THE political will to steer the ship out of turbulent waters is certainly under close scrutiny these days. Prime Minister Imran Khan had sought two years to improve governance in August 2018. His government is a few months short from that timeline but good governance remains an elusive dream.
Those who have followed his cricketing career know how wayward a bowler he was initially; even the umpire at short leg was wary of his fast but loose deliveries that were nowhere near the stumps. But then he learned and went on to become one of the greatest fast and focused bowlers and the worthy captain of a team that won the World Cup.
He achieved world fame as a sports hero; charismatic, energetic though erratic at times. His follies and foibles were there but people saw how he overcame the odds and bounced back on account of his determination and capacity to pursue his objectives. Adversity propelled him to fight back with unmatched zest. He always had the streak of a zealot but given his ambitious nature, he could garner for himself a leadership role for charitable causes including a world-class cancer hospital and a modern university in a hinterland like Mianwali. And then he decided to wade into politics.
The journey from cricket to politics is not easy and the captain knows it well.
He at times appears arrogant or naïve. By nature and training, he wants his worldview to prevail, even at the cost of pragmatism that is essential to politics. After a frustrating two-decade struggle as head of a justice-seeking party, his ambition to become chief executive drove him into the arms of sphinx-like forces that pull the political strings to cobble weak coalition governments that dare not get out of the crease marked by them on the political pitch.
The journey from cricket to politics is not easy and the captain knows it well. We discussed this the only time when he came to meet me on Aug 26, 2011. He wanted me to join his political party. After serving different governments for about four decades, I had retired earlier that year and decided not to seek any public office. It was a great honour to be asked by a national hero to be part of the campaign for justice and integrity. However, politics is not my cup of tea. Besides, at that time two of my younger brothers were chief secretary, Punjab, and judge of the Supreme Court respectively. How could I jeopardise their administrative and operational autonomy by joining a political party?
Having got my answer, the captain spoke about the perceived large-scale corruption of the political families heading the two national mainstream political parties that, according to him, had taken turns to grab power through patronage and ‘corrupt’ practices. My response was that truly independent and impartial institutions headed by professionals of integrity would ensure public trust in the process of accountability and drive against corruption. Secondly, I urged that the rule of law and administration of justice should be the focus of any government wanting good governance.
We discussed the role of the state in governance. No state is powerful enough to crush the people’s aspirations. Arrogance and ignorance are fatal flaws. One should not overlook that it took 19 years for the language riots in East Pakistan that broke out in 1952 to mature into the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. In the context of the state imposing a narrative, the distinction between nationalism and patriotism was emphasised. Patriotism is about love for and pride in one’s country, but not at the expense of other states. Nationalism is a vindictive, zero-sum view of the world as a jungle. This is dangerous in an interdependent world.
We talked about ideology or the battle of hearts and minds in the context of the so-called war against terror. The main source of the division and confusion in our society is the mullah; by that I mean the mindset that perpetuates violence and intolerance. The clergy had bred a disease of violent religious extremism, which was the evil abuse of conscience and power. While cautioning him about his image being projected as soft on the Taliban, the role of militant groups or non-state actors was spelled out as they pursue their agenda of violence and were out to unravel the state and undermine its writ.
We discussed the state of affairs in Balochistan and agreed that the kill-and-dump strategy pursued since 2008 was counterproductive. The path of reconciliation should be adopted as state policy. The solution was to put the Baloch in the centre rather than the resources of the province. Martin Luther King Jr stated: “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression.” Our security establishment needed to ponder over these words. They should allow the people to breathe feely. I thought the captain was paying close attention, but how correct is the old adage: ‘You won’t know what you are made of until you are tested.’
Police reforms were also discussed. He promised to pursue the following reform agenda: depoliticise police; make it highly accountable; ensure its administrative and operational autonomy; enhance professionalism and specialisation; and engender an ethos of community service rather than one based on the military model of the 19th-century colonial force. Admittedly, he pursued this five-pronged strategy in KP from 2013 till the promulgation of the KP Police Act, 2017. This most probably resulted in a landslide victory for the PTI in a province that previously had never voted in the incumbent political party.
Imran Khan finally became prime minister after a political struggle lasting 22 years. He belongs to no dynasty or family of politicians. He had rejected the politics of patronage and kinship. He sought two years for good governance but, with the exception of some recent positive policing developments in Punjab, he is sadly nowhere close to achieving the goal, either due to political expediency, or lack of capacity or commitment of the team built so far. Maybe the shackles of string-pullers do not allow him to be unbound like Prometheus. He needs to take heed from the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang, who warned: “When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set.”
Bounce back, captain. Heed thy real masters.
The writer is former IG Police and author of The Faltering State and Inconvenient Truths.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2020