WE enter the administrative era of Prime Minister Imran Khan today. The depths of desperation and despair have given rise to immense expectations. Deep reservations are being set aside to focus on ‘last chance’ hopes for Pakistan. When all is said and done, will Imran Khan have been the friend of the people or the prisoner of his circumstances? Views range from cynicism, to hope, to faith that he will deliver.

The cynics cite his alleged limitations as a person and a leader; his inability to pay attention to necessary detail or see the big picture; his inconsistent decision-making and poor management skills; his dependence on flunky fat cats and cultivation of power centres; his religious and political conservatism, etc.

Those who are more hopeful see him as the best of a rotten set of choices and someone whose basic decency, honesty, pride and belief in his own destiny will not allow any person or institution to ‘control’ him. They would be grateful for even modest improvements. Those who have the most faith in Imran Khan see him as an answer to a nation’s prayer.

Among Imran Khan’s challenges some will be just very tough. Others will be existential.

The only certainty is that Imran Khan will be besieged by entrenched institutions, a dismal politics, and dubious people who have little interest in his tabdeeli and naya Pakistan. It is amazing how the rich and powerful by and large remain comfortable with the poor and vulnerable remaining in their wretched condition.

They are inside and outside parliament, among newly acquired ‘independent allies’, and ‘electable’ recruits. They tirelessly assure Imran Khan of their cooperation and loyalty, and keep their options open. The power centres have supported him on a ‘Bughz-i-Muawiyya’ basis, not ‘Hubb-i-Ali’.

The debt-driven and defrauded country could be in hock to the IMF, or possibly China, for amounts impossible to repay. The national debt is now estimated at over Rs30 trillion! On average, every newborn Pakistani is in debt to the extent of Rs1.5 lakhs!

Read: Is IMF avoidable?

The poor of Pakistan have no real economic coping capacities because they are systematically denied the power of countervailing institutions to moderate the depredations of corporate capitalism, high-level malfeasance and institutionalised corruption. The people of Pakistan have been ruled by their enemies. They need a friend at the top.

The US has made it clear it will only help if Imran Khan is compliant to an extent that would undermine his domestic credibility and negatively impact on Pakistan’s relations with China. The US is focusing on Pakistan’s ‘CPEC adventurism’ as part of a comprehensive strategy to stop the ‘China threat’ to US hegemony in Asia.

Many in the US establishment, including renegade Pakistanis, see Imran Khan as a pawn of the military which has given up on the US ever being a reliable bilateral and regional partner. One American critic of Pakistan regards the prime minister as no more than “the mayor of Islamabad whose writ does not even extend to Rawalpindi”. She describes the recent elections as “the military re-arranging pool-side chairs” for Imran Khan to “lubricate the military agenda.”

The military is seen by many as wedded to a dangerous policy of ‘no war, no peace’ with India on the pretext of Kashmir and minimising Indian influence in Afghanistan irrespective of what Afghans may want. These policies are allegedly implemented through ‘proxy assets’, among whom Imran Khan’s critics count him!

His dilemma is that if he thoroughly discredits such allegations and establishes himself as a leader who, while being cautious and realistic, will brook no domestic obstruction of naya Pakistan, the US will then fear him even more as a national leader who brooks no external dictation either.

Prioritising the national interest over US strategic interests comes at a price. Turkey under Erdogan is confronted with this truth. Nevertheless, Imran Khan will need to make clear to all and sundry that no matter the price, he will face down all who presume to limit his vision for Pakistan.  

A ‘soft state’ by definition cannot save itself from becoming a failed state. Imran Khan will need to demonstrate through statements, decisions and accomplishments that an inclusive and participatory democracy is never a soft state. By contrast, militarily dominated developing states especially in the 21st century, will always be soft states on the brink of state failure. They can have no future.

Fortified by this truth, Imran Khan can become an unstoppable force for the transformation of Pakistan. Otherwise, he will flatter only to deceive. Specific measures, policies and strategies to deal with specific domestic and external issues will need to be continuously and openly discussed, elaborated, implemented, reviewed, revised, and up-scaled.

This is the vast, demanding and exhilarating enterprise of a national strategy. It must be institutionalised and resourced. But if it is contextualised by the ‘soft state syndrome’ it will be no more than a palliative, damage limitation, and delaying the inevitable. The enemy — SSS — has been identified!

Among Imran Khan’s challenges some will be just very tough. Others will be existential. Whatever their nature the approach to them must be similar: all policy measures should be informed by longer-term policy perspectives. Otherwise, they will develop neither direction nor momentum. Seventy years should have taught us this much.

Given the magnitude of his mission, Imran Khan must be a 24/7 force multiplier. He must know the basics of everything he is responsible for and what is being done in his name. No one should be able to pull the wool over his eyes. He has to be a workaholic. 

Mobilising and organising the people to overcome entrenched interests will, however, be his greatest challenge. For it to happen it has to become a national labour of love. 

Can Imran Khan orchestrate and conduct such a symphony of national endeavour? Many will sneer at the suggestion. Many more pray that he can and will. If he justifies the hopes invested in him he can deliver Pakistan’s finest years.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.



Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2018


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