IRSHAD SALIM (Jul 27, 2018): Legendary cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and his party have surfaced as harbinger of a new thought wave among Pakistanis post July 25 polls — a rising urban middle class, growing awareness among youth and women, as a result of a vibrant media and civic society actually fast-forwarded the process. The judicial activism against misgovernance and corruption additionally facilitated the speed and direction of the ascent of a new establishment albeit an anti-status quo.
In Pakistan, ‘establishment’ is a common euphemism for the military-judiciary ying yang as a counterbalance to the traditional tribalistic political class loaded with hitherto unquestioned raking of wealth and social habits. Subsequently it had led to financial and political power to dabble in and with as a hot and volatile mix for decades. The scenario served as a recipe for instability and schisms. Add to it a huge populace of illiterate and poverty-driven supporters and voters across rural and urban divide supporting them, and we ended up with an inverted pyramid difficult for normal sensible powerplay — it got replaced by power grab at all costs at every turn.
Opposite it and running for almost two decades now was a vast swathe of silent, apolitical class building up which Imran Khan sensed of and decided to make his base. Najeeb Haroon a PTI founding member who recently got elected as a lawmaker called Khan a “one-man demolition squad”. This was a year ago. Since then Haroon’s characterization has taken shape but is a discomforting reality for many of Khan’s arch enemies and critics. Leading the pack is PML-N’s brothers Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif, their allies Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F and Mehmood Achackzai of Pakhtunkhwa Awami Milli Party. Asif Ali Zardari of PPP has decided to aim for becoming the powerbroker albeit kingmaker.
Routed in the latest countrywide polls, these bigwigs have been served with a shock and awe. They have decided to put up resistance in accepting the poll results — the contours were already developing pre-poll as the writing on the wall was clear and imminent then to the traditional power barons.
Except for PPP most of the party heads and bigwigs are in denial – reminiscent of Z A Bhutto’s 1977 election and the well-organized protests that followed — the system got ultimately derailed for a decade.
Fast forward, and we find Khan with his young Turks with a what’s next question mark — having broken the mold and declared he’s ready to lead the crisis-torn country with an agenda sure to ruffle meany feathers in the zoo. The nation took a great leap of faith by voting him and his party into position of ruling over them.
Khan’s victory speech a day earlier, was in fact an antithesis, non-conformist and out-of-the-box by traditional Pakistani politics standard. While it went well with those who backed him countrywide, it put the rest in a hangover — some heavyweights found themselves hung dry and some mighty ones saw themselves having been sent to the laundry shop.
Bottom line is the onset of a new normal. How far it will go and how well it will deliver remains to be seen though, as most Pakistanis in general and specially the political parties have penchant for intense likes and dislikes, binary decision-making temperament and love for judging people and events with conspiracy theories abound.
While the EU delegation monitoring the polls has declared Election 2018 much organized and better managed than the 2008 and 2013 polls, the chatter in the parties who lost out is that polls were rigged and pre-engineered to make Khan win this time.
Notwithstanding events and blamegame expected to emerge in days ahead, Khan’s and his party’s win have shifted the faultlines northerly for the better and established some contours and benchmarks I expect to see expanding going forward:
1. The average literacy/education level of national and provincial assembly lawmakers has incrementally risen.
2. The average annual income and net worth of the elected members have somewhat decreased.
3. More taxpaying class members have gotten elected this time.
4. Overall voters participation has increased. More youth and women participated in the process this time.
5. Karachi which remained under siege by parties competing for the turf for decades has graduated into a multi-party city with PTI having emerged as leading the city’s political landscape and the traditionally strong MQM getting marginalized — Altaf’s call to his supporters to boycott the polls also had an impact in this upending.
6. Lahore is no longer a bastion of PML-N and the Sharifs. PTI has made inroads and could form government in province.
7. PTI will continue to rule the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
6 and 7 above could automatically give Khan and his party the 4-wheel drive traction he needs on the national level.
8. In Sndh, PPP now stands challenged by a PTI, MQM and Grand Democratic Alliance force with strong presence in the provincial assembly.
9. Khan and PTI’s sojourn in Islamabad will have direct impact on ongoing Afghan peace process. The equalizer will be his federalist success base and close affinity to the region US and its allies call the badlands east of Afghanistan. Will Khan pull a Trump with a new South Asia policy? You bet.
10. Khan’s victory has been as dramatic and eventful as was Modi’s minus latter’s divisive tendencies — both have huge popular mandate to tango for good neighborliness.
11. China has no problem with continuing with its CPEC fundings, loans and projects with PTI in KP, Punjab, Fata, and alliance in Balochistan plus a strong presence in Karachi with working relationship with GDA in Sindh.
12. Khan’s billion tree tsunami project, and the health and education model already demonstrated in KP are expected to find traction nationwide thereby shifting priorities toward fulfillment of urgent national needs rather than focus on quick fixes and cosmetic achievements.
13. A sense of de ja vu and inclusiveness prevails — hopefully it will serve as elixir to create a melting pot rather than a mosaic nation.
14. Having apparently no skeletons in international or local closets, Khan is expected to establish local and matter-of-fact popular narratives, indegenious solutions toward self-reliance and self-driven socio-economic growth backed by CPEC and similar initiatives knocking at the country’s doorsteps.
15. Khan’s abhorrence for corruption, tax evasion, etc. could put the country’s governance on a respectable plain vis-a-vis the international community and multilateral lending institutions at the same time sending a strong signal to the society that a ‘new Sheriff in town’ ecosystem is developing which stands for rule of law and equality for all. The ‘new establishment’ which he seems to be leading means business as compared to the old guards.
16. Khan’s comfortable working relationship with the powerful military and desire/respect for rule of law could become a game-changer for delivering promises he made to the coming generations — his goal to do things for the future generation and not just the present sets a new example of governance and establishes contours of standards until now not practiced and therefore amiss in corridors of civil power. This in itself is a paradigm shift for the country vying to graduate as a developing nation on the cusp of becoming a developed one.
All of the above combined appear to be a holy grail for a new republic which Khan and his team call ‘Naya Pakistan’. How well he further breaks the mould and carries the nation forward and crosses the Rubicon during the next 5-year he gets to manage the country’s affairs, could ultimately matter for Pakistan and the future generation.
Coincidentally, positive forces which have been unleashing in the country over the last 10 years complement Khan’s thought-leadership. If not embraced with open arms, his desire to be a statesman and not a politician –like the old guards, could become penny’s worth.
(The writer is a consultant, analyst, and Editor/Publisher of PKonweb.com, DesPardes.com and BE2C2 Report)