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Why are we disappointed in Imran Khan?

The Imran Khan government currently faces challenges like never before amid reports of cracks emerging within the ruling coalition and dithering inside the PTI. The free-rolling Dollar dented PM's efforts to manage the economy. Later on, the COVID-backed inflation coupled with man-made greed added to the miseries of the poverty-stricken populace. Frequent changes in important ministries hampered the continuity of policies leading to uncertainty.

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What have you done Imran Khan? You promised houses, employment, eradication of corruption, affordable utility bills, a thriving economy, riddance from the IMF and a respected green passport. You promised to change the system. You promised equality and justice. You failed on all these counts. Was it the victory euphoria, a political slogan, or your natural naivety, for the things you promised would ordinarily take decades to fruition? Now, we hold you responsible for all the ills this country has suffered from its inception

The above narration sums up what we think about our Prime Minister. If we were to consider Imran Khan to be the root cause of our political, economic, social and administrative predicament, then his removal may turn things around. But what if this is not the case?

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Imran Khan must be credited with his share of follies, most of which were avoidable

He carries the burden of his promises most of which remain unfulfilled for many reasons, COVID being one of them. The other is sloppy governance. But to blame him for the seventy years of mess would be unjust. He is at best answerable for his three years in power.

The Prime Minister has some achievements to his name. He successfully combated the COVID Pandemic, improved the exports, incentivized the expatriates to send more remittances resulting in high foreign exchange reserves, took action against the sugar and petroleum mafias, set and achieved high tax revenues, renegotiated terms with the IPPs, presented a forceful case at international forum against Islamophobia and emerged as a global Muslim leader, represented the IOK stance with vigor, introduced Sehat cards  (medical insurance), ensured humanitarian assistance under the Ehsas Program, offered loans on easy terms for homes and businesses, took a personal interest in fighting pollution under the Billion Tree initiative and trekked a tough path to satisfy the insatiable FATF.

But the Prime Minister faltered when he formed his team – the cabinet. The right man was not appointed for the right job. Given the political constraints, his options were limited but he could have done better. His trust in the bureaucracy to alleviate the plight of the citizens was childish at best. Imran Khan never really understood the system that he promised to change. He was blinded by inexperience and unable to interpret the history of Pakistan where the establishment ruled the roost. Soon he was surrounded by the forces of the status quo that he desired to replace.

Read more: Questioning Imran Khan’s political legacy

The pre-COVID IMF Program was ill planned and lopsided that jacked up utility prices

The free-rolling Dollar dented his efforts to manage the economy. Later on, the COVID-backed inflation coupled with man-made greed added to the miseries of the poverty-stricken populace. Frequent changes in important ministries hampered the continuity of policies leading to uncertainty. More loans were taken to pay off previous ones. The circular debt continued to grow and so did the losses of public entities that were supposed to be privatized. This cycle of mismanagement has created swirling inflation which has gone almost out of control.

There was no relief for the masses in the thana culture or the patwaar khana. The bureaucracy continued with its lip service. No real intent or focus was given to reform the civil service structure through performance monitoring and evaluation. The local bodies were kept unfunctional. Imran Khan’s dream to see rule of law and equal treatment of the rich and the poor will remain a dream. But he should not be disheartened. This was our Quaid’s dream too!

The way the TLP agitation was handled also exhibits Imran Khan’s flawed approach towards the diehard extremists. Was he a willing partner or merely following the dictate of the establishment is not in public knowledge? Now there are reports that he is negotiating with TTP, which drew the ire of the Supreme Court and rightly so.

All the above may make up an arguable case for or against the Prime Minister. However, historically speaking, removal from the office would follow only when the establishment, for reasons that have no connection with Khan’s performance as a Prime Minister, thinks it’s time for him to leave knowing that they have arrangements in place to counter the post-departure scenario. These reasons are driven by two main concerns. One, has the control of the establishment over the affairs of the State and its apparatus been compromised? Two, is Khan transgressing into the establishment’s domain?

