Why the only thing unchanged in Pakistan is its new Prime Minister Imran Khan

Mehr Tarar
Mehr TararOct 28, 2018 | 14:35

Why the only thing unchanged in Pakistan is its new Prime Minister Imran Khan

Pakistan will remain a distant dream until civilian institutions are strengthened.

It is all about Imran Khan. It is as if he is the only man in Pakistan’s intriguing, beguiling, exasperating and chaotic political history to have ever become a politician, and did things that were never expected of him. At 66, Khan evokes a plethora of emotions in many a strange way in men and women of all hues and sensibilities just as he did when he made people of all genders swoon in varying degrees of adoration, admiration, love and desire as he ran, bowled and batted to a dizzying height of glory in cricket.


Lazily smiling, eyes crinkled into an unfathomable stare, a face that was devastatingly handsome, and a body that was shaped into perfection with years of running and more, Khan the cricketer was more of a heartthrob and heartbreaker than most celluloid superstars of the era of his youth could ever sigh and hope to be. There were many who hated him with gusto. Wanna venture a guess why?

Controversy's favourite child: Khan's victory speech was criticised as being self-centred. (File Photo/India Today)

Khan’s cricketing career is legendary, and in 1992 he ended it on the highest level for a sporting powerhouse, and as the captain of a team that didn’t hope to do much in a world cup final: Pakistan won its only (so far) World Cup championship. While most of Pakistan focused on the huge achievement, many naysayers couldn’t stop criticising Khan’s self-centred, me-myself-and-I victory speech, which even admitted by Khan was just his spontaneous but a naively spouted burst of joy at having won a massive honour that wouldn’t just open a new chapter in Pakistan’s cricket, but also pave way for the construction of the hospital that he wished to build in the memory of his mother who had died of cancer.


The World Cup victory also got Pakistan the first cancer hospital. ( Reuters photo of Imran, Jemaima and the Princess of Wales)

Ah, the hospital. Another fantastical idea, another unrealistic dream of that tousled-haired, tall, still heartbeats-set-aflutter good looking Khan who was only good at saying things that merely looked good theoretically, or in a feel-good Hollywood movie about a playboy-turned-philanthropist. Khan was, arguably, more famous than any living or dead person in Pakistan, but he didn’t have any personal wealth to construct a state-of-the-art cancer hospital where most of its patients from underprivileged background would be treated free. Khan turned to Pakistanis within and outside Pakistan, and he asked them to donate for the hospital. They all trusted Khan.

From schoolchildren to celebrities, British elite to Bollywood superstars, Nusrat Fateh Ali to Mick Jagger, Lady Diana to Jemima Goldsmith, tycoons to street vendors, known philanthropists to famous misers, everyone responded when Khan asked them to help. And slowly, steadily, in 1994, Khan’s dream materialised in the form of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, the first cancer hospital in Pakistan where to date 75 percent of its financially underprivileged patients receive free treatment.


Khan the politician: No one paid much attention to the minuscule party. (Photo: Reuters)

One fateful day in 1996, Khan the former cricketer and present philanthropist decided to get a new avatar: Khan the politician. Instead of joining an already established political party to somersault into power without struggle, Khan did what Khan always did: followed his heart. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came into existence as a political party that demanded accountability and establishment of a social structure where fairness and justice reigned supreme, and everyone was equal.

No one paid much attention to the minuscule party made up of non-entities and led by Khan of deep baritone, big words and no action. From 1996 to 2018, with government in one province in 2013, Khan was derided, pooh-poohed as a political nobody, considered nothing more than a noisy nuisance while the two giants Pakistan Muslim League with its myriad factions and Pakistan People’s Party (mis)ruled and remained powerful, playing political musical chairs with one another, until another military dictator, namely General Pervez Musharraf, reminded them, rather rudely, who had the real power. While that is a cumbersome subject for a multi-volume history of Pakistan’s democratic power taken by not hook or crook but by a coup, a presidential order or a court verdict, I’ll stick to the tenuous democracy that was dragged, crying, staggering, by various electoral-winning parties from mid-90s to mid-2018.

