the agenda of PTI is do-able and not out of this world if Turkey, Malayasia, Taiwan and China can do it i suppose Pakistan given it’s vast economical potential can do it do.


  • Shaukat
    May 21, 2013 - 5:11AM

    Disagree with the opinion of this author. I think what Imran has said make sense and people of Pakistan does believe him too. The popular sentiments on the streets of Pakistan are of deep hatred towards all political parities who have been in power in some form or the other over last 10 – 15 years. The policies which Imran has and aim to deliver are required for this country to survive which many of the so called authors never have time to read or have the capability to understand.


  • Mirza
    May 21, 2013 - 7:26AM

    A good piece of journalism by the author. I agree with the genuine questions and concerns raised by the author and only time would tell us the truth about the promises on behalf of rightwing parties. The sacrifices of thousands of Pakistanis, the beheading of our soldiers, the bombings and brutalization of tens of thousands of innocent civilians would not be forgotten.


  • Parvez
    May 21, 2013 - 1:48PM

    The elections are over and done with and the pieces are falling into place………right or wrong.
    What needs immediate attention is the complete overhauling of the ECP and an electronic fool-proof voting system to be established. The excuse of it being too costly is a joke because the cost to the nation of not having one is many, many times more.
    A better trained ECP with an election process spread over a few days to ensure the sanctity of the vote should be in place, for I feel its need will sooner than later.


  • Rex Minor
    May 21, 2013 - 3:19PM

    Imran Khan unfortunately is history now after having received injuries in the accident. Damage to skull usualy causes brain injuries as well, which takes years for recovery an not weeks or months.

    Rex Minor


  • Ali tanoli
    May 21, 2013 - 5:10PM

    Army rulled the country over fifty years out of sixty five cant u blame for not fixing the system and on other hand they living in spainish and mid east banglows….


  • jumshed..
    May 21, 2013 - 5:26PM

    He didnot form a govt even for once and u calling him he straight em up the system give
    a chance first then we say …. he never got NRO clearance he never made billions of rupees
    and tranfered to swiss banks he never got immunity from bank credit… or agriculture loans..


  • Ahmed Lakhani
    May 21, 2013 - 5:54PM

    I recall hearing in one of countless interviews why IK remained “mum” over the strategies that will be undertaken to fulfill PTI’s vision. Its plain and simple as IK explained it. He spoke about education, PMLN started to speak about education. He spoke about corruption, they did likewise.

    In response to your question as to how IK will convince his own supporters to pay taxes? I have strong reason to believe that most of them will not need any convincing. A majority of them do not pay taxes purely because they know that their hard earned money will not be put to good use and will find its way into the pockets of the politicians. With Khan, its different as we all know. Therefore, the problem of adequate taxation will be resolved simply by IK and PTI coming into power. However, not to sound overly simplistic, if there is in fact a necessity to convince some people to fork over the money, I am sure he shall treat everyone equally and justly. But it remains to be seen. So the question is, do we give him a chance or do we let the system go on as it has been going on? Keep electing the PML’s and the PPP’s and the other regional parties? That is for each voter and each Pakistani to decide what they think is best for themselves, their children and Pakistan.


  • Humanity
    May 21, 2013 - 6:20PM

    “Messiahs are never harbingers of positive change. They are reflections of a perverted status quo, yearning for any glimmer of authenticity and progress.”

    The assertion makes no sense, whatsoever. Messiahs can not be messiahs unless they are harbingers of positive change. A change towards empathy that empowers the formation of a just society hinged on the sanctity of human rights. Thus, make no mistake, IK lacking the basic understanding of human rights, is no savior. Messiahs come not to maintain status quo but to uplift humanity from darkness into the light of justice through love and fear of God.

    A person who judges the faith of others does not fear God. Can a morally corrupt person ask or expect people to change? Though confusing the reader with role of a messiah, the author has managed to capture in this opinion piece what the majority are unwilling to listen to. Thus the chants for Naya Pakistan continue to ring hollow as the wait for a messiah carries on.

    Dawa sae zyada dua kee zaroorut hae aab. May God forgive us all and show the way towards light. Ameen.


  • Saleem
    May 21, 2013 - 7:18PM

    Excellent write up. We needs lots of sane sensible young men like you.Recommend

  • Faryal
    May 21, 2013 - 10:31PM

    Interesting article…though it is too focused on Imran Khan instead of our current political situation. No, we don’t need to be reminded that Imran Khan is not a saviour but a mere politician (Yes, this is entirely debatable….wasn’t it Imran Khan who galvanized the entire nation to come out and vote? But I’m getting ahead of myself…) The thing is that in order to change the current situation one first needs to identify what is wrong and IK has done that so that is the first step. Things will gradually change for the better with God’s will. We as a nation are reviving. Good job on writing this article but it would’ve been even better if you had enlightened us with an overall picture. Good day!


  • Faryal
    May 21, 2013 - 10:34PM

    @ Rex Minor: Imran Khan had a superficial scalp injury. His brain did not get injured. He did have 3 vertebral fractures though and he is on his way to recovery. Get your facts right!


  • Rex Minor
    May 22, 2013 - 3:14AM


    Let us a look at the MRT of Imran Khan Brain and Ihis will support your fact.

    Rex Minor


  • Faryal
    May 22, 2013 - 2:21PM

    @ Rex Minor,
    Imran Khan had a CT-scan done which showed that he didn’t have any brain injury. The main focus of his injuries was vertebral fractures. FYI I’m a doctor so I know what I’m talking about. Shaukat Khanum released the report of his CT findings on it’s facebook page. Even though IK did get a MRI done 3 days ago, it was for his vertebral fractures and not for his head injury.


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