Till date, apart from a couple of unpleasant developments, the Prime Minister has shared the same page with the establishment. Appointments to many important civil positions and public welfare initiatives are testament to this relationship. However, the unnecessary delay in the appointment of the Chief of the ISI did raise some eyebrows. Has this impacted the earlier cordial relationship between the executive and the establishment? Some pundits think it did so believing that this is tantamount to transgression in the establishment’s domain.

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Another development that will test the establishment–the executive relationship is the direction issued by the Supreme Court on the APS martyrs inquiry commission report. The Supreme Court has categorically directed the Prime Minister to implement the commission’s report in letter and spirit and to present the progress made in this regard in writing under his signatures within four weeks. The Prime Minister was called by the Supreme Court to appear in person in this case and he complied with the order.

What followed these developments is quite uncanny but expected

PML (Q), part of the PTI coalition government in Punjab, has threatened to quit the alliance citing inflation and law and order situation as the main reasons. If this threat were to materialize, PTI would lose its majority in the house. Will this threat materialize or is it merely a check on the Prime Minister to be very careful and pragmatic in preparing his report to the Supreme Court? There are arguments on both sides.

So, what’s next assuming Imran Khan is shown the door. First, he leaves the PM Office as his precariously thin majority leaves his side. He is left to nurse his political defeat probably on the opposition benches. Is this the outcome many crave for? But what happens thereafter?

With main political parties propagating an agenda that purportedly threatens the establishment, will we see these otherwise fiercely opposed political entities, aligned together for political survival, to fill the vacuum and bring political and economic certainty in Pakistan while driving the establishment against the wall? Certainly not.

As a student of political history, in my view, this is how the scripted events may unfold, provided the establishment agrees to bring in the change:

  • These political forces, with revamped intra- party controls, will accept power sans control, with the establishment’s much awaited nod, without batting an eyelid. Same old faces reprogrammed to meet the present era will surface to fill the void. Fresh allegiance and oath of absolute loyalty would be taken with a promise to leave the past where it belongs i.e., in the past and move forward. The ongoing criminal cases would be managed and judgements reversed in due course of time.
  • Would this arrangement satisfy the establishment? Remember PPP was regarded as a security threat and PML(N) gained notoriety for the Dawn Leaks and unceremonious removal and prosecution of the former COAS, now in self-exile. Not to mention the very recent series of serious accusations hurled by the PML (N) supremo against the military high ups. However, in the larger national interest these grievances would be redressed accordingly.
  • Unfortunately, that is what has been happening in our chequered history. Grace and large heartedness are shown when vested interests decide to collude at the expense of the interests of the State. The PDM demonstrates this phenomenon. Will the establishment that has its own concerns to say the least, join this scheme?
  • On the other hand, PML (Q), GDA and MQM (Pakistan), all creation of the establishment, carefully parked within the power structure, are waiting for the signal to part ways.
  • The stakes are too high to have an independent and popular man at the helm of the affairs. Most likely, we will have a new alliance, courtesy the same Frankenstein Formula used with glaring frequency by the King makers, one that also assisted Imran Khan to assume power by dropping a bag of electables in his lap. This new alliance will garner support from hither and thither and thus succeed in getting its man in the PM Office.
  • All’s well that ends well. There are more than one reasons to get rid of Imran Khan but which one of these will ensure a viable and palpable end. What would be a wise choice, is the question that many have started asking.

