Tarar Square

Why Imran Khan didn't deliver a swearing-in address, he talked to the nation

The Prime Minister wishes to turn Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state, where each life is valued, where no one suffers forgotten.

 |  Tarar Square  |  8-minute read |   20-08-2018
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On August 17, 2018, in the first session of the new parliament, Pakistan elected its 22nd prime minister: Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi.

A visibly overwhelmed with emotion Khan appeared at different times to be joyous, silent, meditative, misty-eyed; his political struggle of 22 years had finally reached one of its most important milestones. Amidst chants of protest from the main Opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — which having recently lost the elections after being in power for five years has still not been to accept the mandate of millions of Pakistanis that voted for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — Khan spoke to the nation second time after the July 25 elections.

imran2-ap_082018022649.jpgA cabinet comprising 15 ministers and five advisers is a manifestation of Khan’s resolve to keep his government free of pomp. (Photo: AP)

The tone was strident, words unapologetic, but the gist remained the same: Khan in government would focus on implementation of a system that works on the premise of improvement of the life of the common man, elimination of corruption, and full accountability of all who have harmed the country in any form. There was also the re-announcement to have all allegations of electoral rigging investigated.

On August 18, 2018, Imran Khan in the oath-taking ceremony at the President House, Islamabad, pledged, with a fumble or two, to be faithful to the Constitution of Pakistan in fulfilment of his duties and responsibilities as the prime minister of Pakistan. While there were some grim tweets and some sullen faces on television, the overall mood of Pakistan on August 18 was that of positivity, optimism and hope: the decades-old status quo of the power of two parties and two families having received a tremendous electoral blow seems to have given way to an untried party whose leader may have made political mistakes, but who is steadfast and consistent about his fundamental narrative: a Pakistan that is for all, is fair, equal, compassionate, empathetic, and is free of corruption.

Other than the now much-viralled image of a simple black sherwani-attired Khan, the sight millions of Pakistanis watched with unbridled joy and prayers for their new premier, the most note-worthy takeaway from Khan’s swearing-in ceremony is the gracious interaction between Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa and our honourable guest from India, Khan’s old friend, cricketer-turned-politician, Navjot Singh Sidhu. In the few-minute conversation General Bajwa reportedly said: “I’m a general who wanted to be a cricketer... Navjot, we want peace ... When you celebrate the 550th birthday of Baba Nanak ... we’ll open the Kartarpur-Sahib Corridor... We’ll even think of doing better things.”

The interaction that many Pakistanis cheered as Pakistan’s willingness to have a friendly relationship with India, and that received a huge backlash from many rightwing Indians, including those who represent the ruling BJP, to me it is simply a reiteration of my oft-repeated stance that the Pakistan military establishment despite naysayers on both sides saying the opposite wishes to have peace with India.

I call it the first victory, albeit unintended, of Khan’s positive image and the power of cricket!

wife_082018022701.jpgImran Khan’s wife Bushra Maneka at Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony in Islamabad. (Photo: ANI)

The announcement of a cabinet comprising 15 ministers and five advisers is an immediate manifestation of Khan’s resolve to keep his government free of pomp and extravagance, and focused on short and long term establishment and implementation of strategies and policies for tackling of micro and macro issues besetting Pakistan.

On August 19, in the Punjab Assembly, the PTI’s candidate Sardar Usman Buzdar defeated Hamza Sharif, the scion of the Sharif family that has ruled Punjab in the last ten years.

In August 2018, PTI has formed government in the Centre, in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. PTI is in coalition with the ruling party in Balochistan, and is a strong new opposition in Sindh. Politically, it is a stunning victory of the mandate of millions of Pakistanis who have rejected the two-party system giving way to a party that seemed like a political pariah during most of its 22 years of existence.

