Imran Khan Has Failed Both Powers-That-Be And The Civilian Populace
Umer Farooq asks why Imran Khan has failed to win not only the powers-that-be, but also the general populace. He attributes this failure mainly to his lack of governance capabilities and his lack of seriousness when it comes to political affairs.
Why is it that Prime Minister Imran Khan – perfect orator, immensely smart, heartthrob of middle classes and keenly populist leader – is not a serious player in the political game being played in the country?
The answer to this question partially lies in the fact that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has so far failed to register itself with the powers-that-be as well as with the Pakistani populous in a meaningful manner; a manner which could give it an aura of seriousness.
Meaningfulness for the powers-that-be would include financial stability, economic revival or a major foreign policy success, and none of this happened so far. And meaningfulness for the populous would include possible efforts to arrest the tide of increasing economic hardships for the common people.
Yes, law and order situation has markedly improved, but due to the military’s claims that they have laid great sacrifices to improve the security situation, the general populace does not give credit for the situation to the PTI’s government.
Prime Minister Imran Khan made an attempt to prove his seriousness by championing the cause of the Kashmiri people when the valley started to boil, but attempts in this regard have been a fiasco so far.
The debacle whereby the government’s top economic adviser Hafeez Sheikh told reporters in Karachi that tomatoes were being sold for Rs 17 per kilogramme, while fruit’s actual price in the market was exceeding Rs 300, didn’t help in portraying a serious image of the PTI government or its prime minister.
Anyone familiar with economic management at the national level would know that a top economic manager cannot perform their functions properly without keeping a penetrating eye on the market situation.
And last but not the least, the fiasco of COAS’s extension notification and the way it is being handled makes it clear that seriousness is not valued in the power corridors since the PTI came to power and that there has been a circus going in officialdom since July 2018.
If the law minister doesn’t know the procedure of how to proceed with giving an extension to the army chief, we can say that the law minister could possibly be unaware of bureaucratic procedures. But can we assume that the legal minded bureaucrats sitting in the Law Ministry could be unaware of the procedure? Can we assume that nobody in the President House, where there are always senior bureaucrats who deal with legal matters, knew about the procedure. That is simply impossible.
There could be two explanations for this. First, we are dealing with a bunch of clowns who claim to be in the government. The second possibility is that of mala fide. The issue of the COAS’s extension could have serious repercussions for the government.
But there are deeper reasons on the basis of which it could be said that the prime minister was not a serious player in the game. The reasons so far mentioned could be described as mistakes – if one takes a charitable view of the situation – which any government can commit.
However, the main reasons behind the claim that Imran Khan is not a serious player in the game are related to his ineptitude towards governance and his personality traits; to take the easy way out of a myriad of problems and adversity when the situation demanded radical solutions.
The basic characteristics of Imran Khan’s political persona are such that he doesn’t exude confidence, especially when seen in the light of the fact that he is too single-mindedly focused on only chasing his political opponents out into the political wilderness.
When the country was heading towards an economic meltdown, he was mourning Kashmir on Fridays, a political antic which impressed nobody, neither the powers-that-be nor the common man of Pakistan. However, Imran Khan continued with his antics on Kashmir, giving the impression that seriousness is not much of a value in his political world.
Imran Khan rose to prominence in the politics of the country, relying heavily on the hefty promises he made to people of Pakistan. One of these was that his economic team would miraculously transform Pakistan’s economy to come to par with those of the Asian Tigers within an year of coming to power. The reality is that he sacked the leader of his economic team, Asad Umar, during the first year of his government, blaming him for all the economic ills that his government brought to the people of Pakistan.
He then proceeded to bring an IMF/military nominated team of economic managers, who were at friendly terms with the managers of international financial institutions. This has been a consistent pattern of the army’s advice to the civil governments in the post-1993 period. This happened during General Kakar’s time when they brought in Moin Qureshi as a caretake prime minister to fix the state of Pakistan when the country was facing a financial meltdown. Secondly, this happened during Musharraf’s period when they brought in Shaukat Aziz, a leading banker in New York serving in City Bank at the time. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s financial team is a product of this type of mentality and has got nothing to do with how Imran Khan perceived the situation.
By appointing those close to IMF and the military as the economic managers in his government, Imran Khan marginalised himself within his cabinet. This means that the major task these economic managers will be performing is related to reforms which IMF wants the government to undertake. They will also be looking out for the financial interests of the military. Thus, by ousting his own man from the Finance Ministry, Imran Khan ensured that there would be no one to propagate his political interests in the economic and financial decision-making, which the IMF-friendly ministers would be doing. Only a political leader or a prime minister who is not taking his political future seriously could make such a decision.
Moreover, his belief that he can ensure his survival in politics just by chasing his opponents out of politics and is too naive and childish to be taken seriously. In parliamentary democracy, a healthy and strong opposition ensures the survival of the incumbent government. This basic principle of parliamentary democracy comes in conflict with the path the prime minister is following when it comes to dealing with his opponents.
A weak opposition means a destabilised political system, because when opposition through parliamentary channels is weak, opposition from outside the system gets stronger. This is the lesson from Pakistan’s history, and this is what exactly happened in Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure in office when he secured a two-third majority in the 1996 elections and got a very weak opposition. This period saw Nawaz Sharif’s government facing opposition from the judiciary and from the army, which led to a major constitutional crisis and a coup respectively.
Prime Minister Khan may have removed his political opponents from the scene, but he is facing larger problems and crises, one of which is ongoing these days.
Imran Khan seems to be learning from none of these lessons of history. He seems too engrossed in his own version of history, which revolves around his imaginary 22 years struggle that, in his words, brought him into the corridors of power. This version of history is too self-focused and too narrowly perceived to be relevant for historiography of any seriousness. It is very difficult to consider that person a serious political player who thinks of himself as having led a struggle for power for 22 years, when in actuality, a large segment of the society clearly sees a series of conspiracies against an elected government with the assistance of spymasters to his credit.
It is not that Imran Khan’s predecessors were any angels; they certainly were not. They have to their credit bad governance of the worst type. But there is a difference between bad governance and making a mockery of governance. Making a mockery of governance is a distinction of the present government only.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.