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  • The international establishment is not happy with Imran Khan. He was out of line when he said “absolutely not” to the Americans when they asked for air bases after the Afghanistan debacle. The local establishment is also weary of his desire to demonstrate more control over the State apparatus especially in the backdrop of the appointment of the new ISI chief. The politicians and bureaucracy feel increasingly uneasy by his accountability mantra as they are not accustomed to this kind of treatment.
  • Corporate houses, businessmen and traders feel threatened by his policies as they are not used to a documented economy where they are directed to pay taxes and reveal their true source and magnitude of incomes or in default, face arrest and penalties. Media decries the drying up of their stream of advertisement funds. The public is reeling under a crippling inflation that has its origin in the COVID Pandemic but compounded by the criminal indifference of our business class. The utility bills have become unbearable. The prices of essential items have shot up drastically. The rupee is depreciating at an uncontrollable pace while the import bills are rising. Now, Pakistanis have been warned to brace for a massive gas load shedding this winter.
  • The above list is not exhaustive but carries enough material to sign the Exit Deed!
  • Imran Khan’s departure from the coveted office will be followed by a tried and tested plan starting with an aggressive but lucrative campaign against him. The state machinery will bend backwards to target him, marking him as the monster that kept hostage the well-being of the masses. Corruption cases will be unleashed. Media houses will be flooded with anti PTI narrative with handsome guaranteed returns to build this line of offence.
  • Many loyal to him will be asked to opt for greener pastures or face state retaliation. Those who displayed pretentious faith in him will be recruited as whistleblowers, willing to divulge untrue events with a disgraceful degree of authenticity. Businessmen, industrialists, economists will ride the band wagon, knowing very well that they will be persuaded to support the new setup in exchange for negotiated immunity. The hoarders, profiteers and black-marketeers will have a field day, rejoicing to see his back. The bureaucracy will happily grind their axes ready to deal the final blow. Imran Khan’s reputation will be tattered. His personal life will be targeted. His political acumen will be tarnished. His erstwhile friends will turn into foes. He will be presented as the worst of the lot. In short, Imran Khan will be cornered.
  • Is that what the establishment wants? A cornered Imran Khan.
  • Those who know Imran Khan also know he is fearless and does not give up. Resultantly, in his list of delinquents, he will add a few more names. The self-righteous immortals know that the imperfect mortals tend to listen to him. Therefore, an effective disconnect must be placed between Imran Khan and his listeners/followers before the exit strategy is activated. Is this inflationary trend that is tormenting but temporary in nature, reliable enough to be used as a potent disconnect? Would this reap the desired results in the long run?
  • It may, for the time being, offer a justification for a new political dispensation or power adjustment. But as a moment’s lag is a threat to continuity, a perceived change, however small, threatens perpetuity. This is where Imran Khan may become a lethal threat to the system. Once released from the shackles of political expediency, Imran Khan may find a scathing opposition to the system as a whole, a more viable option rather than targeting the political elite. He would be free to point fingers at those who do not take finger pointing graciously. With time, others may find themselves inclined to join him.
  • The advent of social media holds the potential to give credence to the perceived change advocated by Imran Khan and others that may overtime become a challenging reality which may create further instability. Those who hold the real reins of power in Pakistan envy all such perceived changes and consider them an unwanted clog in running the affairs of the State. Remember, the establishment cannot control social media anywhere in the world.
  • Judiciary too may get involved rather unwillingly. Pakistan has moved from a one-dimensional-establishment-specific control to a multiple-power-center regime. Judiciary has emerged as a strong force to reckon with. More often than liked, the names of establishment’s big guns have reverberated in the judicial corridors making people on both sides quite nervous and for obvious reasons since they have both shared history as allies and rivals.

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Road to further chaos and destruction

In short, the removal of Imran Khan may allow the old guards to reclaim the political space but will surely usher Pakistan into a state of chaos. The troubling Afghanistan situation may add fuel to the fire. Whether this chaos will remain within manageable limits, only time will tell. Restraint should be shown by all the players involved in the system. The Prime Minister must realize that the establishment has a role in ensuring that stability is maintained.

The establishment must also recognize that Imran Khan has been doing his best to balance their relationship. The inflationary trends must be controlled with prudent macro and microeconomics policies. The allies must be taken on board so that the legislative process including the bills giving e-voting rights to the expatriates and electronic voting machines are duly promulgated. Politics is all about finding the right possibilities. Hope our Prime Minister stands up to this task.

 

 

Faisal Zaman is a lawyer with more than 25 years of professional experience. He writes regularly on legal, social and political issues. He has authored a book on corporate affairs entitled “The Corporate Structure of Private Companies – For Business Leaders, Startups and Entrepreneurs”. His legal practice involves transactional & contractual drafting, mediation, advisory and research assignments within one or multiple jurisdictions. He can be contacted at faisalzamanadv@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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