Khan vs Bhutto

Pakistan has produced few political figures of an iconoclastic status who have been able to articulate a political discourse of transformation in the popular idiom.

A popular movement spread across the country in the 1970s that was contrary to the conventional elitism which had hith­erto shaped the political landscape. The popular appeal of the new political rhetoric of ‘roti, kapra aur makaan’ (food, clothing and shelter) fos­tered hope for a better Pakistan. This was the gold­en era of political mobilisation led by Z A Bhutto.

Bhutto was undisputedly one of the most influ­ential political leaders and his acumen, charisma, prescience and resilience were matchless. His rise to power was the beginning of ideological politics in the country. He epitomised a high-class political sense that was manifested in his passion, enthu­siasm and ability to raise the rabble through his motivational oratory.

He was a socialist, a liberal, a feudal, a popu­list, and an egocentric and a humble fellow in equal measure. He was, perhaps, the most myste­rious political leader that Pakistan has ever pro­duced. Z A Bhutto was also an avid reader of faces, human psychologies and political situations, and possessed the extraordinary talent to turn them into political gains.

Bhutto was neither a stooge of Pakistan’s pow­erful establishment nor a staunch opponent of it. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto successfully presented him­self as an anti-establishment messiah to the poor in Pakistan, but the reality is that his brand of politics was a mix of transformational and expe­diential moves that worked well amid the general pessimism that spread through the country in the aftermath of the 1971 war.

Bhutto’s legacy shaped the political move­ments of resistance in Pakistan that underlined the struggle against dictatorial regimes in the country because his family suffered the most. Countless po­litical leaders have strived to imitate Z A Bhutto in their political rhetoric. But his miraculous genius was such that no one could command people’s re­spect in the same way that he did. Many believe that Imran Khan has emerged as a leader who has given people the hope of building a better Pakistan in the same way that Z A Bhutto did.

Imran Khan certainly appeals to millions of young people across the country who have been drawn to his anti-corruption mantra. Our youth has grown up under the shadow of a political sys­tem that is punctuated by corruption, rent-seek­ing, favouritism and the expediencies of conven­tional family dynasties.

The traditional political parties of hereditary politics failed to promote an inclusive democratic culture. While educated youth from middle-class backgrounds were excluded from political partici­pation, the inept, powerful families held sway in connivance with the powers that be to perpetuate an exclusionary political system.

Although Imran Khan opted for the same route by seeking the support of such powers, his constant anti-corruption narrative was what made him so popular. For the middle-class youth in Pakistan, Imran Khan symbolises the hope to reconstruct the political system by emphasis­ing meritocracy, transparency and social justice. Those who haven’t experienced the political woes of the 1970s and the 1980s tend to forgo the debate surrounding democratic transition in favour of fanciful shortcuts to improve the system of gover­nance in the country.

The grand narrative of democracy versus its alternative hasn’t found resonance among the middle-class youth who find faults with individu­als rather than the system as a whole for our cur­rent malaise. For them, Imran Khan’s persona transcends the debate of systemic and structural challenges to an inclusive democracy in Paki­stan. The debate on institutional restructuring to achieve constitutional and parliamentary suprem­acy, which has been articulated by conventional political parties to compete with the anti-corrup­tion narrative, has failed to win over the hearts and minds of young people.

There was certainly a palpable contradiction in the debate of parliamentary supremacy orches­trated by political parties that are run through family dynasties. Progressive and secular voices for genuine democracy were either overshad­owed or subsumed in the grand narratives of par­liamentary supremacy versus anti-corruption. Progressive and alternative perspectives on the significance of democratic transition didn’t find sufficient space or, for that matter, attract an au­dience in the privately-run electronic media. TV debates were anchored to simulate the political reality of the two mutually exclusive camps in this political rivalry insofar that the genuine voices of political alternatives were excluded.

While the patronage accorded to the PTI was visible, there was also an element of optimism for which we should give due credit to Imran Khan’s political tirades that were smartly woven together with the notion of Naya Pakistan.

The appeal for Naya Pakistan was so emphatic that it concealed the contradictions of the conven­tional tactics employed by Imran to gain political power. Having grown up in a depoliticised soci­ety, our young generation found this narrative more appealing than any other debate of genuine democracy. Indeed, there were no convincing and assertive vibes from liberals and secular elements to confound Imran’s ambitious move to trespass democratic norms and contain his mercurial po­litical behaviour.

It would be misleading to believe that the young people who have been mobilised by the concept of Naya Pakistan will be content with this slogan alone. Imran Khan’s real challenge will start when he takes on the role of the coun­try’s PM. He will have no option but to deliver on his promises for which he will have to surrender part of his individuated political ego. Introduc­ing political and economic reforms isn’t smooth-sailing in the turbid waters of crony capitalism whose tentacles are deeply immersed in our po­litical system of patronage.

Those who have invested to ensure Imran Khan’s victory have their own reason for doing so, and that is not to let him have a free rein. The political stakeholders of Imran’s Naya Pakistan will haunt him at every step of the way to ensure that he maintains the political propriety to sur­vive. Imran Khan doesn’t have the luxury to sail in two boats – ie living up to popular expectations and pleasing his political patrons – at the same time. Living up to voter expectations means cre­ating jobs, reducing inflation, broadening the tax net, introducing land reforms, and implementing many more reforms that require a strong system of political accountability.

Furthermore, these changes will be impos­sible to implement without making the economy competitive at the displeasure of crony capi­talists who are poised to destabilise political governments. It is believed that Imran’s rise to power wouldn’t have been possible without the support and patronage of this powerful elite. If that is the case, the PTI’s reform agenda might suffer a serious blow, opening the floodgates of political agitation from an already aggrieved co­alition of opposition parties.

Imran Khan will need to present a realistic political roadmap for the next five years to fix the country’s mounting economic and political prob­lems. He will have to work meticulously to build a strong political coalition within parliament to ward off political resistance and realise his prom­ises of Naya Pakistan.

Imran Khan isn’t a revolutionary. But he claims to be a reformist, which is also reflected in his party’s political manifesto. Nonetheless, his political tactics aren’t entirely different from those adopted by traditional political leaders – ie using all available means to assume power with­out any regard for ideological principles. This is perhaps the fundamental difference between Z A Bhutto and Imran Khan as the former was able to cultivate a strong ideological framework to serve as the guiding principles for his politics.

The Article First Appeared In The News Internetional

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