Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Imran Khan is made up of...!

Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy where the sitting prime minister is taking a third term. His past two terms as prime minister failed to complete. Once he was over run by his political rivals and the other one was overthrown by the military. Punjab, the most-populated province, however, has been under his party's rule during 5 of last six political changeovers. He heads a faction of Muslim League named after him (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz The major opposition party, the Pakistan people's Party (PPP), has largely softened towards PMLN owing to their mutual realization that fighting only leads military interventions and weakening of democracy. During last five years, PMLN played a friendly opposition to PPP regime which led to first ever democratic transition in the history of this country, a political party completing its term and handing over government to another political party. PPP being the 2nd largest party in the country has their leader of the opposition in the parliament and they vow to stand by the PMLN government in all foreseeable crises. Quite a rosy situation to rule, until we realize the dark horse of Pakistani politics, the infamous bad boy of glamour and cricket, the philanthropist turned politician, Imran Khan, abbreviated as IK and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).

Imran Khan led the Pakistani cricket team to their famous world cup victory in 1992, in Australia. He immediately retired from cricket and focused on construction of a charity based cancer hospital following his mother's lost battle against the deadly disease, naming it after her, Shaukat Khanam Memorial Trust (SKMT). Few years later, he established his own political party. Continuing with his philanthropist work, he established Naml college (associated with Bradford University) and trying to establish more branches of SKMT cancer hospital. He won a National Assembly seat in 2002 election but resigned, and boycotted 2008 election. Finally in 2013, his party appeared to have broken the stereotype of one seat and came up as 2nd most popular party in the country. But that was not part of the plan, wasn't it?

Tired of their rival politics benefiting the military, PPP and PMLN decided to sign a charter of understanding promising each other not to destabilize their governments in future. Popular name of the charter is "Charter of democracy" and it is known as a charter of taking turns, 5 years each. The plan, of course, was based on the fact that no other party will be able to challenge the two working for strengthening of democracy. What has come out in reality is that they are working together to promote democracy as well as their own family politics and scratching each other's back in corruption as well.

So, the dark horse rose out of nowhere. Many blame establishment for forwarding their pawn, others believe it is more to the bad governance of both PPP and PMLN that has given IK the political mileage that he possesses. So far, IK has been an impulsive, emotional and somewhat misinformed person about his perception of Pakistani public's political discourse. But so are others... so what makes IK special?

IK was the dark horse of Pakistani politics which was not accounted in signing of charter of democracy, or say the bigger parties didn't foresee his rise. The miltablishment (term coined by Najam Sethi for military establishment) might have played its role but it is more likely to be attributed to bad governance in the country than the conspiracy theories. The extent of running a country like a family business have been evident in the ongoing and the concluded political terms. As investigated by Rauf Klasra, as many as 84 people of Nawaz Sharif family are posted on important political and administrative seats across the country, many other lying vacant probably due to the unavailability of talented family men and women. Far from the public interest, the government is spending billions of rupees on mega projects overlooking the plight of health education and availability of household modalities for people. The infamous metrobus project has been alleged on using iron products of the industry run by PM's family. His indifference to state of affaires of the country speaks for itself. During his parliamentary year, he has been to the senate only once. Not even a single bill has passed both houses of the parliament in the first year. The ruling party never holds intra-party elections and even their own MPs have to wait to wait to shake hands with PM.

Imran Khan, on the other hand, has come forward as a man who has spent a glamourous life of his own. With the persona of a sports icon, he has had a life as glamourous, enriched and accomplished that many politicians of the country can only wish. With the same, he is educated (Chancellor of Bradford) and have been given honorary fellowship by Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh for his services and running of the cancer hospital. Major component of his political strategy has been to involve youth into the political process. It was co-incidental that the age to vote has been reduced from 21 to 18 in Pakistan. With no political background and no business or other potential conflicts of interest, he has been critical of other political personalities of running the affaires of state like a family business. Major target of his campaigning has been Punjab where he has been utterly vocal against the sitting CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of the current PM. He has highlighted their business conflicts with the government policies and the allegedly abnormally fast growth rate of their enterprises. He has been somewhat impulsive and taking extreme positions in politics, uncompromising and solo flyer, things that don't make a seasoned politician, but that he is actually, an angry young man, a bad boy of Pakistani politics, a rebel. More than everything, he hasn't sold himself for any petty benefit. No one has ever pointed a finger at him for any financial corruption so far. For general public, he has presented himself as a third option. His politics is based on middle class dynamics of the country with an opinion on international affaires. He has got the attention of right wing, young, middle class, educated class, women and students alike. Recent siege on the capital against the alleged corruption has been his latest political adventure. He has blamed the outwent and sitting governments to have rigged the election in their favor, as they signed a memo years back. He has demanded an overhauling of electoral process, re-designing of election commission and an end to family politics. The sitting PM, due to many of the allegations being true, feels succumbed under pressure. While IK might not actually opt to start a civil disobedience movement as he threatened, he has actually brought the government on back foot all alone. From here onwards, if he can achieve the target of an independent election commission and then concentrates on the development process in Khyber Pakhtunkha province where his party heads the provincial government, he can positively look forward to next election as a potential upsetter.

So the current is not a crisis in itself. Its a challenge to the family politics, feudal lords' oriented and favored parties and a society where corruption is used as a tool to perpetuate one's dominance, typical of third world countries. Khan's gains are people's gains. Last year Supreme Court ordered to remove a heft 44% percent of the votes registered with the election commission for being bogus. An electoral reform this time may well mean a 360 degree change in political spectrum of Pakistan. It is a show of integrity and perseverance that he stands there not selling himself for cheap benefits where everything has been offered from a backdoor. And don't think that the number of people he has gathered in the D-square is little, there are silent admirers of him, sitting somewhere else, but their hearts beat for him.


  1. Wonderful. Imran Khan should be given a chance to come forward. The other politicians have had their share of power in the government. It's high time someone new and better came forward.
    Great article ! :)

  2. Thanks Alya... Your feedback is appreciated. The change is already in the air.