What Can We Expect From Khan’s Naya Pakistan?

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As Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) political party put their case to voters, the burning question on everyone’s mind is whether he and his party have what it takes to turn the country’s declining fortunes around.

Who is Khan? Apart from his cricketing exploits, his lead­ership resume is short; with no stain of incumbency and prob­ably a few political skeletons lurking in the background. Despite his 20-year quest for na­tional power, what Khan may have going for him is that he is a relative outsider within the corrupt political elite. Khan’s known positions on social, economic and security issues are mostly right of centre. He derives inspiration from the success of Mahathir Mohamad and Recep Erdogan. Khan pos­sesses charisma like the late ZA Bhutto, but lacks Bhutto’s intellectual acumen. His past pronouncements opposing Pak­istan’s involvement in the War on Terror, supporting the Tali­ban and denigrating the status of women in society are contro­versial and concerning. More­over, similar to leaders before him, Khan is not above playing the religion card to win votes.

Khan’s populist, conserva­tive and nationalist worldview resonates in a deeply conser­vative society. He advocates building infrastructure, a more efficient economy, education reforms, better public health options, a non-aligned foreign policy and combining Islamic values with democracy. These laudable goals are hardly new but appeal to a populace starved of decisive leadership and tired of dynastic politics. Ironically, Khan — the current establish­ment choice — faces past es­tablishment favourites, the embattled Sharif family. Voters may allow him a brief honey­moon to deliver on his promise of strengthening democracy, better governance, job creation and combating corruption.

The problem is that any new government faces multiple tests, including an exploding population, widespread illit­eracy, high unemployment, water scarcity, economic melt­down, and religious terrorism. Pakistan has always prioritised guns over butter. National secu­rity has taken precedence over investment in human capital. As a result, the state has spent little on its people, giving rise to troubling social statistics, pointing to a bleak future.

Khan’s pandering to the re­ligious right is almost certainly required to get elected. Hope­fully, after the elections, he will adopt a more centrist position on the stifling role of religion in politics and society

The economic outlook is equally dismal. Moody’s just downgraded Pakistan’s rating from stable to negative, citing external vulnerability risks. Successive governments have grappled with a narrow reve­nue base, limited fiscal flexibil­ity, and high debt reliance. The economy heavily relies on peri­odic bailouts and support from the IMF, bilateral assistance mostly from Saudi Arabia, China, and the US, and remit­tances from Pakistanis work­ing abroad. The country needs consistent economic policies, spurring high growth rates, to pull people out of poverty.

Pakistan has to face up to the test from reactionary Islam as well. Society has rapidly embraced dogmatism and ex­clusion at the expense of toler­ance and pluralism. Hate mon­gering and sectarian politics have increased exponentially. The country has irreversibly strayed far from the liberal, progressive and secular fu­ture espoused by its founder, Mohamed Ali Jinnah. Sadly, Khan’s pandering to the reli­gious right is almost certainly required to get elected. Hope­fully, after the elections, he will adopt a more centrist position on the stifling role of religion in politics and society.

If elected, Khan’s must try to correct foreign and security policies that have pushed Paki­stan to the verge of becoming a failed state. But, it won’t be an easy task to stand up to the powerful military establish­ment that has ruled the country directly or indirectly since its creation. Khan must persuade the generals that containing the growing defence budget, re­solving the long-standing Kash­mir dispute, ending the futile arms race, and making peace with India is crucial to Paki­stan’s future. Pakistan also has to overcome its trust deficit with the US and Afghanistan to help bring peace and stabil­ity to war-torn Afghanistan. The country’s reputation too has suffered from its alleged association with cross-border terrorism

Khan’s task is to reverse policies, intended to preserve the status-quo, which have led the country down a ruinous path. He will need to unite the people to rise above narrow self-interest and to work for the greater national interest. Khan may be the last democratically elected leader to put Pakistan back on the path of stability and progress, as other authoritar­ian options could prevail if the country continues to struggle. Like others, this writer, views Khan’s candidacy with some trepidation given his record of divisive political agitation and incivility towards his oppo­nents. But the failure of other mainstream parties to deliver during their stints in power lends support to the desire for a change in leadership.

Khan must manage expecta­tions, build consensus and make pragmatic decisions to redirect na­tional priorities. Despite the chal­lenges, he has to revive the idea of a moderate, modern and progres­sive Pakistan to pull the country out of its current international and regional isolation. A tall order in­deed, but this is Khan’s opportuni­ty to prove that his that his achievements
match his rhetoric.

The Article First Appeared In Daily Times

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