OVER A COFFEE: Exploring the Imran Khan buzz —Dr Haider Shah

opinionWith no clear policy framework, arguably Imran Khan seems to have been launched this time to target Nawaz Sharif in Punjab.Before I set out exploring the political buzz created by Imran Khan, I must make an honest admission. At one stage I also happened to be one of those who consider Imran Khan to be a credible alternative in the murky waters of Pakistani politics.

Despite my continued liking for the person, I no longer subscribe to that view because the lofty role of a saviour of Pakistan needs a person who has a clear vision and sagacity to deal with the following core questions. One, how will Pakistan repair the serious damage done to its international image because of its entanglement with militant jihadi outfits? Two, and related with the first one is how will Pakistan improve economic growth by increasing its trade with the regional and other major trading nations? Three, how will the rule of law, accountability and transparency be promoted? Four, how will institution building be promoted in place of a personality cult? Five, how will the marginalised sections of society such as religious minorities, women, disabled persons, and economically deprived communities be empowered? Six, how will the demon of radicalisation and intolerance be exorcised? And seven, how will the civil-military relations be rationalised so that the civilian government is able to take full control of domestic and foreign policies?

To a great extent the seven policy level questions are interrelated and no saviour can succeed if even one question is ignored. Any political leader that poses as a saviour must provide a clear answer to all these questions and should be assessed on the basis of this seven-question framework. Now let us appraise Mr Imran Khan on these fundamental questions. Our basis of appraisal is his rhetorical discourse that we hear in the talk shows of the electronic media where the hosts often act as his promoters.

Imran Khan’s discourse revolves around a few rhetorical sentences. The most frequently heard is that all other politicians are corrupt and therefore he deserves to be the leader of Pakistan. Who can disagree with the need for rule of law, accountability and transparency? He is however often thin on details about the specifics of his policy. His oft-repeated magical solution is that politicians should declare their assets. Of course, not only politicians but all asset holders should make correct declarations, not just for greater cleanliness in politics but also for working out correct tax liabilities. However, Imran fails to appreciate the fact that corruption is multifaceted and a simplistic solution obscures the need for a more long term multi-dimensional eradication strategy. Contrary to the conventional generalisation, empirical research in an IMF paper shows that a strong positive correlation between the traditional governance features and economic growth of the developing countries is not established. The analysis reveals that while governance and anti-corruption are good ideals to pursue, there are other capacity and institution building factors that largely define a country’s ability to sustain high economic growth. It is, therefore, important to note that a government of angels alone will not necessarily usher in an era of economic development. How our country interacts with the international community is equally important.

Imran seldom speaks about the contours of trade policy; the most important determinant of economic growth. How will he promote regional trade among SAARC member countries and with other major trading countries of the world? What will be his policy on access to the US market for Pakistani textiles and other export goods? Yes, his supporters can argue that he is not against the promotion of trade and economic growth. His stance on many other issues, however, does suggest that he has not clearly thought through the sensitive link between external trade and perceptions about internal security. By assuming the role of a propagandist for religious extremists and militants in Pakistan, he does not place himself in an admirable position for winning the confidence of the international investors. No business is ever willing to invest in a country where militant groups roam around under official patronage. Imran loves referring to Iran but Pakistan has not got Iranian or Venezuelan oil, so imitating them is not an option.

The second most noticeable strand of the Imranian discourse is his support for the Taliban and their sympathisers in FATA. It is this aspect of his personality that has severely undermined his reputation as a statesman. I do not like branding anyone as an agent of local or external establishments. However, by promoting Pakistan’s deadly embrace with militancy and actively instigating the Pakistani youth by the use of jingoistic phrases he does appear to be speaking the language of the radical elements of the Pakistani establishment. He is not alone in that club. Mr Zaid Hamid and many Jamaat-e-Islami leaders are also doing the same job.

Imran was in the forefront of the campaign in support of ‘qaum ki beti’ (the nation’s daughter) but not a single tear was shed by him in public when the nation’s son Saleem Shahzad was brutally murdered in the line of duty. He opened his guns against the civilian government after Osama bin laden was eliminated by the US commandos in Abbottabad; however, no salvos were fired against the security establishment for the safe housekeeping of OBL in the first place and then not being able to protect the valued asset. Similarly, he never questioned the role of behind-the-scenes operators in the wake of the Raymond Davis affair nor could he mutter a single word over the militants’ attack on the Mehran Base while he was busy in his dharna (sit-in) over drone attacks against those militants.

Bill Gates has spent about $ 25 billion for charity work but he has not used his philanthropist work as a launching pad for a political career. Even in Pakistan, Abdul Sattar Edhi once revealed that he refused to offer his services for political purposes when he was approached by Hamid Gul and Imran Khan. With no clear policy framework, arguably Imran Khan seems to have been launched this time to target Nawaz Sharif in Punjab. Of the entire political leadership, Nawaz Sharif has not been behaving properly as per the required standards of the establishment. If Imran cannot win elections, he can at least prove a spoilsport for Nawaz Sharif. This way the security establishment would ensure that a docile and subservient political set-up will continue in the future as well.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected] – Dailytimes