Amidst the noise of who has real power in Pakistan, Khan remained steadfast: he never stopped talking about accountability. The corrupt must be held responsible and accountable for every rupee, dollar, pound, Euro or whatever currency the looted money was placed in unknown and untraceable accounts across the world by rulers of Pakistan and their cronies who thought the national treasury was their personal piggy bank, and taxpayers money their daily allowance to be spent as and where they liked. Rulers became richer every five months, Pakistan remained poor, international loans piled up, and every misstep and political blunder came wrapped in one excuse: in Pakistan elected leaders do not have any power.

There must be accountability: Khan said in 1996. Khan said in 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

The idea of power being transient made them myopic and reckless. The rational might wonder who taught them that while they bemoaned the ominous and ever-looming shadow of the military establishment on their head, why they thought becoming personally wealthy with their assets and money stashed outside Pakistan was their sole revenge against powers-to-be that didn’t let them remain in power for long. What remained unchanged: Khan and his insistence that they were corrupt, and accountability must be done.

In 2018, after millions voted for him and his party, Khan came into power, and became the prime minister of Pakistan. While the parties in opposition hissed and fumed about him being the “select prime minister,” the facts are as obvious as the white of the Prime Minster House in Islamabad that remains a topic of previous rulers’ extravagance and present prime minster’s austerity. What Imran Khan the founder of that tiny, insignificant, joke of a political party said in 1996 is exactly what Imran Khan the prime minister of Pakistan says in October 2018: there must be accountability.

No amount of chanting of heightened distress having lost the elections, and no amount of chest-beating of political victimisation will invalidate that Khan means business, and his only business is wellbeing of Pakistan. Weakening of civilian supremacy through sentencing and jailing of Nawaz Sharif is a fact, but Pakistan does not have time and money to waste on what should have been. Today, it is imperative to look ahead, while ensuring there is a mechanism of accountability of yesterday to ensure a better tomorrow. Hallmark-ish, yes, but it is inevitable, it is indispensable. You cannot make a nation of almost 200 million people hostage to your self-serving agendas, without any fear of immunity, without any thought of consequences. It has started with the politicians, of all parties, including Khan’s PTI, and in a more powerful Pakistan, generals and judges will also be held responsible for their misdeeds.

And that Pakistan will remain a distant dream until civilian institutions are strengthened. That is what Khan has vociferously advocated for decades. Nothing will change until Pakistan’s economy is strong, and that will remain wishful thinking without elimination of corruption and a solid mechanism of accountability in place. That is what Khan’s fight has been for years. Nothing will change until Pakistan becomes self-reliant, without aid and loans, in full utilisation of the promise and potential of its human and other resources. That has been Khan’s mantra since 1996.

The reality is dire, what remains unchanged: Khan’s financial integrity, his incorruptibility and his determination to make Pakistan the best version of itself. The IMF bailout, Saudi or/and Chinese loans/aid is an undesirable but an indispensable remedy available to Khan’s government for short-term relief of the gigantic economic mess Pakistan faces today, courtesy the past governments. It is not a U-turn of a leader who never wanted to go this way. It is matter-of-factness of a prime minister who believes the road to a prosperous, vibrant and self-sufficient Pakistan comes paved with a plethora of the corrupt and the powerful who think they are a victim of a political witch-hunt; debt and liabilities of Rs 29.9 trillion; a slow and flawed legal system; noise and gratuitous attacks of media, and of many opinion-makers in print and social media, who trumpet their own biases, push a paid agenda, and serve as a mouthpiece of those who work on slogans of self-glorification and dreams of returning to power, untouched, unpunished.

Imran Khan, human, older, flawed, realistic, sporadically confused and perplexed, and surely wiser, has only one dream and one agenda: a prosperous Pakistan that is for all. And Prime Minister Imran Khan, focused and determined, will make sure, just as his did with all his fantastical dreams and goals, to do his best to make it all a reality.

I’m holding my breath.

Last updated: October 29, 2018 | 13:30
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