The rise and fall of Imran Khan in Pakistan’s political arena are multifactorial. Pakistan could well be going through its Mossadegh moment in its history. Nevertheless, it is not easy to describe Imran Khan’s three and half years in power as an outright success. Imran khan has failed many leadership tests in these three and a half years of writing a faculty at Brown University.
Imran Khan came into power in 2018 after a prolonged campaign based on his anti-corruption narrative. People have argued that his reign in power was an experiment of hybrid government supported by the powerful military establishment. However, Imran khan needed to lead this hybrid structure while in power.
Failure to lead this hybrid structure led to his removal from office
Timing is everything in politics, and history is unkind to leaders who fail to conduct a shrewd environmental assessment around them and make decisions at the right time at the right moments. It is also essential to study the opponents and execute effective plans against their strengths.
So, if Imran Khan’s reign relied on critical support from the military establishment and certain elect-ables, he needed to formulate a plan from day 1 to survive in an environment where both pillars were unavailable, rightly or wrongly.
This meant transforming the electoral system from day 1, ensuring all by-elections were conducted on electronic voting machines and, eventually, the local bodies conducted by the EVMs. He could have used the backing from powerful quarters early on to deliver this, which would have been a strategic victory against his opponents. Hence Imran Khan failed a timely analytical analysis of his power base and how he can ensure that he can return to power if he loses the support which brought him to power.
This reminds us of a quote attributed to Joseph Stalin, rightly or wrongly
It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.
Secondly, all great leaders can decide what needs to be done now, or they prioritize their decision-making. The most decisive American president in history, Harry Truman, is known for his Marshall Plan. The world was in a very precarious place after the bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, by Harry Truman. Winning the second WW II was one thing but ensuring economic growth for the next 50 years and cementing the United States as the sole global superpower was another. Harry Truman realized this through his Marshalls plan and rebuilt Europe, transforming Europe into a bulwark for US interests for decades to come.
Harry Truman’s appointment of General Marshall as secretary of State required a special congressional waiver. It raised many eyebrows in DC, but it was the right decision at the right time in history. Truman realized that an excellent foreign policy was critical post-WWII, and Marshall’s Plan and Truman’s doctrine need no explanation. This ability ensured history remembers him for Truman’s doctrine and Marshalls’ plan instead of the only man in history to have dropped nuclear bombs that killed over 200,000 civilians and soldiers.
Similarly, when Imran Khan took over, he had to make a similar decision
Setting the country’s economic direction straight with economic and electoral reforms with the backing of the powerful military was the most acute thing needed. The fiasco with the appointments of the economic advisory council and significant placements regarding economic management requires no reminder. Even if he had to go to the opposition leader to get these done, this would have engraved him in history with golden letters.
Most successful leaders focus on opportunities rather than problems. Fixing the problems is a painful task that can be very time-consuming, and the results might not always be desirable. While the narrative of eradicating corruption is very popular, it would have required a total transformation of the administrative, judicial and legal system in a country where people even today buy LLB degrees. This was a losing battle with a coalition government with a fragile majority. Some might even call this foolish. This failure is most evident in PTI’s management of media.
However, there is no denying that Pakistani media is a torchbearer for Pakistani society’s intellectual decline and runs on the orders of powerful cartels of different segments of the society. A head-on collision with the media and lowering PTI’s narrative to the level of mindless, pointless debates equated PTI to other discredited political parties. PTI lacked a nervous system to tackle the media. PTI’s senior leadership could have initiated new debates or only taken part in those debates that focused on opportunities. This would have forced his opponents to get involved in that debate to fault PTI’s performance and take the public discourse entirely differently.
Lastly, a transformational change requires excellent managers in addition to visionary leadership. There is no doubt Imran khan projected an idea of an Islamic welfare state, but to accomplish this vision, Imran khan did not recruit excellent managers. Without these managers, such leaders amount to daydreaming and become prisoners of the events and react timelessly in a losing battle. Imran Khan’s leadership approach personifies this void between leadership and management.
This was most evident in the health card scheme, which was touted to be a project led by Imran Khan. The health card is an excellent initiative, but PTI is lucky that its government was sent packing before this started to unravel. A quick analysis of the leadership of the health card scheme from the federal to provincial level will unravel the appointments made to run this vital scheme. PTI did not appoint any individual of international stature who has run such programs or run healthcare organizations at an international level.
The way forward
The longer it went on and the way it was delivered without effective audits, national tariffs, or a robust system for accountability for fraudulent claims, the higher the probability of its failure. Apple, one of the worlds’ most prominent companies with a 2.74$ trillion-dollar market cap, runs its entire operation on expert leaders. PTI’s decision-making did not believe in expert leaders and appointed countless buzdars on multiple significant portfolios.
The way PTI’s government was sent packing should not be condoned, and history will be unkind to its main actors. Hence, the public outcry on this travesty of justice, with millions on the street protesting his removal, is understandable.
Nevertheless, this does not falsify that Imran Khan failed multiple fundamental leadership tests. PTI’s leadership must learn from their blunders and focus on the new opportunities rather than fixing the problems with their current exit. Otherwise, if elected back in power, their fate might not be different again.
Pakistan can hardly afford that!
The author is a Physician residing in the United States and a Faculty member at Brown University in Rhode Island. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.