The challenges are myriad, foreign debt is at PKR 28,000 billion, the options limited, optimism lower than temperature in Tokyo in January, and cynicism and naysaying as high as Kangchenjunga, but Khan’s biggest quality other than his cricketing excellence and his deep compassion for the poor is his determination. Khan has promised to work for a new Pakistan, and while millions believe the sincerity of his vision and his dream, only time and deeds will prove the validity or superciliousness of his promises.

imran1-inside_082018022719.jpgIt was not a long, unemotional speech read out by a prime minister. (Photo: Reuters)

Khan wishes to turn Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state, where each life is valued, where no one suffers forgotten. Civilian supremacy that others just toss around as big, fancy words will only become a reality if Khan’s words of changing the system become a reality. Strengthening of civilian institutions; de-politicisation of bureaucracy and police; reforms in healthcare, education, local body system, taxation; superiority of meritocracy; national self-reliance, freedom from financial reliance on friends and fair-weather allies; stabilisation of relations with neighbouring countries, and formation of bilateral relations with all countries based on mutual respect and bilateral interests.

Khan in his first official address to the nation on August 19, 2018, stunned Pakistan. In the very long history of televised speeches of elected prime ministers and military dictators who became presidents, the jaded, weary and wary Pakistani nation could not have been in much of anticipation about another long speech written by a team of eloquent but unemotional speechwriters, read in a monotone by a bored-looking prime minister. Khan, yet again proved everyone wrong. Khan did not read a written speech: Khan spoke to the nation. And the nation listened...rapt, incredulous, impassioned.

Glancing at talking points from sheets of what was recycled paper Khan did not address the people of Pakistan. It was as if he held a special conversation with each one of us. He talked about things that matter. The fundamentals. The principal point was the formation of an Islamic welfare state on the lines of the 7 th century Medina. Interestingly, this Islamic welfare state is very close to the dynamics of a modern day western welfare state.

Highlighting that the Prime Minister House has a staff of 524, and 80 cars, Khan’s new residence will be a small house on the premises of the Prime Minister House in which he would use two staff members and two cars. Austerity will be the principle followed by not just Khan but his entire cabinet and all his parliamentarians, announcing that the Prime Minister House will be converted into a research university, and all Governor Houses into something of utility for the awam.

Walking the talk, Khan stressed: “Allah also says in the Quran that He does not change the condition of a nation if it does not make an effort itself. We will have to change our thinking. We will have to invoke kindness in our hearts as half our population cannot even get meals two times a day.”

imran-khan1_082018023731.jpgIt was Imran Khan talking to the nation. (Photo: Reuters)

Khan touched upon subjects not many prime ministers mention in their first or even 100 th speech: HDI, stunted growth of children, child and mother mortality, out-of-school children, prevention of sexual abuse of children, rehabilitation of street children, justice to orphans and widows, climate change, rule of law, implementation of National Accountability Plan for elimination of terrorism, fiscal accountability, plans to tackle water shortage, quality healthcare for all, quality public education, low-cost housing, job opportunities, modernisation of madrassa education, speedy dispensation of justice, condition of poor prisoners, Pakistani expats languishing in foreign jails, agriculture, police and bureaucracy reforms, development of tourism, progressive taxation, self-reliance, FBR, better relations with all neighbouring countries, end of fiscal dependence on other countries.

The list is endless, the sentiment is right there: Making Pakistan a country that is for all, and not the select few. During and after Khan’s speech, my Twitter timeline was full of praise, admiration, respect and awe for a leader supported by many, and derided by more. Tweet after tweet, one reaction remained identical: the speech was the first of its kind by an elected prime minister, and its crux was positive optimism.

For the first time ever, I paid attention to a speech, rapt, hoping it didn’t end soon. For the first time ever, in my lifelong viewing of televised speeches of Pakistani leaders, it was a prime minister talking directly to his nation. For the first time ever, a prime minister talked about people who are forgotten.

What moved me the most, the most important thing for me in the speech: the way Prime Minister Khan’s voice changes when he talks about the poor, the underprivileged. Khan is the leader who truly cares about the poor, and that to me is his most important quality. Finally, Pakistan has a leader who truly cares about changing the life of the common man.

It is not that each thing that Prime Minister Imran Khan said will come true. What is important: his conviction that it will. And Khan promised that despite the tremendous odds, he is there for the nation every step of the way. And while doing that, he looked straight in the camera as if he was making a personal pledge to each Pakistani, to each one of us.

For the first time ever, I am proud of having supported and voted for the right leader.

Thank you, Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Also read: Why I believe Imran Khan can and will change Pakistan

Writer

Mehr Tarar Mehr Tarar @mehrtarar

A former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Pakistan, and a freelance columnist.

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